York Christmas Market set for changes following concerns about overcrowding

York safety chiefs are set to make changes to the Christmas market this year following complaints about potentially dangerous levels of overcrowding.

Councillors echoed concerns raised by members of the public about the number of people packed into Parliament Street for the 2022 event, which ran until December 23. During a meeting of the council’s community safety scrutiny committee, Coun Michael Pavlovic said the street was “gridlocked” when he visited, while Coun Ian Cuthbertson asked for reassurance about crush prevention.

City of York Council’s head of community safety Jane Mowat said such issues formed part of the planning process, but said the number of people attending had been higher than expected, in part because more people chose to visit UK Christmas markets instead of travelling to European ones.

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She added: “I have absolutely no doubt that the level of crowds within the Christmas markets this year will be picked up by the safety advisory group. And I would anticipate that that will probably result in some redesigning around the actual market itself, the spaces between the cabins, the exit and entry points and some of those issues.”

York Christmas Market. Picture by Simon HulmeYork Christmas Market. Picture by Simon Hulme
York Christmas Market. Picture by Simon Hulme

Councillors also discussed incoming legislation – known as the prevent duty – which places a requirement on councils to demonstrate they have taken proportionate steps to protect against a terrorist attack.

Commmittee vice-chair Coun Pavlovic said: “I cannot believe that that was risk assessed as being safe from a counterterrorism perspective. We’ve seen the major incident at Manchester Arena with an explosive device carried in a backpack. Had that happened in York over Christmas, the results would have been catastrophic.”

He pushed new York and Selby police commander Superintendent Fran Naughton on whether she felt the Christmas market had been a safe event. Supt Naughton she thought it had been as the police had taken their advice from counter-terrorisim experts.

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Ms Mowat added: “Firstly, we didn’t get an attack – so from that element, it was a success.”

She said she could not go into detail about some of the measures given their sensitive nature, but reminded councillors of the temporary bollards in place around the market and said other unseen measures helped to make it a safe event.

Coun Fiona Fitzpatrick said she had received complaints from residents in her Guildhall ward about being shut out from the city centre because of the Christmas market.

Coun Denise Craghill, executive member for housing and safer neighbourhoods, said that December’s Christmas market was “a fantastic event.”.

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She added: “I don’t quite recognise the picture that it was just purely overcrowded and nobody could access it, because it was crowded with people who were accessing it and enjoying it.”

Concerns about overcrowding at the market go back several years. Last year, the number of rows of stalls in Parliament Street was reduced from three to two, and a trail of Nutcracker statues was created across the city centre to encourage people to explore quieter parts as well as the market.

Responding to concerns in December, Make it York managing director Sarah Loftus said a crowd safety officer was on site at all times, with stewards were also on-hand to manage visitor flow.

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