City leaders warn the number of visitors could “be a shock” to residents.
But the council’s focus will be on keeping people safe by creating more outdoor seating areas, launching traders’ squares throughout the city which will be managed by nearby businesses and putting in extra toilets and bins.
“The challenge will be managing the amount of people who want to come to the city,” said Neil Ferris, director of place at City of York Council. “It’s going to be a shock to get back to normal levels of people. If we do have a Covid bounce, that will feel like even more of a change for residents.”
He added: “There’s going to be a significant increase in people as we progress through the phased return. That is based on a background where we’ve got a city that’s able to cope with seven million visitors a year and it’s been principally enjoyed for the last nine months by 200,000 residents.”
Plans will see more outdoor seating and leisure areas – likely to be in Museum Gardens, Dean’s Park, Tower Gardens and the riverside.
Parliament Street, Shambles Market and College Green will be promoted as outdoor destinations.
And “trader-led” streets and squares will be introduced where businesses are asked to manage outdoor venues in St Helen’s Square, King’s Square, Micklegate, Fossgate, St Sampson’s Square and Castlegate.
Coun Aisling Musson asked if disabled groups would be able to have their say on the plans, but was told that the existing temporary pedestrian streets will remain in place and a consultation will be launched on whether to make the expansion of the pedestrian zone permanent.
Mr Ferris said outdoor seating areas would not be allowed to block pavements and force people to walk in the road.
Fiona Philips from York’s public health team said the city will be in a “better position” than the reopening in 2020, when visitors arrived from higher tiers.
She said scrapping the tier system would create an even playing field, but added: “I think it will be challenging. What we found before is that residents do get a bit nervous when they see a lot of people in York city centre, so we need to manage that and be mindful of people’s nervousness.
“Particularly if we’ve got a lot of people who haven’t ventured out much recently and suddenly finding yourself in a situation where you’re surrounded by a lot of people can feel a bit unusual.
“We’ve got into the habit of not being in crowds and so people may find that difficult. We will do anything that we can to reassure people around the safety measures.”
She highlighted the slow pace of reopening.
The city’s Covid marshals are set to see their contracts extended until June 21, when all restrictions are expected to lift, in order to work with police to manage behaviour.
The council has already set aside £200,000 towards managing outdoor spaces and temporarily installing extra bins and toilets. Pavement cafe licences have also been extended to September 2022.