'Unlocking York's full high street potential is an international mission'

Andrew Lowson, executive director of York Business Improvement District.
Andrew Lowson, executive director of York Business Improvement District.
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Attempts to engage with the landlords of empty city centre shops can lead to phone calls with agents in far-flung reaches of the globe, said the head of a business-led partnership working in York.

Andrew Lowson, executive director of York Business Improvement District (York BID), is adamant that the city centre is well-placed to overcome challenges damaging the retail sector nationally but admitted it is not an easy process to address frustrating issues such as Coney Street’s empty shops.

“York has the second lowest vacancy rate in the UK - after Cambridge - so we should recognise that the city is performing well in a difficult climate," he said, before going on to explain the issues with Coney Street.

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“It is often perceived that York has an increasing problem with empty units because whilst streets with smaller units have filled with vibrant independents, Coney Street, which has always been viewed by locals as the prime retail street, does have a number of large vacant units (nine out of 46).

“These large units are more difficult to fill, because the demand for large retail floor plates is decreasing due to people’s changing shopping habits.

"Another unseen issue of Coney Street is that the bricks and mortar is not locally owned, so the landlords do not always understand or have an interest in the local agenda. We have tried to engage with some and end up speaking to people in Guernsey or the Cayman Islands."

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York BID is one of around 200 business improvement district bodies working in localities across the country. It works with local businesses to increase economic development and growth. Its projects are funded by an annual contribution of one per cent of local business rates receipts.

Mr Lowson said the BID was about to invest in a new mobile phone data analytics system which would allow anonymised information to be collected about where people who visit the city centre go and from where they travel into the city.

He believes York will be the first city in Yorkshire to trial the technology.

“It’s really what cities across the UK need to do,” he said.

“Over time, the data could be used to understand the flow of people through the city and better inform planning decisions.”