York council leader’s annual speech: Six talking points

James Alexander puts the finishing touches to his Mansion House speech. Photograph: James Alexander on Twitter
18 Jun 2014 @ 11.42 am
| Environment, Politics, Property, Transport
James Alexander puts the finishing touches to his Mansion House speech. Photograph: James Alexander on Twitter
James Alexander puts the finishing touches to his Mansion House speech. Photograph: James Alexander on Twitter

James Alexander gave the third annual leader’s Mansion House speech last night (Tuesday, June 18), setting out his thoughts on the state of York. The council leader spoke of achievements, challenges and the future, and here are a few talking points…

It’s time to quit carping

This is a great city, he said. “Cities that do well know their assets and promote them. They don’t talk themselves down to the competition…

“So we should say ‘enough’ to those who seem to take pleasure in talking this great city down, in finding the downside of every success, and in harking back to some mythical golden age, if such a thing ever existed.”

‘We listened on Lendal Bridge’

The council had taken strides to improve openness including streaming council meetings and publishing councillor expenses online.

“Even in relation to the most controversial issue of the last year – the trial closure of Lendal Bridge – we listened, and when it became clear that the approach wasn’t commanding a consensus, we took decisive action to halt it,” he said.

“The issues the closure was designed to address of course remain with us, but I have reached out to other parties to try to find a way to tackle the serious issues we face, that will enable us to move forward together.”

Jobs and transport

Cllr Alexander listed the fall in the number of York people out of work as a key achievement this year.

“Youth unemployment (Job Seekers Allowance claimants aged 18-24) has decreased by 36% in the last year, one of the lowest proportions on record,” he said.

Another achievement was on transport.

Investment in York’s Park & Ride “will free up road capacity for those with no alternative but to use the car, when we need to do all we can to tackle congestion and its damaging impact on the local economy”.

Rail was also a focus “with partnership with the East Coast Mainline group and support for HS2.

“Increasingly we are recognised as a natural northern hub, and, despite the disappointing news from central Government on the location of the HS2 college, I am convinced that other opportunities in rail education will materialise.”

The housing headache

“Housing is critical issue for the city; we have one of the fastest growing populations in England and the cost of housing in York is now eight times higher than average earnings for real people,” said Cllr Alexander.

“Our Local Plan sets a vision of 22,000 new homes in the city. This has been variously portrayed as ripping up the Green Belt, concreting over our heritage and, trying to turn the city into the Milton Keynes of the north.”

York needs more homes “so that young people have a future in the city in which they were raised.

“The alternative of allowing a situation where prices continue to rise so that they have to move away is not one I as a parent am prepared to accept.”

The Leeds link

Cllr Alexander said we need closer ties with our neighbours, which is why he wants York to join the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

This would “give our residents access to the Metro scheme, giving much cheaper access to opportunities in Leeds and beyond, and allowing those priced out of our overheated housing market access to opportunities here.

“It will also mean more people from West Yorkshire will see a day out shopping in York as an attractive option, increasing footfall.”

Free market failures

Cllr Alexander is proud to lead “the first city in Yorkshire to state its ambition to become a Living Wage city”.

And he turned on opponents of this style of state intervention.

“Red in tooth and claw advocates of the free market as the answer to all problems should hang their heads in shame at the growth of in-work poverty.

“How can the market be free, if wages are effectively subsidised by in-work benefits? A real market solution would see wages at a level where all can survive.”


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