Enquiry launched to help city centre ‘weather the storm’

BHS on Coney Street pictured on its final day of trading in 2016. Picture by Simon Hulme
BHS on Coney Street pictured on its final day of trading in 2016. Picture by Simon Hulme
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AN ENQUIRY into how York city centre could “weather the storm” facing high streets across the western world has been launched, and could result in business rate relief to help retailers and targeted support to encourage the growth of independent traders.

Senior councillors will next week to discuss a report which says the retail economy of the historic city centre is in a “state of flux”, and despite shop vacancies being at half the rate of the national average, the “pace of change is accelerating”.

It says there is a growing need to understand what could be next for the city centre and how it might best adapt to be ready for the future - particularly in specific areas already hit by retail closures such as Coney Street, where BHS closed in 2016, and Goodramgate. It adds that calls for the council to use its discretionary powers to reduce business rates - despite their “growing importance” as an income stream for the authority - are growing.

The council is already working with Make It York, York BID and the York Retail Forum to coordinate approaches to the city centre and find solutions to short-term issues such as vacancies on Coney Street, and other immediate actions mentioned in the report include using a surplus of Christmas decorations to help increase visitor footfall at other high streets, including Front Street in Acomb and Haxby.

Research into the city centre economy has already begun, but councillors at Tuesday’s meeting will be asked to approve further studies into business rates, retail in the city centre and out of town shopping areas, ways of reducing occupancy costs in the council’s own property portfolio, and the support of independent traders.

York’s member for economic development and community engagement, Coun Keith Aspden, said: “Nationally, our retail sector is rapidly changing and as a local authority we should be ahead of the curve in terms of managing and influencing change.

“Supporting York’s City Centre economy is a priority for the council and undertaking this research alongside supporting traders associations will put the council in a stronger position to determine next steps in preparing the city for future years.”

Council leader Ian Gillies added said: “This is a key priority for City of York Council and will help us to better understand how future changes might impact on the city centre and how the council and partners might influence change to support the growth of our economy.”

The focus comes as Chancellor Philip Hammond announced £1.5bn for high street’s in Monday’s budget. The announcement included plans to give nearly half a million small retailers relief from business rates.

It follows the launch of The Yorkshire Post’s Love Your High Street campaign to encourage our readers to shop locally.