York Christmas market 'hell' leads to overcrowding fears

York risks becoming a 'victim of its own success' because of its busy Christmas market councillors have said'“ amid fears overcrowding could also pose a safety risk.

York Christmas Market is one of the most popular in the UK

Some residents commenting online said the packed attraction in Parliament Street was “hell” at the weekend.

Many expressed fears over safety, with one reader saying “there is a real danger of crushing and people being trampled”.

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Guildhall councillor Denise Craghill (Green party) said she likes the atmosphere of the Christmas market most of the time but thinks more consideration should be given to people with disabilities, pushchairs and young children.

The number of visitors to the city in December has been increasing

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She added: “I do think that as a city we should look carefully at this for future years, perhaps with some kind of review process.

“Personally I like the atmosphere most of the time, but we need to avoid becoming victims of our own success.

“We should check that traders in the city are actually benefitting – large crowds, especially if they can’t move around easily are not automatically large spenders.”

York Christmas markets have become hugely popular in recent years

Cllr James Flinders (Labour, Guildhall) said it is great that visitors are enjoying Christmas in York but added it would be a shame if anyone missed out on city centre attractions because of the crowds.

“It’s important that crowds are properly managed, so that everyone is able to enjoy their visit here,” he said. “I’m particularly concerned at the impact that crowding might have on older residents and residents with a disability.”

But Chris Price, head of markets at Make It York, said safety is the “utmost priority” and the layout of the fair was worked out with help from the fire service, police and council.

Footfall in York centre increased in November, despite it dropping elsewhere in the country

He said the event brings in money for the city’s economy but added: “It is important for us to listen to all feedback received so that we can ensure everyone who visits the Christmas markets has a comfortable and enjoyable visit.

“Christmas markets do attract crowds and although it can be a little uncomfortable at peak times, feedback about the fair has been fantastic.”

Some residents also backed the market, with one saying that without such tourism the city would be empty and depressing, while another said: “The more the merrier. It is an honour for York to be the country’s most festive city. Don’t like it? Simple, don’t go.”

Cllr Janet Looker, leader of the Labour group, said the busy market must be good news for business owners at a tough time for the retail sector.

But she said visitors should be led to explore more of the city’s independent shops and cafes too, adding: “Better signposting to encourage visitors to explore a little further afield might help spread the load a little and give the whole of York’s streets and shops a chance to share in the Christmas fun.

“Obviously it is difficult on an individual level if you are finding the crowds so thick that you cannot enjoy the experience.”

‘We will look at how we can improve Christmas market experience’

Council chiefs have pledged to look at ways of making it easier to move around the city’s packed Christmas market.

Councillor Keith Aspden, executive member for economic development at City of York Council, said: "We are always looking to improve our city centre offer for residents and visitors and based on the feedback we have received, we will work closely with our partners to see how the Christmas market experience can be better improved. This will include looking into how we can make it easier for people to move around the market, particularly at peak times.

“York is recognised as one of the most festive cities in the country and it is important that we continue to build on this strength and ultimately, grow the local economy, support businesses and create jobs.”

Councillor Ian Gillies, leader of City of York Council, said: “With the Christmas markets increasing in popularity, we will take on board all comments and will work with partners to look at how we can make events such as these as enjoyable and comfortable as possible for everyone.

“Events such as these make a real impact to our economy and are important for businesses and residents.”

He said York had the second lowest vacancy rate of all UK cities for city centre retail/hospitality premises – and retail vacancy rates in the city in November of this year were at the lowest level since December 2012.

Cllr Gillies added: “Last Christmas we increased the number of visitors in our city centre and we are hoping to see the same happen this year.”

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