A Retail Strategy for York

York City Centre has seen a large number of changes over the years and has survived many obstacles put in the way. From the closure of Lendal Bridge to the expansion of retail units on the outskirts of York, none have helped retail within the City Centre.

The current situation in York is probably the greatest challenge to overcome, against a backdrop of:

  • Declining visitor numbers to the City Centre
  • Saturday no longer the “busy” shopping day
  • Huge expansion in out of town retail locally within York
  • Competition from online trading with lower overheads
  • Parking charges 24/7, higher than even Central London
  • Larger retailers abandoning the City Centre in favour of York’s out of town retail units
  • Premium retail units being converted into restaurants
  • The rise of Stag & Hen parties, making weekend shopping unpleasurable for families
  • A rise in the number of empty properties due to the above problems

It would probably be fair to say that Retail in York city centre is failing, as large shops become vacant they are far too often being converted into restaurants or licensed premises. You don’t have to go further than the comments section of our local paper to read the views of residents.

To York’s advantage we are in a great position to turn things around. Retailers are the largest business group paying into York BID, one of the larger BID’s that exists in the UK with an annual pot of around £900,000. York is home to hundreds of thriving independent retailers, many of whom have strong online and customer bases. We can use these as a starting point to make York the number on destination for retail in the North of England.

1. CAR PARKING – York needs parking incentives to encourage residents to shop in the City more often.

The need to target car parking to local residents who live within the outer ring road. The idea of nipping into York to get one or two items is off putting due to high parking charges that operate 24/7, not even central London operates parking charges on this basis.

Look to promote an early evening economy by offering free on-street parking in selected streets, do the singe yellow line restrictions need to run Mon-Sat? Look to increase the amount of on-street parking where possible. Creating more free parking opportunities.

Working with York BID, we could look to convert more council owned car parks to pay on exit. This both encourages longer stays, and boosts the economy as people are not worrying about parking expiring. This could also incentivise quick trips into York with an initial free parking period (i.e. first hour free), this could be offset with higher charges for longer stays – encouraging use of the Park & Ride facilities to those wishing to stay longer. This would encourage short term trips by locals and also encourage others to stay and shop longer.

There should be no reduction in the number of parking spaces within Central York as future developments take place.

2. BUSINESS STARTUPS – Work with partners to use Shambles Market to propel our new retail business.

York’s market was recently refreshed for a huge sum of money, yet the renovation failed to address the flow of people around the market. The large stalls were simply refreshed and returned to the original positions. Could more be done to look at creating storage for traders within the existing stalls (to limit traffic) and a new layout be designed to create a more natural pedestrian flow around the space.

Local business should be encouraged to take part in the many specialist markets that occur in York with special pricing for local business. Working with partners it would be nice to see an existing empty retail unit converted into a pop-up shop, to create a stepping stone for those looking to move into high street retail.

2. BUSINESS GROWTH – We will look to incubate new retail business with a range of policies.

The UK is a world leader in retail and e-commerce. York should be looking to capitalise on this creativity. The creation of a business incubator zone, to allow young business to develop would benefit the whole economy. We should look to emulate such ventures as Wren’s in Ripon – a department store solely for small independents.

York needs to embrace “pop-up” retailing. A dedicated partner could manage empty units and under-utilised spaces to allow new business to trial retailing within the City. A working group could explore the benefits of using a “pop-up” specialist like Appear Here to create such opportunities to market spaces for those looking for space within York.

Working with partners, we will create an opportunity for aspiring retailers to gather crowdfunding, business support and available grants. The YRF will look to hold a Dragon’s Den style event that allows local residents to award funding to the retailer with the best business plans. An annual event, where the YRF will invite participants to pitch their idea to a dinner audience of 100 participants. The money generated by selling tickets will be used to award a cash injection to the winning idea. Working with York BID we could look to offer a substantial amount of prize funding, to help new retailers get their idea off the ground.

3. PUBLIC TOILETS – York needs more public toilets, traders should not have to take the strain.

There should be an ample supply of public toilets that are clean and preferably free of charge. These should be fully accessible when York is trading, clearly signposted and plentiful within high footfall areas.

It is not acceptable to expect our larger stores and restaurants to take the strain where existing provision has been removed. The larger events that take place should incorporate the extra facilities that are required.

The existing facilities need better signage and need to be more obviously decorated.

4. PEDESTRIANISATION & VEHICLE ACCESS TO CITY STREETS – Create a safe vehicle free city centre.

In light of recent terror attacks in UK cities, more should be done to consider the impact of allowing vehicles access to the City Centre. With York’s narrow streets, limiting vehicle access to prevent such incidents would be easier than in many other places in the UK. The addition of more public seating and floral arrangements could be utilised to prevent vehicle style terror attacks.

York is unusual in allowing vehicles into the heart of the city outside of traditional shop opening hours. This is further complicated by allowing Blue Badge parking within closed streets. Promote the use of York Shopmobility for blue badge holders, a scheme that could be expanded with our help.

We would like to see a joined up approach to the enforcement of the current regulations. A working group should explore the possibility of extending the hours that York is pedestrianised to further benefit the early evening economy and extension of retail opening hours.

5. CONVERSION OF SHOP PREMISES – York does not need any more bars, restaurants or takeaways

The worrying rise in the number of restaurant and bar premises that are being created in York City Centre at the expense of former retail units. This is done against a council policy against allowing more licensed premises. The rise of such premises will only increase the demise of York as shopping destination.

Planning permission should be opposed to convert existing retail units into yet more eateries. We should look to create a list of brands we would like to attract to York.

Other areas

Outside of our core proposals we think the following are also worth a notable inclusion.


The Park & Ride facilities allow York to operate beyond its size, allowing more customers to visit stores and spend time in York. They are also an important asset for staff travelling into York.

To promote and encourage the use of an early evening economy, the hours of the Park & Rides should cover this period, with buses running later into the evening. Operating the services to fit the needs of a later economy seven days a week, with the exception of Christmas Day & Easter Sunday when most stores are closed.


We will work with partners linking retailers with education providers. We will look to locally provide training for retailers of all sizes.


Many retailers are now blaming these types of groups for the fall in trade. Saturday is no longer the busiest trading day of the week in York. Many established retailers have seen very large worrying drops in the weekend trade. We will work with agencies to minimise the impact on the retail trade.


The desire to see a collective agreements in place with one supplier. This will limit the number of vehicles accessing the City, benefiting the environment and saving money.


By agreeing to work with commercial tenants to enhance and improve the City of York, in doing we ask Property Owners and Landlords to agree to the following:

  • To offer empty properties at a fair fixed rent price, and not higher than ten per cent over the rateable value.
  • Where multiple offers of interest are received for a vacant property, consider the best tenant and business plan for the property at the marketed rent level.
  • Do not use “best offers” or “sealed bids” when marketing properties for rent.
  • Consider offers of rent increases linked to inflation indexes, such as CPI, a real measure of how the high street is fairing.
  • When considering new tenants, look to avoid a duplication of similar business in the locality.
  • Should a tenanted property you own become empty, work with the tenant to find a new purpose for the property.
  • When properties are empty, consider temporary uses and agree to signage and enhancements that improve the impact of an empty property on a street. Such as the window graphics being trialled by York BID.
  • Consider rent reductions or rent free periods for struggling tenants, where such cases will only ultimately lead to an empty property period and costs involved with remarketing and that of finding a new tenant.
  • Work with Tenants Associations, York BID, Make it York and other agencies that are working to improve and enhance the look and feel of York, and the properties you own.
  • Consider using empty units to offer new business the ability to trial a presence in the high street by offering units as Pop-Up Shops. Working with agencies to assist Landlords with offering shops on short term lets.