My York Central in 2020 & Beyond – Scope & Constituencies

One of the recurring themes within public engagement is “how do you reach the hard-to-reach”.

This merits a little unpicking straight away; There will be people who really do have a stake in a place or a question but who are often bypassed by “conventional” means of engagement – and here swapping “easy-to-ignore” for “hard-to-reach” is a fair criticism. With our work we’ve always been willing to work with the “usual suspects” but have also always made efforts to engage far more broadly – we’ve run appropriately-tailored sessions in church hall drop-ins, school classes, pay-as-you-feel cafes, midnight walks with the homeless – the harder to reach.

But there are still a lot of people out there beyond this. A big development – like York Central – feels like it should make ripples right through the city, but does it? Are there people who live in suburbs on the opposite side of York for whom it means little, who would argue it’s for someone else? I would argue that there are, and this then prompts reflection on the purpose both of the process of engagement and the subject itself – in this case York Central. How can we frame questions which engage both with the development proposals but also with the lives of everyone in the city? And how can the development be shaped to ensure it as generous as possible, bringing benefit to as wide a constituency as it can?

Ensuring that a process of engagement is agile enough to fulfil this broad range of purpose isn’t straightforward, and it can’t simply be extractive – it relies heavily on two-way communication which enables ideas to be identified and addressed within a conversation, bridging between fairly specific questions about the development – York Central – and everyday topics of conversation where the conversation is taking place – that largely unrelated suburb, for example. What connects the design of a street in York Central with “you said you’re looking forward to the weekend – what especially?”

Within our work, Helen and I talk often about citizenship and democracy, and particularly a type of distributed democracy which engages with everyday conversations in everyday settings. We have had conversations with people who work in the Local Area Coordinator (LAC) teams about the role of their work in big city-wide processes. We often look at how apparently specific decisions about – say, the design of a junction – actually connect with very broad policies around transport hierarchy and about personal experiences around, in that case, movement and travel.

Covid-19 and the response to it has added a layer of complexity to those everyday conversations; issues of loneliness or poverty may well have been heightened, and the opportunity to share and connect with others has been diminished. But is has also created opportunities – a call for volunteers brought over four thousand responses; an over-subscription which has meant many people who are happy to be involved in the city’s response to the virus have not been able to take part. For many people, thinking about the future might feel impossible due to uncertainty and fear, but there are many others who could – potentially – help kickstart a city-wide conversation linking their own neighbourhoods and offering collective reassurance, along with new networks connecting people with their neighbours.

So – what does all this have to do with York Central? What does York Central provide as a framework within such a broad conversation? It can be:-

  • At the very least, the development is an idea, a “what if”, a tool for discussion around how we shape our city in future, what oft-misused words such as “sustainability” or “zero-carbon” really mean.
  • It may be a future place where people might live or work – where there is a question “what would it need to be like for you to be there?”
  • It may be a place of exchange – where people go to learn, or teach, or share – to be excited and challenged by it.
  • It may be a place to go through – a new route into the city (with better buses or greener cycling routes. Or just less traffic).
  • It may be seen as a catalyst for the city – a place where we pilot bold ideas which make broader change across the whole of York; where aspirations are deliberately set high because of the opportunities to test new futures.

There are routes we can use to connect these opportunities and questions back to that broader context. In our work to date we’ve used film-making terminology to talk about how you make use of an agile viewpoint – “panning” and “zooming”. Here, we need to be able to use:-

  • Panning – to examine and understand existing neighbourhoods and use that understanding to shape York Central, the city centre, and those existing neighbourhoods themselves, and…
  • Zooming – to use broad understanding to then shape detail decisions about specific places or issues.

Can we set up conversations which allow this to happen? We have the Local Area Coordination teams out there already, engaging with people at neighbourhood level, joining in their conversations and enabling them to be richer in purpose. We have thousands of Covid-19 volunteers, spread across the city and all, to some degree, already engaged with their own neighbourhoods. Can we – within whatever constraints on contact endure – start conversations which begin with simple questions:-

  • What about your home makes you happy?
  • What about your neighbourhood makes you happy?
  • What about York makes you happy?

…but then start to allow us to pan and zoom in order to work with the stories which are generated, while at the same time ensuring that the conversations build connections within neighbourhoods, and start to identify opportunities for local collective action. Conversations – which start maybe by phone (an invite through the letterbox) and maybe continue via socially-distanced doorstep chats or tea in the street when that becomes possible – all facilitated by people who themselves live in that neighbourhood, who know some of its issues, and who will share some of their neighbours thoughts on what function York Central might play for them.

This could be a genuine process of imagining and re-imagining; of giving form to ideas around happiness and wellbeing, bridging between the solid piers of the lives of individuals in their neighbourhood, and the largest and most important new part of the city. It would add meaning to work on more specific York Central design issues too; conversations with interested groups and individuals have always identified broader issues, and this city-wide network of conversations would be a perfect way to take this process of “exploring the challenges” out to a much wider group of citizens, to create a richer democratic process which itself can lead to more broadly supported directions in policy and process.

“Active citizenship” – especially in a time of great change and amidst fears of disengagement with the democratic process – must be something we seek to bring out of the current crisis. York Central can be both a tool and a beneficiary if we have the courage to engage generously; to share, listen, and to then work within neighbourhoods to support people in creating better places, alongside York’s wonderful new quarter.

YoCo meet with Town

24th March 2020

This event held as an online session due to Coronavirus – many thanks to all who took part.  Many thanks especially to Neil Murphy, managing director of TOWN, and to Ian Gray, Project Director, for Network Rail and Homes England who are the master developers of the York Central.

Here are some notes which summarise today’s discussion. The event ran on the same format as with Chris Thompson from Citu on 21st March.

After brief introductions from everyone, Phil gave a brief update of where we are up to with the York Central Co-Owned (YoCo) proposals – starting from the My York Central big ideas and leading through a number of public events to this one here.

Ian Gray then outlined his thinking in key areas:

  • Investment models: The master developers are looking for ‘patient capital’, long-term investment. Through the procurement of partners who will view the project over a 40-50 year timescale.
  • Ownership models: are exploring leasehold models to enable this long-term investment.
  • Community-led: Too often developments ignore community-led and only give it a little leftover space at the end. The aim is to use the planning requirements set out in the outline masterplan for custom and self-build homes and to go further.
  • Timescale: Ian then briefly outlined his thinking on the early stages of the development of York Central. There would be Phase 1 Commercial (near the station) of around 300-400,000 sq ft and Phase 1 Residential (near Leeman Yard). He noted that initial phases off Leeman Road had the potential for around 400 homes, and that he was keen that this first phase “set the tone” by showing an intention to do good quality development working in partnership with the community. The aim would be for these to be advanced by the end of 2020.
  • Sustainability: Scope for a much more innovative approach going beyond the illustrative York Central masterplan.
  • Archaeology: Interested in getting a big community dig going once land near the station becomes available.

Neil Murphy introduced the work TOWN have been involved in recently:

Marmalade Lane

  • Residents: importance of residents themselves building the community they wanted. This had an impact on the wider local area, despite happening at the tail-end of the overall development. Earlier community input gives more impact.
  • Cars: Much less use of cars and need for parking than predicted, so parking space allocated has been repurposed as share space. Car shares have been set up.
  • Different models of community-led – non speculative development: Not only the scope to start with a group but for developers to form a group. This enables non-speculative housing development. In a speculative model, there is a leakage of value. There is so much risk management in speculative approaches that quality is cut unnecessarily. Bringing together development-led and community-led means you can do non-speculative development. You don’t need a ‘tribe’ in advance, you can build a ‘tribe’.
  • Pioneers to get through development period: There is going to be a 15 year period before the York Central site is finished. You need people who want to be urban pioneers involved in the early phases, building the place and the community.

Open discussion

Procurement: It is noted that an open procurement process will be needed beyond the current process. Homes England are currently reviewing DPP3 and other frameworks to have a Dynamic Purchasing System. However, the Master Developers need a process that works for both Homes England and Network Rail.

Regional Planning: Is there a danger that without better regional planning, York Central remains just a pilot. Others responded there is real power in having a very strong pilot in terms of beyond 5% custom build and community led and sustainability standards.

Building a community-led vision: Real encouragement not to assume things won’t be possible – build a vision and stick to it.

COVID-19: How do we ensure the lesson being learnt now – the different ways of living lives – can be responded to in the planning York Central?

Community Land Trusts and Leaseholds: It is useful to think what is the problem to which Community Land Trusts are the solution? There might be no benefit in a community land trust if a leasehold process was set up well with community involvement in management.

Next steps:

  • YoCo: Imelda Havers (Yorspace) to facilitate the process of developing a group and vison for the YoCo site.
  • Wider site: Phil Bixby to continue keeping in touch with other agencies – such as JRHT – with a full recognition that this might be about other sites on YC not the YoCo site.
  • My York Central: News of when this wider conversation will begin again will be shared as soon as it is confirmed by City of York Council.


YoCo meets Citu – online workshop – 19th March 2020

This event was hastily reconvened as a Skype online session due to Coronavirus – many thanks to all who took part. We’re looking at ways of using a more robust platform for ongoing events, but it was extremely helpful to see how this session went.

Many thanks especially to Chris Thompson, managing director of Citu, and to Ian Gray, project director at York Central Partnership (YCP). Here are some notes which summarise today’s discussion.

After brief introductions from everyone, Phil gave a brief update of where we are up to with the York Central Co-Owned (YoCo) proposals – starting from the My York Central big ideas and leading through a number of public events to this one here, which set out a sketchy check on the scale of development we could fit on the site adjacent to Leeman Road which we’d investigated.

Ian then briefly outlined his thinking on the early stages of the development of York Central. He noted that initial phases off Leeman Road had the potential for around 400 homes, and that he was keen that this first phase “set the tone” by showing an intention to do good quality development working in partnership with the community. He also said that while involvement of YoCo in providing affordable housing might “tick a box”, he wanted to show how we could jointly go further and do something which demonstrated that innovative community-led development was possible. Ian also clarified that the recent funding announced for York Central wasn’t the expected HIF funding – he’s yet to find out exactly where this is coming from and what it’s to be spent on.

Chris outlined Citu’s aims – a company very much driven by a wish to address climate change through the developments they do. He described their “vertical integration” – taking on everything from timber frame manufacture through to marketing in order to control their product and ensure quality. He described the Leeds Climate Innovation District – 280 acres overall – and their part in it which will ultimately comprise around 850 homes, some workplaces, a school and care home and a lot of high-quality public realm.

Chris said that a key element in making their approach a success was making efficient use of land; by eliminating roads and surface-level parking they had achieved densities more than three times higher than usual (the Leeds scheme has low parking provision, and buried under the homes and public space). They have found that sales prices have been comparable with others in the area – higher quality and energy performance doesn’t immediately translate into higher values – but that as the development has progressed values have risen (from around £300/sq ft to around £310). Ian commented that YCP would want to act as “master developer” on York Central to ensure they controlled the overall identity of the development.

Chris was asked whether the building methods they were using in Leeds would translate easily across to York Central. Chris noted he was talking very much about the technology – designs and housetypes would be site-specific (they don’t have a range of houses which they drop just anywhere – thank heavens) – but that on the face of it they were currently doing 4-6 storey developments using timber frame. Post-Grenfell timber structures can’t be used above 18m height; this would still allow 5 storeys but there is uncertainty around whether this might be reduced to 11m in upcoming legislation – which would then require different building methods and flies in the face of “zero carbon” aims. Chris noted their Leeds factory had been designed with capacity to serve all of Yorkshire, so if a scheme was built in York the frames would be made in Leeds, but erection and finishing teams might be local.

Chris was asked about mixed tenure and affordability. Citu have been working with Leeds Community Homes – basically aiming to build housing within the mix to be owned and managed by LCH. At present all completed units are market sale, so there’s no experience yet of how a mix of owned/rented works there. The same approach can in principle be taken in York.

Chris was asked about the energy systems at Leeds – these (along with the freeholds of the houses) are collectively owned. Chris noted that control doesn’t actually shift to the occupants until the scheme is finished, but commented that there was an argument for doing this as soon as a critical mass had been reached. In response to a later question he also pointed out that the scheme has its own comms networking, so each house has superfast internet – a key consideration right now and one that helps resilience in future.

Ian was asked about the upcoming spending review and what impact this might have; he commented that the government saw housing as a priority. He was also asked about whether Homes England could apply political pressure to ensure a shift towards more sustainable development (and practically fewer cars = more housing land). He responded that exemplar schemes would be useful in demonstrating this; that he’d been successful in achieving this previously in Oxford and was hopeful about York – he noted the scheme “needs to work for fifteen years or more into the future, not for last year”.

There was a conversation about The Gatehouse – meanwhile use of the existing building on Leeman Road current leased by HE to Network Rail. Ian noted practical difficulties with getting possession of this but said he agreed it was important to get meanwhile use on the site – either in this building or in another, and he was working to make this happen.

We concluded by talking about what conversations needed to take place next. Chris said he felt a key issue in working with any partner was shared values (sustainability etc) and that there was a need to work together all the way through the process – so engaging on developing a joint brief which fitted with their approach to construction would be essential. Ian discussed the contractual basis which starts with Homes England’s standard framework (basically requiring developers to be on a register) but he said he was keen to be flexible in ways that allowed innovation. Ian said he was very open to a community coming forward with an idea for what they need and say “this solves your community-led problem and takes it to the next level”.

Phil gave a brief update on the YoCo bid for £10k start-up funding which had been successful, so the group now has some money to fund technical and legal support, fact-finding etc. We would collectively look at how to use this to move things forward. Imelda will be in touch with people about how they want to be involved.

Thanks again to everyone who took part, and to Helen for setting up the event and chairing it. We will be running a second online workshop next Tuesday 24th March at 4:00pm with Neil Murphy from TOWN and (hopefully, again) Ian Gray.

A Day In My Life – Vienna

What’s it like to live in the city voted “the worlds most liveable city” two years running? What makes life different there, to here? Nigel Tottie calls in from Vienna.

I am usually up pretty early- around 6am thanks to the cats! After feeding them and drinking a quick coffee I either cycle to work along traffic-free dedicated cycle lanes (there is a huge dedicated cycle network in Vienna), or walk to the local tram stop and take the tram to its connection with the U-Bahn, which stops right outside the front of my workplace. Public transport is excellent in Vienna- a conscious decision by the City’s Green Party implemented affordable public transport as a way of encouraging its use. With an annual pass I can travel on all buses, trams, trains and the U-Bahn system across the city for only 1 Euro per day! Perfect for a Yorkshireman.

I work at the United Nations Headquarters building in Vienna so on a normal day will have meetings with colleagues of different nationalities. There is something very humbling about sitting in a meeting with my female colleague who switches effortlessly between English, French, Russian and Romanian depending on who she’s talking to! I have enough trouble getting some nationalities to understand my Yorkshire-accented English!

After work, and another cycle or tram ride home, we might go for a wander through the local vineyards to a Heurige, or take the tram into the City for a drink and some food. Austrians are very good at meeting over lunch and eating out – it seems like the whole place eats out in Summer! The city in summer is very lively – the Rathausplatz has events on all year round, from the Christmas markets, to ice skating in Jan and Feb (the biggest ice skating area I’ve ever seen!), Easter market, food festivals, film festivals etc! People are more indoors in winter, just because it gets cold, but still the Austrians are happy standing out on a December evening eating Langos and drinking Gluhwein.

In summer I will head out of the city on my bike on a couple of evenings and get in a loop of 2-3 hours with friends. It’s easy to get out of the city onto relatively quiet roads within a few minutes and I take advantage of it whenever I can. This also makes it easy to get out on the bike with the same friends on a weekend in the summer. In winter the nearest skiing (the Austrian religion) is only an hour away so I take advantage of that when I can (it’s addictive!).

The property set up is interesting. We are currently renting, but looking at buying somewhere at the moment (we’ve reserved an apartment which will be built at the end of the year). Rented property is plentiful and, in the Altbaus, cheap, as rents are fixed by the City Council (the rents don’t seem to have changed much since the 50s!). Public Housing is everywhere and doesn’t have the stigma that it can have in the UK – it is sought after and tends to pass down through generations – once you’re on the tenancy you can add your family and pass it down. It’s the same with private housing. There isn’t much to buy apart from new builds, as families tend to keep their housing and simply pass it on to the next generation. And ‘clean’ is the word – the Austrians take pride in it – the streets tend to be spotless and everything runs on time. If a tram or train is late by even 30 seconds they are on the speakers apologizing! It’s a far cry from waiting for the No.5 Bus in Huntington (we moved there in 2014) and it simply not turning up!

Despite so much that is great about living in Vienna, it does have its frustrations. The Austrians are incredibly bureaucratic and any interaction with city authorities or local government involves repeated visits to officials and lengthy written exchanges, all conducted in German (in my case, very bad German!). There is no NHS in Austria so the first question when visiting a doctor or dentist is always ‘how will you pay?’ And you have to love pork-based products (there are only so many Schnitzels or Wurst one man can eat in a lifetime!). So, on balance, I would recommend Vienna as a place to live to anyone who asks. But York is still home, and always will be.

Wild and Playful Streets in York Central Co-Owned

Event held at York Explore, Wednesday 12th February 2020

Nineteen of us turned up at York Explore (many thanks to Barbara Swinn for use of this excellent space – home to all sorts of creativity judging by the stuff which surrounded us) to share ideas and creative thinking about the outdoor, public bits of our proposed Co-Owned Neighbourhood. And we did it playfully.

Starting with Pictionary – we drew stuff on the tables to reflect what we’d like to see / hear / smell in the neighbourhood, and we then wrote on cards which put in words what we thought the pictures showed. We then split into groups and used these cards as tools. We spent some time thinking about less appealing stuff – what are we likely to end up with, whether we like it or not? Delivery vans, money-grabbing developers and similar stuff immediately came to mind, and was written down. We then used the cards to identify, with each issue, where we wanted to be and how we might use the good stuff to build a bridge across to this. After a lively set of discussions we came back together to talk through how those bridges would get built.

Here are the very summarised responses…

CARS:- make the place somewhere people want to be > encourage activity (jungle gyms and fun stuff) > make sure there are bikes and routes for them > FEWER CARS.

SPECULATIVE DEVELOPERS:- make gardens and bring garden love > create a bit of wildness > re-balance the private and public > cafes and the smell of baking > treehouses > DIVERSITY WHICH DOESN’T APPEAL TO SPECULATORS.

BIN LORRIES:- create secondhand swap shops > recycling and upcycling > have collective bin areas > use new, clean technologies – BIN BIKES / BIN ZEPPELINS

BIG BOX RETAIL:- ensure interesting local competition > put shops on the perimeter to reduce traffic into scheme > CREATE PEACE & QUIET IN CENTRE

SECURITY CAMERAS:- make facilities shared where possible > create camaraderie > ensure overlooking and people knowing each other > CREATE JOUISSANCE

GATED COMMUNITIES:- Crime and fear of it > natural security > mixed development and demographic so not everyone disappears during daytime > places where people naturally meet (“proper Secure by Design”) > active space and frontages with gardens > SHOPS AND COMMUNITY SPACE AT GROUND LEVEL

STORAGE AND GARAGES:- Create library of things > make it inclusive to build trust > make parking areas wild so people brush against nature > SHIFT AWAY FROM UNNECESSARY CARS

DELIVERY VEHICLES:- reduce van movements > centralised delivery spaces > REDUCE ROAD NETWORK

ROADS AND SERVICES:- bring services above ground where possible > reduce need for services (local water recycling / sustainable drainage etc) > easier for other stuff underground > HIDDEN BINS (FRENCH STYLE)

DISTRICT HEATING:- no need for gas but think about collective systems > solar panels in the best places > LOCAL ELECTRICITY NETWORK

TRAIN NOISE:- plant trees to shield visually and from noise > TREES FOR COPPICING


We then did a round of “when I go to York Central, in my suitcase I will pack…” which created a fun A-Z for our neighbourhood:-

A lot of children to make the streets busy

A BRIEFCASE full of tools

CHAIRS so I can sit outside and talk with people

A DRIVER of screws

EARS so I can hear the birdsong

A FRUIT TREE for every household

GARDEN seeds – for wildflowers

HELLO’s for the people I meet

An INTERN (well paid) to research the neighbourhood and tell others

JAMJARS so I can make use of the fruit from the trees

A KAYAK for my river commute to work

LOADS of chocolate

MUSIC of all kinds

NUMEROUS ideas to turn inequality on its head

ORANGES to make marmalade

PEACE and quiet

QUOSH for hot summer days




A spirit of UNITY

VIEWS of special things

The back-end of a FOX running off into the landscaping

Lots of YUMMY food

All of it being ZERO carbon

We finished off by agreeing on our next steps:-

  • Let’s get local children involved by working with schools in the area (St.Barnabas and Poppleton Road) to get their participation in shaping the place
  • We have an application submitted for Community Led Housing start-up finding – as soon as we hear more about this let’s think about what we can do with these resources
  • We’ve been looking at “meanwhile” use of The Gatehouse on Leeman Road – let’s pursue this and explore how we can build links with the local community and use the place to articulate ideas.

York Central Co-Owned – 13th January 2020 Blog

Our workshop on Monday 13th January in the Cinder Building comprised four inter-related sections; the first was simply getting there – high winds and driving rain put a fair few people off and one or two abandoned on the way there, soaked and disorientated. Twelve participants made it, plus Phil & Helen, and Steph Hiscott from Homes England – more about her input in a moment.

The next main chunk of the session was doing some initial thinking about an outline brief – what do we want this place to be, and to do?

Phil started this process rolling by outlining the progress made so far – starting with the Big Ideas from the My York Central public engagement…

  • Homes for living, not investment – forever affordable housing
  • Exploiting the benefits of high density
  • A community made through exchange

…and the questions which emerged from discussions around them…

  • How can we create an intergenerational circular economy?
  • How can people downsize and use capital to invest in stuff which enriches neighbourhood and their lives?
  • How can we make use of York’s inequality for good; How can we help York’s hidden creative industries flourish?
  • How might the mixed-use neighbourhood of the future be more like the past than the present?

He then set out some initial steps to draw out some physical scale to this. How big a project are we thinking of? We had had discussions with York Central Partnership a year or so ago, where we put a red line around an area which had various positive features:-

  • It was next to The Gatehouse building – still being pursued as a “meanwhile” use to get a community presence on the site
  • It was next to the Foundry buildings – identified in the outline consent as being for possible community or educational use
  • It was close to the edge of the site and the existing Leeman Road and St.Peter’s Quarter communities
  • It was – it turned out – next to the area initially identified as being a likely first phase of development.

The area is shown red-lined below:-

He then outlined some basic thinking from David Sim’s book Soft City (based on very extensive work done by urban design practice Gehl Associates on urban components which work well) on perimeter blocks comprising walk-up mixed use buildings around a space where privacy/access can be controlled by those buildings.

He then described the constraints on building height set out in the parameter plans – part of the approved outline consent. These restrict building height in this area to around 17.5m – realistically around five storeys maximum (allowing a 4m floor-to-floor ground floor and 3m floor-to-floor for the storeys above. So – four or five-storey walk-up buildings would fit.

He then described measuring the perimeter of the red-lined site, which gives around 300m of frontage. Divide this by (say) 10m between dividing walls, multiply by 5 floors, and you get around 150 units which could be one or two-floor apartments, workshops, offices, shops, café’s etc.

This is a very rough figure, but gives some starting point for thinking about the scale of what we’re shaping.

Using this as a starting point, we then asked “what would a day be like here? Living or working, what would you do here, what would it feel like, what would the place need to provide you with?” These were the narratives which came out (via Post-Its, obviously)…

“I’ve got a mezzanine live/work apartment but the neighbourhood is important to me too. There’s a community nursery with outside space and a forest school. for me there’s a shared “natter” and hobby space and a studio to do yoga. And as a treat for after there the York Central bakehouse which does the best sourdough in town. Plenty of activity – the public spaces are properly wild so there’s a Saturday morning Park Run through the streets, but also public art and playspaces. There’s off-road trail bike terrain and a climbing wall, plus a lake for wild swimming (and for people who want hotter water there’s a sauna).”

“The central, convenient location is important to me – I can hop onto my bike, head off to Bishopthorpe off road or walk into the city centre avoiding the roads. I can cycle back into town and almost to my door along the riverside, just making a detour to call into our local shop for milk. I’ve got secure cycle parking close to home, and I’m already in a good mood as I get home to change and go meet friends.”

“I love the pleasures of this place. There’s the social – I can walk to work along a green route and use bikeshare to cycle home, but either way I’ll likely say hello to neighbours as the places is designed so you meet people. There’s good stuff in the neighbourhood too – getting to the cinema and pub is easy, and there’s a tapas bar and a patisserie.”

“This is a mixed neighbourhood – there are all sorts of ages, and while some people need a bit of care, others are happy to give it. It’s a place where public health has been thought of, and made positive – there’s a rooftop infinity swimming pool with fantastic views. The streets have been designed for people – children can play there as they’re car-free, and there are places to linger where you know you’ll meet people – there’s no reason to be lonely.”

“It’s a place where once you get outside, you hear birdsong. The public spaces are green, and not just at ground level – go up to the rooftops and there are gardens linked by walkways; the streets aren’t the only way to get around. You can see the distant skies, but there is lots to do; people are neighbourly and impromptu stuff is going on all the time. There are places for public play too – ping pong and stuff like that, or you can just hang out and enjoy the views.”

“It’s a great place to live if you do things on the spur of the moment – there are local facilities including useful shops. It’s social too – you can walk the dog on local streets and spaces to meet and chat with people, and if you want to go further afield there’s direct access to the riverside too.”

“For me I appreciate being close to the station – I can walk there for my commute to Sheffield and the local car club is handy for more awkward journeys. But when I’m home I just love the views – a place to read and be online but immediately return to reality to watch the sunset. There’s secure communal bike parking at the foot of the building, and a shared workshop where you can repair stuff or work on your own stuff. The neighbourhood brings people in too – there are classes, singing groups, and the best bakery.”

“The neighbourhood offers so much – an easy walk into town, maybe through the park or alongside the river. It’s convenient for cycling too (and there’s a shared repair shop!). Stuff to do – art classes – and local shops selling useful stuff – groceries and a bakery. My home’s lovely too – I can use the roof terrace for a glass of wine or a coffee with friends.”

“Surrounded by a lazy river, the neighbourhood is made by its gardens and green space (and the gardens are made by local people – there’s plenty of opportunity to get your hands dirty). In fact it’s the people that drive everything – the place is set up so it’s easy to get involved and to share things, to meet people, though it’s still your own space behind your own front door). The things people need are shared, and places are designed to bring people together – a natural amphitheatre to eat lunch in, and shops and bars on bridges that connect us to the rest of the city. Good walking routes and public transport means the place isn’t dominated by private cars, and there are well-lit places for dog-walking after work too.”

“It’s the collective space that makes it special – there are skill share repair workshops for everything from bike maintenance to electronics repair. There’s a hack space for being creative too. And if you want to simply people-watch or see the world go by then there’s the café upstairs.”

“It’s a real focus for community-led stuff; James came over yesterday and stayed over as we had a morning meeting today with various co-ops and groups within York Central. There’s always food involved and lunch came from our local food co-op – bread baked locally, food grown locally! In the afternoon we had a meeting with members of our housing co-op – we’re one of three on York Central and are finalising plans to build a local strawbale hub building.”

“I’ve got a top-floor apartment and have a short walk to work in a co-owned workspace on the ground floor of my building. Temptingly, among the many local social enterprises, next door is a cooperative coffee shop – and for something stronger there’s a community pub just down the way. If I manage to tear myself away from the neighbourhood it’s an easy walk into town to the cinema. But coming home is good too – I can have a swim in our rooftop pool before bed.”

“The streets are places where people can meet their neighbours – unlike most streets you feel comfortable there, conversations and encounters are unhurried. It works well for all ages too – kids can mix, play – and explore too. Some of the public space feels wild, but safe.”

The third part of the evening was a brief presentation by Steph (on behalf of the unavoidably absent Helen Fielding from the regional Homes England office) and Tim Moon (York’s Community and Self-Build Housing Officer) on ways in which Homes England was working with development partners and communities to provide affordable (in the widest sense) housing. Steph noted that key aims were to increase community-led housing provision, and to secure 130,000 affordable housing starts in the region. Tim pointed out the council’s commitment to 5% of housing on York Central being custom or self-build – which (assuming 2500 overall) sets that requirement at around 125 homes. All of this would be on top of the requirement for 20% Affordable housing – of which 80% would be social rented. Steph’s presentation is available here as a PDF.

Lastly James Newton talked about the role of Yorspace – the community housing group that has been successful in getting a co-housing scheme included within the Lowfields Green development, and is working more broadly to support and enable community-led housing across York. Yorspace is committed to supporting community-led housing on York Central (with any exact relationship between this project and Yorspace to be decided further down the line) and with that in mind James offered to assist in putting together an initial funding application – for up to £10k of reasonably readily-available funding – to support bringing a group together, fleshing out some initial questions about what sort of legal body would be most appropriate, and gathering information by contact with other projects which have experience to pass on. There was general support for this next step.

The session closed, having made good progress and consumed plenty of cake (thanks to Caroline Lewis (Twitter’s @singingfoodie) for maintaining the tradition of cake-fuelled meetings). Thanks also to York Central project director Ian Gray for arranging the venue.

York Central Co-Owned: Making it happen

13th January 2020
18:30 – 20:30
Cafeteria, Cinder Building off Cinder Lane (YO26 4XD).
Book your place

Want to see community-led development on York Central? Come and help shape it!

Through the My York Central public discussions emerged eight Big Ideas.

They included: ‘Homes for living, not investment’; ‘People, not more cars’ and ‘A community made through exchange’. We’re now working with York Central Partnership and City of York Council to make these ideas a reality on York Central.

In this meeting we will be working with Ian Gray, Director York Central Partnership to explore:

  • the York Central development timescale
  • how community-led development can engage with the master development structure being developed at led by York Central Partnership
  • how much space there is for us to work with and how to develop plans in relationship to the outline planning consent
  • how to move forward the more ambitious ideas to create an economic, social and physical structure that enables distribution of resources and enables genuinely affordable homes and a vibrant community
  • the kind of group and/or constituted structure we need to form to carry the ideas forward

Read more about the My York Central Vision, Big Ideas and Principles.

Read the write ups of the first two York Central Co-Owned events.

24th October 2019. Co-Owned Neighbourhoods on York Central

28th November 2019. Co-Owned Neighbourhoods on York Central: ‘Propose not just oppose’

The workshop will be held in The Cinder Building, which is accessible on foot just off Cinder Lane.

Co-Owned Neighbourhoods on York Central: ‘Propose not just oppose’

28th November 2019

This event followed on from a workshop held as part of York Design Week.

Overview of the emerging model:



Big Idea: Actively reengineer the inequities in York’s economy and society for redistribution of resources to respond to need and desire.

  • The connections between people/society and the neighbourhood establish what the economic flows are in each case (someone needing a social rent house, someone needing a workplace for a profitable company)
  • The place in which the buildings sit is as important as the buildings as it provides the connections between them, and also connections to the surrounding city
  • Homes are not investments, but people can individually or collectively invest in the neighbourhood
  • The neighbourhood includes everything including all profit-making stuff
  • Institutions and the community-led body can together target specific needs or opportunities which will support the vability economic model (affordable accommodation for staff, visitor accommodation for heritage/theme tourists)


There was a wide-ranging discussion. Here are key themes:-

Examples to look at

  • Look at Coin Street on South Bank in London – mix of commercial and residential
  • Learn from Lowfield Green, tiny corner or a larger site. It is an indicator for what is possible, it could be a test bed.
  • Town also involved in mixed use in Milton Keynes. What is community-led mixed use?
  • Good to look at Derwenthorpe, not mixed used or co-owned but constant monitoring in terms of communities. And all monetarised in terms of social value, e.g. film club.
  • Yorspace is different from Derwenthorpe, it is resident-led and resident-designed.
  • Cambridge University is currently funding accommodation for its workers. 150 hectares, rent is dependent on how much they earn. Is it built for everyone?
  • Millennium Village, Allerton Bywater. It was an old mine in the middle of a village and built a new village based on Homezones. Was designed so that no car would go above 10 mph.
  • Ebbsfleet, much bigger scheme than York Central. Trying to design communities where they don’t have cars.
  • An area purposefully left with holes so it can be developed to enable future development. That would be a real USP. Gaps = the anticipation of change over time.
  • Proposing rather than opposing:- instead of a road through the site (to prevent overloading of Holgate Road and Bootham) could we bring a tram / Very Light Rail route through it, linking the Park & Ride to the city centre via all the new housing sites (British Sugar site, Manor School site and York Central) reducing traffic so a through road isn’t needed?
  • How to deal with emergency services and deliveries. We must be able to design a pedestrian / cycling surface that can take emergency vehicles. Birmingham City Centre is a good example, large city centre deals with pedestrians and deliveries.


  • How to deal with affordability, as part of an intervention in housing inequality?
  • Marmalade Lane appears from the promo video painfully white and middle class.
  • Need to explore whether/how businesses might invest in affordable houses – one way to ensure the staff they want can live locally
  • Do we need to buy land and set up a Community Land Trust in order to create an asset lock?
  • It’s not for the faint-hearted.
  • But is that socially exclusive? Some people have got multiple jobs and don’t have time to get involved in community-led initiatives.
  • Part of this is recognising inequality – of money and time – but that all people are contributing in different ways, which are mutually beneficial.

Relationship between York Central and York City Centre

  • What about empty shops on Coney Street? Could there be residential in the city centre? Important not to have two different parts of the city that don’t speak to each other. Could we think of York as having lots of mixed areas that echo each other (rather that different areas that specialise in work / shopping / leisure / living)
  • It’s also about the Leeman Road area and community. Edible York has its apple store in Leeman Road and if there was a community kitchen in this area then could make chutney.

National Railway Museum / University of York connections

  • NRM – future of the railways. Recruitment and knowledge base of skills. Schools, GP practices, infrastructure. Put health centre near the station.
  • NRM – the main decisions are made in London. Really hard to get an interface with them. Has to be about connection, need that otherwise there will be a missing sprocket.
  • NRM – it shouldn’t feel like their aims conflict with our aims, how can it be one shared project? Maybe the conversation with NRM should be “how can the community help them achieve their objectives?” Things have moved on since Festival of York Central conversations.
  • University of York, VC – need to ensure there aren’t parallel worlds. Does the university provide a bit of a lever there? Needs to be driven together.

A new plan / a new model

  • We need to propose not just oppose.
  • The other option (to seeking help from NRM/CYC or UoY) is to just to do it. Draw up a new masterplan. Use Power to Change Seed money. Feasibility. Give it credibility. (It’s like wearing a high viz jacket:- no one asks you what you’re doing, you can just get on!)
  • Neighbourhood Plans? Ask Locality – Can you do a Neighbourhood Plan in a neighbourhood that doesn’t exist yet?
  • An anecdote that might be encouraging – residents for Lowfield Green, they’ve become a community even though they haven’t yet got a neighbourhood. Someone under pressure asked for help, and they all offered it. There is a Cameraderie. Community is not just about bricks and mortar.
  • Setting up the model for housing for Lowfield has already been very difficult. But we need to think about how they will think about it in 10 years time.
  • Is this just a little bit or the whole site? Things are developing so fast in terms of community-led in the development world, York Central Partnership might just be quite grateful.

Ways forward

  • Strong consistency of vision between the discussions tonight and the My York Central conversations. Make the most of this.
  • Land position? Ian Gray (Project Director) is focussed on how to set up the overall finance for the scheme, over next 30-50 years. This is designed around deciding what’s wanted on the site and how best to set up funding to enable it.
  • Do an alternative plan? Financial plan; spatial plan. Do a pilot proposal for a specific area. Start small but all the concepts are included in the neighbourhood. Use this as a building block. Make it modest and deliverable. Don’t sell it as an enclave, sell it as an approach which can be replicated across the site.


  • Research: Find relevant examples
  • Funding: Power to Change; Locality – what funding options? Who is applying for funding? Depends on the funds. Could be a loose model.
  • Neighbourhood Plans: Look into whether they might be useful?
  • Link with Neighbouring communities: We have contacted Leeman Road Residents Association.
  • Set Up Co-Owned York Central Group
  • Aaaaand… …we need to think about a name as “Co-Owned Neighbourhoods on York Central” is a bit of a mouthful. Just to kick off discussion:-




Next meeting in 13th January, 6.30-8.30pm, and will be held on York Central itself in the cafeteria at the Cinder Building, off Cinder Lane (YO26 4XD). All vry welcome!


Co-Owned Neighbourhoods on York Central

4-7.30pm, 24th October 2019


The York Central Masterplan emerged from a process that took over three years (for just the most recent version – many recall proposals from fifteen years ago or more). There was conventional “consultation” on key early masterplan elements and access route, followed by My York Central process March 2018 onwards which included a five week Festival of York Central. The Masterplan formed a basis for an outline planning application submitted in August 2018. The application was approved by committee in March 2019.

The York Central Masterplan retained a number of key ideas from the original design proposals pre-dating the My York Central process: – a linear green space running through the site, a public square between the station and NRM, and closure of Leeman Road to allow expansion of the NRM. It included up to 2,500 new homes and creation of up to 112k m2 of office, leisure and retail floorspace.

The My York Central vision and eight big ideas were developed through public engagement in March – August 2018 resulting in around three and a half thousand Post-It notes collected and scanned, uploaded to Flickr and tagged to create a searchable database of public input. This open and inclusive process continued with public workshops to develop and refine the final My York Central Vision document, the Key Principles which underpinned it and the My York Central Big Ideas.

Fascinating questions arise from the intersection of the big ideas:
• How can we create an intergenerational circular economy?
• How can people downsize and use capital to invest in stuff which enriches neighbourhood and their lives?
• How can we make use of York’s inequality for good; How can we help York’s hidden creative industries flourish?
• How might the mixed-use neighbourhood of the future be more like the past than the present?

Group discussion
What would a mixed-use neighbourhood mean to me? Post-Its collected and clustered to identify key issues for the discussion in the final part of the workshop.

Looking for inspiration
There were two presentations to generate questions.

  • TOWN – Neil Murphy on the making of, and ten key lessons from, Marmalade Lane. A partnership between a creative developer and a co-housing group making a humane, much-loved neighbourhood.
  • Citu – Chris Thompson presentated on the Leeds Climate Innovation District. Innovative construction which provides training and employment, and co-ownership of public realm and energy networks.

Questions and answers, and further notes on Post-Its were added for discussion in the final session of the workshop.

York Central Partnership and Homes England
We then heard from York Central Partnership and Homes England.

  • Ian Gray (YCP project director) – Outline consent gets the project where it needs to be at this stage, and allows engagement by developers and finance partners. But it’s a starting point. Community engagement can shape it from here.
  • Helen Fielding (HE Leeds office) – Homes England have funding through Community Housing fund and other routes and are keen to support community-led initiatives as part of delivering the homes which the country needs.

Group workshops
The workshop then split into three discussions to explore different possibilities and approaches.

  • Tim Moon – collective custom build – What does custom build / self build really mean – how dirty do people get their hands? How do we do custom build at scale and where are there examples? How do we reconcile different expectations into a streetscape which works?
  • Imelda Havers – Yorspace and People-Powered Housing – what is Yorspace about and how is it going about building forever affordable housing? What legal bodies are needed and what are their different purposes? How will Lowfield Green happen and how might Yorspace be involved in housing on York Central?
  • Irena Bauman – Built InCommon and very local design & construction – how did we give up the process of actually building homes and let it become remote from us? How can innovative use of technology re-connect people with the homes built for them? How might flying factories create local training and local businesses?

Group Discussion
Clustered Post-Its were set out on tables and everyone invited to join one table and take the issue forward. Aim was to ask:-
• What questions does this issue raise?
• Who do we need in the room in order to get answers and move forward?
• What are the immediate next steps we can take?

Identity is established at the beginning and confirmed at the completion of a project? Or does it form over the lifetime of a project as the community forms?
Identity can be based on history and heritage – which is more likely to be industrial or social than residential – but should also look forwards.
Identity should be organic and broad, not contrived.
Identity should speak to the broader community.

What does sharing actually mean – what are the shared places? They can vary from mainly private space which is occasionally shared, to the completely shared such as a common house or pub.
York Arts Centre (on Micklegate, now a bar) was a good example of shared space, available for all sorts of uses and appreciated by the community.
Communities tend to form around income groups – shared spaces are important as they allow these groups to mix.

Need to provide for groups which have social value – for example students remaining in the city and starting up businesses, generating economic activity. Start-up space has value.
New community spaces will have value to broader community beyond site boundaries – need to build bridges (literally as well as metaphorically.
We could bring water onto the site to create social space – the river isn’t far away.
The importance of the site should be acknowledged by all – especially the major partners (including the council) who should really think to the future.

Play is important in respect of intergenerational relationships – stuff of life gets done and is an opportunity for links between generations.
Good things can come out of chaos – name the killer hit single which was born in a pristine recording studio. Not advocating “designing in crack dens” but we should ensure there is some sort of chaos, some unformed places.
Haven’t heard the word “renting” – we need to retain student talent and their lives often don’t need ties of ownership. Can we provide this innovatively? For example intergenerational living and working – mixed neighbourhoods. If these are sufficiently dense and walkable then care provided for all works for the older residents too.
Play isn’t just for children – public realm is an “anchor tenant”.

High cost of acquiring land makes innovation hard, and makes affordable homes hard to provide.
“The council need to speak to each other” – silos need to be broken out of. Innovative thinking is needed and innovative partnerships are part of this.

Connections with the past – “identity often comes from past transport and infrastructure”.
Need to open up connections with other parts of the city – create routes through the site but ensure these are not about traffic – don’t make them “normal roads”.
First step should be to revisit the public vision for the development, and see how the declaration of climate emergency allows for fresh conversations with highways and planners.

Wild space can make people happy and healthy – and also save money.
The proposed park is an own goal by being overly curated – we need natural urban space.
We should be creating wild places where kids can explore. But we can also grow food in cities.
Can we make York Central invisible from space? Can we make it better than carbon neutral, and can we make it so diverse “that it pumps out life-forms across York”?

The Next Steps
There was agreement that it was vital the community should be engaged in the development planning process right from the start. How do we do this? Should there be one participative community that acts both to monitor overall direction of the development and engage much more actively in aspects of it? What sort of body is most appropriate to carry forward the community’s involvement? Is it a loose, non-membership body where the consistent elements are the ideas/issues/proposals or is there a role/need for a body which brings greater individual/institutional commitment – some sort of “pioneer group” which is effectively the beginnings of a client body, representing the users of the new neighbourhoods?

There was much discussion about the need for a mixture of tenures. How do we establish what we need to ensure this happens?

There was a wish for the development to have outdoor space of all sorts – some to foster group activity, some to grow food, some to be full of wildlife. Who needs to be involved to make this happen? How can we think about bringing water onto the site? How do we ensure that re-thinking aspects of the approved outline planning consent is done with support from York Central Partnership?

We need to work out what sort of commercial space will work well and bring social value, and how York Central can become a place where creative industries thrive. How do we build links with the universities and other partners to develop a brief for this and make it happen? And more broadly, how do we ensure we have all of the necessary people “in the room”?

A lot of people stated that the development should be car-free. Since the masterplan was developed, York has declared a climate emergency and the most recent election / council power shift has potentially opened the door to reconsideration of the development’s response to transport issues. Can these be looked at in a coordinated way between the council (members and officers), local groups (such as Civic Trust Transport Group / York Environment Forum / YCC etc) and interested individuals?