News in brief: Top West Yorks devolution official steps down; culture cash for Leeds; Labour row over new free school

West Yorkshire’s top devolution official stepping down

norreysThe West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s head of policy, strategy and communications, Rob Norreys, is leaving the organisation at the end of the month. Given the fact that Mr Norreys (effectively the organisation’s number two) has been leading the region’s efforts to secure funding and powers from central government, it’s a blow for the organisation.

Mr Norreys was appointed to the post 18 months ago. An interim internal replacement will be announced at a meeting of the WYCA’s leaders this Thursday (14th December).


 

Leeds council sets aside £400k for “cultural legacy” following Capital of Culture setback

Following the “shock” announcement from the European Commission that the UK isn’t eligible after all to host the European Capital of Culture in 2023, Leeds City Council is setting aside £380,000 towards a “cultural legacy” for the city.

The investment is one of the council’s proposals for next year’s budget, which are going to be debated by council bosses tomorrow (13th December). It will be held in an “earmarked reserve pending further updates”. No details yet on what it might be spent on.


 

East Leeds MP at loggerheads with council’s Labour administration over new free school

burgonLabour’s East Leeds MP Richard Burgon has called on council leaders in Leeds to postpone a decision to go ahead with building a new free school on the Fearnville playing fields off Oakwood Lane. Senior councillors in the Labour-run administration are scheduled to kick-start the lengthy process of setting up the school tomorrow (13th December).

Mr Burgon says that he and local Labour councillors (backed by an online petition signed by 1,500) are all against the plan, and has called on council leader Judith Blake to hold talks with him and campaigners in the New Year.

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Risk? What risk? Council leaders to brief watchdog committee on Leeds Capital of Culture bid

BoxRectPress1_Press_Leeds2023

Leeds City Council’s top two leaders are going to update one of the council’s watchdog committees about latest developments over the city’s bid to host the European Capital of Culture in 2023.

Chief Executive Tom Riordan and council leader Judith Blake have been asked to give a verbal update to councillors at a meeting of one of the council’s scrutiny boards next Wednesday morning (13th December).

Given that talks may still be going on between the UK government and the European Commission on the question of the UK’s eligibility to participate in the competition, it’s unlikely that we’ll get to hear much new at this stage.

The two leaders will say their bit and the board will decide “what, if any, further Scrutiny action it may wish to undertake” on the matter, says the agenda for the meeting.

It’s a bit premature for a full-blown inquiry, but it seems inevitable that councillors will want at some stage to establish how Brexit was factored into the risk assessments carried out by the Leeds bid team.

I imagine they will want to look at three sets of paperwork:

  1. The routine risk assessments carried out by council officers recommending spending on the bid –  from the Tory general election victory of 2015 (when it was clear that there would be a Brexit referendum) through to last month’s “shock” announcement by the European Commission of the UK’s ineligibility.
  2. The risk register maintained by the Leeds bid’s steering group since it was set up (the register, along with the rest of the steering group paperwork, hasn’t been made public).
  3. Any written reassurance about eligibility from the organisers, Creative Europe, to the Leeds bid team over the same period.

We will, of course, be told that everything was done by the book, that the team sought advice – especially post Brexit – about continuing with its preparations. The councillors will want to know who gave what advice when and who in Leeds decided that the advice was reliable and why.

In terms of the first set of paperwork – the publicly-available routine risk assessments prepared for the council’s executive board – I’ve been looking back at the many meetings held to authorise pursuing the bid (and spending on it), and have found no mention yet of Brexit as a specific risk.

There’s plenty about the risk of bidding and not being shortlisted/winning, but Brexit doesn’t seem to figure.

I tell a lie. It does. Once. When council bosses met to rubber stamp the “bid book” as recently as October, the risk assessment included the following unfortunate mention:

“The risk of a public misconception that the city will not be allowed to submit a bid because of Brexit is being addressed through all our communications …”

Hmmm.

Still. That’s all for the future.

It’s unlikely that any of these issues will be raised in depth next week. What we’ll likely get is some finger-pointing at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and maybe a clarification of the actual amount that has been spent on the bid so far.

The latest I’ve seen is £150,000 by the council and a further £600,000 by local businesses and universities (who’ll now be looking at their own risk assessments too presumably).

But hang on, I hear you ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or in English: why did nobody on the watchdog scrutiny committee raise Brexit as an issue for the bid over the last couple of years?

I don’t know.

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Housing target for Leeds could be slashed again … to 42,000? (from 70,000)

leeds homes

Controversial figures for the number of houses Leeds is going to need over the coming years look like they could be slashed for a second time.

The Labour council’s housing target of 70,000 new homes (from 2014-28) has come under consistent fire since it was announced, with opposition parties and campaign groups in parts of the city saying it was far too high and didn’t reflect the latest evidence on population growth from the Office of National Statistics.

Back in July it was announced that the initial findings of a council review indicated that “a revised housing need for Leeds may be in the region of 55,000 homes up to 2033”.

Since then, however, the government has issued draft revised guidelines for calculating the figures.

“Using these new figures, the basic housing requirement for Leeds up to 2028 is 42,000 new homes,” says a press release issued by Leeds City Council today.

The council is now proposing to postpone public examination of how many houses are going to go where (known as the Site Allocations Plan) from this month to February/March next year.

The council’s planning chief, Cllr Richard Lewis, said today: “It’s vital that we have the right long-term housing target for the city and that we don’t have any unnecessary loss of greenfield and green belt land.

“The government’s latest consultation proposals came out of the blue for all local authorities and we need to take the time to fully consider their implications. They are also, at this stage, part of a consultation and not necessarily the final word from government.”

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Leeds: inquiry into £4.8m taxpayer loan that got written off starts this week

hiltonstalled

An inquiry into what went wrong with a £4.8m taxpayer loan to a Leeds hotel project that ended up going bust gets under way on Wednesday.

The loan, issued in March 2013 by local funding body, the LEP, has now been written off, Leeds City Council admitted last week.

Among the questions councillors sitting on a watchdog committee of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) want answered are:

how was the loan decided?

what level of checks were made about the recipient?

and how did Leeds City Council manage the possible conflict of interest arising from its role as both the accountable body for the lender AND an interested party in making the deal happen?

Building work at the site – on Portland Crescent near the Leeds Arena – ground to a halt in March 2015 after the original contractor and its development arm went bust, leaving the Co-op Bank and the local funding body, the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), as the major creditors.

The part-completed building  – which has been exposed to the elements for nearly two and a half years – was destined to be a 206-bed hotel as part of the Hilton franchise.

vita

The two VITA student developments in Manchester

It was announced earlier today that the site is now going to house 273 premium student apartments by the Select Property Group, who run top-end student housing in several UK cities under the Vita Student brand.

How much of the building (as far as it got) can be salvaged is anyone’s guess, but given the change of use, there’ll have to be a new planning application submitted.

You can see details of the scope of the enquiry in this document drafted for Wednesday’s meeting.

The meeting’s open to the public.

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Yorkshire daily papers’ print collapse continues on schedule

paperspics1Print sales of Yorkshire’s regional daily papers have continued their collapse, according to figures released last week by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Nothing too remarkable: the Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP) leads the latest slide with one of the biggest drops (16%) of all regional dailies in the country, with the Yorkshire Post (13%) not doing that much better.

What’s worse is that figures for our two Leeds papers are not quite what they seem.

Only 16,700 of the 23,000 copies recorded for the Yorkshire Post are paid for at the full rate, with 5,000 sold at a discount and a further 1,500 as multiple copy sales distributed at hotels and transport hubs.

Similarly, only 11,300 of the YEP’s recorded overall circulation figures of 15,192 are paid at the full rate, with 2,700 being given away for free and a further 1,100 sold at a discount.

Interesting to note the contribution to the overall figures made by the Yorkshire Post’s Saturday edition (always a decent read for the price), which averaged 46,292 sales a week in the first six months of this year, compared to 18,143 for the Monday to Friday edition.

updownprint1sthalf2017

Where is this inexorable decline heading?

Three years ago (2014) I projected the sales of our regional dailies through to 2023, based on the amount they’d been falling since 2011. It was an attempt to work out when the plug might be pulled.

I had a look at the projections today and they’re pretty close to reality, with most papers’ print circulation falling faster than projected and just one, the Sheffield Star, more slowly.

Here’s what I came up with in August 2014 for the first half of 2017, compared with where they actually are:

1sthalf2017actualprojected

Which is a roundabout way of saying that by 2023, if not earlier, newspaper owners are going to have to finally confront the awkward truths about the viability of some of their print titles.

You can see the projections here. They’re grim.

Bradford’s T&A LOSES online audience

Still, digital is the answer. Apparently. “Digital will save us,” has been the cry from regional publishers. The theory goes that revenue generated by a rapidly expanding digital audience will, at some stage in some (as yet unfathomed) way, make up for the revenue lost by print.

So it’s a bit dispiriting to see the figures reflect what many readers have known intuitively for some time – that the publishing group that owns three of our local dailies, Johnston Press (JP), hasn’t really got its head round digital for local papers yet.

While rival regional publisher Trinity Mirror increased its daily average “unique browsers” by 99% year on year, Johnston Press appears stuck in the digital doldrums at just 12.3% growth.

Of most concern locally to JP will be the continuing sluggish online growth of the Yorkshire Post. At an average 41,000 unique browsers a day and growing at only 8% a year, it’s failing to keep up with the Grimsby Telegraph (for example) and doesn’t look like swelling its owners’ coffers any time soon.

Having said that, spare a thought for the two local papers owned by the Newsquest Group: Bradford’s T&A has actually LOST some of its online audience, and the York Press has seen such measly growth that it doesn’t really count as growth.

To paraphrase Wilde, one is a misfortune, but two looks like carelessness.

online aug 2017

 

 

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Leeds – council watchdog to hear official response to Burberry deal collapse

Temple Mills, Leeds (2)

The fall-out from international fashion giant Burberry’s withdrawal from a proposed deal to build a new factory in south Leeds is going to get a public airing next week.

One of Leeds City Council’s watchdog committees has called on a senior officer to come and explain the council’s response to the move and its implications at a meeting a week tomorrow (Wednesday, 26th July).

No prizes for guessing what the councillors on the committee are going to want to find out from Martin Farrington, the Director of City Development.

Here’s a list of the likely questions he’ll get, with the likely answers in brackets:

  • Q: What went wrong with the deal? (A: Burberry, for their own reasons, couldn’t commit to spending £x million restoring Leeds’ greatest industrial monument, Temple Works, on top of the £50m they’d planned to spend on the new factory. But we’re still good friends.)
  • Q: What happens with the factory plans now? (A: That’s up to Burberry. If they still want to build on the land they’ve bought in the area, we’ll help them if we can. Ditto if they fancy doing it elsewhere in Leeds. For the moment we don’t know. But we’re still good friends.)
  • Q: What are the implications for the council’s ambitious plans to develop the “South Bank” area of Leeds? Wasn’t the Burberry factory an invaluable endorsement that was going to have a “transformational impact” on that part of the city? (A: That’ll all be fine. We’ve got X, Y and Z in the pipeline … and The Tetley … and here’s HS2 coming!)
  • Q: What happens to Temple Works now? How are you going to stop it falling down? (A: We’re on the case. Can’t share our thoughts with you at the mo. No more questions? See you.)

 

Whether Burberry end up doing any more in Leeds after deciding recently to relocate their business services operation here – a “token offering“, according to the Yorkshire Post – is anyone’s guess and a bit of a sideshow. On past form, no-one should be holding their breath.

Temple Works is another matter. It’s now back to where it was 10 years or so ago (minus the alternative fun stuff that stopped while Burberry had its long think). Back then, restoring the grand, but crumbling, Grade-1 former flax mill was already being costed at £20million.

Who’s got the cash and the interest and could make it pay as a working building? Some think it’s not worth the bother.

In a dream I once saw it as Leeds’ answer to those old Berlin railway goods yards, thriving home to autonomous spaces for creativity, funky tat stalls, drinking dens and dancing palaces.

But Leeds isn’t Berlin. And even in Berlin those old goods-yards-turned-alternative-spaces are falling into the hands of property developers. And it was only a dream.

RAW

 

 

 

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Revised Leeds housing target “may be in region of 55,000 homes” (not 70,000)

leeds homes

Controversial figures for the number of houses Leeds is going to need over the coming years look likely to be revised downwards later this year by a significant amount.

The Labour council’s housing target of 70,000 new homes (from 2014-28) has come under consistent fire since it was announced, with opposition parties and campaign groups in parts of the city saying it was far too high and didn’t reflect the latest evidence on population growth from the Office of National Statistics.

A council press release today quotes one senior councillor involved in a review of the figures as saying that initial findings indicated that “a revised housing need for Leeds may be in the region of 55,000 homes up to 2033”.

Cllr Peter Gruen, who chairs a consultative group made up of house-builders, community groups and others, said that once the review is complete the council will have to consider its findings. “Any revised housing figure would then be subject to wider public consultation by the end of the year,” he added.

The council launched a review of the figures back in March 2015.

Council planning chief Cllr Richard Lewis said today that “latest information and population evidence points to lower and slower growth than was originally forecast.”

“So it is likely this review will recommend the overall figure for housing need should be reduced to reflect what we know now,” he added.

The review of housing need – known as the Strategic Housing Market Assessment – was supposed to have been finalised this month. It will replace the previous version that was published in 2011.

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