Date: 17th May 2017 at 10:43am
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FIVE YEARS ago today an application for a new community stadium at Monks Cross was finally approved at a City of York Council planning meeting.

The much-delayed meeting at The Park Inn Hotel in North Street considered an application for a new 6,000 all-seated stadium to be shared by both the professional football and rugby league clubs, together with a couple of new enabling John Lewis and Marks & Spencer stores.

“YORK CANNOT AFFORD TO BE COMPLACENT. IT IS ABOUT YORK SHOWING THE WORLD IT IS A DYNAMIC CITY OPEN FOR INVESTMENT AND ECONOMIC GROWTH”

Chief planning officer Michael Jones earlier detailed how the council had received 2,967 letters supporting the application and 2,405 opposing the Oakgate development. This was considered a huge response and one of the biggest ever on record.

A number of representatives from the football club were in attendance, accompanied by the FA Trophy won by York at Wembley on the previous Saturday, in amongst an audience of around two hundred people.

Chairman Jason McGill had described it as the most crucial decision in the club’s 90-year history and spoke typically impassionately: “York City has been an integral part of the local community since 1922. It is the only professional club in North Yorkshire and has proud history,” he said.

“Since 2009, we will have made 4 appearances at the new Wembley, including twice in 8 days. On Saturday we won this FA Trophy and we hope to add to that on Sunday, hoping to win promotion to the Football League.

“We are the largest regular gathering of York people – we have 3,000 people who gather 25 times a season.

“We are just as culturally important as the theatres, galleries and museums. The new stadium will be owned by the City of York Council, which ensures the long-term survival.

“This is an opportunity to have a 21st-century facility we can be proud of – a chance to raise the facilities to the level befitting of this city.”

McGill received loud cheers of support following his speech.

His views were clearly shared by York Minstermen chairman Frank Ormston: “It is Monks Cross or nothing. It is Huntington, or the slow lingering death of sport in this city.”

Former council leader Steve Galloway had already commented: “There is no reason the city has to be divided in two. The great competition for this city is not between Monks Cross and the city centre. It will be between this city and Leeds.”

Susie Cawood of York Chamber of Commerce added: “York cannot afford to be complacent. This is about much more than whether we want a John Lewis – it is about York showing the world it is a dynamic city – open for business, open for investment and open for economic growth.”

York City’s communications director, a tearful Sophie Hicks, also spoke emotionally of the devastating effect on the club’s community and youth programmes should the vote go against it.

Councillors then stood to debate the issue and voiced their opinions of the plans and their own declarations of intent.

Labour’s Brian Watson, Dafydd Williams, Ken King and Barbara Boyce, together with Ann Reid of the Lib Dems, all revealed they would be supporting the motion.

It wasn’t until the Green Party’s Andy D’Agorne spoke that there was a clear dissenter and he was soon joined by Paul Healey (Conservative), although Labour’s Tracey Simpson-Laing swiftly redressed some of the balance with a favourable dialogue.

That appeared to leave the eventual vote at 6-2 in favour of the proposal with seven councillors left to speak.

An earlier Government announcement today that councils would be allowed to retain 50% of extra business rates created by developments after April 2013 was probably doing no harm to the approval chances of the scheme.

This particular venture was predicted to fuel an additional £7.1m in business rates and with, therefore, half of that total remaining in York and not going central.

Tina Funnell and Steve Burton, both of Labour, then appeared to move the motion even further towards being passed while Conservatives John Galvin and Joe Watt were each firmly opposed.

Another Lib Dem, Paul Firth, indicated his vote would be favourable, making it 9-4, with the final two councillors preferring not to speak.

Actual voting then began on the first and far more minor issue, the expansion of the existing Monks Cross site, and planning permission for this was refused – although that has no direct impact on the community stadium.

But the proposal for the new stadium and accompanying John Lewis and Marks & Spencer superstores under the Oakgate scheme was finally passed by an emphatic 11-4 vote.

However, a seemingly endless five years on from that momentous decision, and not a single brick has been laid despite the site being cleared. Indeed we still don’t even know who is actually going to build it, although now told that will finally be revealed by the end of this month.