Decision on “Make it York” future

The Council must decide whether to renew a three year contract with Make it York (MIY) at a meeting taking place later this week.

The organisation is a curious hybrid with responsibility for a disparate range of functions including business development, tourism, culture and the Shambles market.

For residents, its City centre activities are likely to have the highest profile.  Many initiatives there, including the Christmas lights and anti-litter patrols, are the brainchild of the, trade funded, “York BID”

MIY has been criticised for its opaque decision-making processes.  As a “wholly owned Council company” it should be subject to regular review by a “stakeholder” committee and at least two of the Council’s scrutiny committees (which are themselves famously obtuse).

In realty the “stakeholder committee” rarely meets, while the Council’s two representatives on the MIY board have a largely subterranean profile.

Success has been limited, with a confusing array of bodies (LEP North Yorkshire, LEP City Region, York BID etc.) rubbing shoulders in the same field.

Coney Street decline

MIY can take some credit in helping to sustain the number of tourists coming to the City. This is an important part of the economy and visitor numbers have increased, partly on the back of a weak pound.

Employment levels in the City also remain high

The biggest criticism of the Council’s approach is a lack of smart PIs on which to judge the organisations success.

Very noticeably, there are no customer satisfaction measures in the current set, other than those for participating businesses.

MIY receives an annual £300,000 subsidy from taxpayers.

Some encouraging comparisons for York in new City study

York now has the highest employment rate of any City in the north of England or Scotland. It also has one of the lowest claimant (benefit) rates.

York has a relatively small proportion of jobs in employment sectors which are expected to shrink in size over the next few years.

These include sales assistants and retail cashiers,other administrative occupations, customer service occupations, administrative occupations: finance and elementary storage occupations. A century ago the most vulnerable occupations were forecast (correctly) to be domestic indoor servants.

Th news is contained in a new report published by the “Centre for Cities”.

The report can be read by clicking here

York tends to be average to better than average on most tests applied by the study.

It fares well on the number of residents with high level qualifications having 42.7% compared to the UK average of  38.0%

Perhaps more surprisingly York does’t yet feature in the top 10 of City’s with ultra fast broadband access while housing remains more affordable than in many southern cities.

 

York economy performing well but….

St Nicholas market popular this year

The start of “Business Week” in the City coincides with the publication of a progress report by “Make it York” (MIY). This is the QUANGO charged with developing the York economy and particularly the visitor sector and markets.

Reading the report, one might think that all was rosy in the garden.

There has been a steady stream of tourists visiting the City this year. They have partly been attracted by a series of festivals while other initiatives like the food court on the market have attracted favourable publicity.

The complementary York BID scheme has produced tangible improvements to the streetscape coupled with imaginative lighting schemes.

However, part of the success in attracting foreign visitors is down to the low value of the pound.

The MIY report is singularly short of figures.

One look around the City centre, at this the busiest shopping period of the year, reveals that key shop units are still empty several years after they become vacant. The pile of empty shipping containers on Parliament Street doesn’t help while the surface of the City’s most popular car park (Castle) is in an appalling condition. Advanced car parking space availability signs – and their “on line” counterparts – haven’t worked for over 4 years.

This all adds to a depressed feel in the “high street”.

The report – to be considered by a Council scrutiny committee on 28th November – considers progress against a limited number of targets. Some issues, like the shortage of labour and key skills, aren’t mentioned.

Nor is any attempt made to assess the impact that BREXIT will have on the City economy over the next five years or more.

We hope that Councillors, faced with a bland report, will ask questions which root out any complacency.

Investment priorities changing in York City centRE

There have been several announcements about investment in the York City centre over the last few weeks.

Details of a new hotel in Hungate have been released while most of the troubled Stonebow building will become residential with commercial and leisure at street level.

In Piccadilly, the old NCP car park site may be turned into a hotel and flats.  Nearby, Ryedale House is set to become apartments.

The Council has rejected interest in building a hotel on the former Reynard’s garage site, controversially preferring a medium term retail option involving the use of  shipping containers! This has prompted renewed calls for a planning blueprint for the area to be agreed quickly, followed by comprehensive redevelopment work.

It’s not difficult to see why retail is being squeezed in the City centre.

economy-jan-2017

There are a record number of empty shops in the City with (potential) shopper numbers declining. This can be contrasted with hotel bedroom charges (and occupancy levels) which are at record highs.

Very high sale prices on City center apartments are being achieved .

A two bedroomed flat in the Westgate development sold recently for £245,000. It had previously been sold in 2012 for £168,000 – a 45% increase.

A new 2 Bed flat conversion in Goodramgate is currently advertised for £315,000.

The drift into a hospitality led City centre economy – buoyed by high visitor numbers and more local residents – seems likely to gather pace.

We expect to see more commercial premises including shops being converted into homes. 

So just how successful was the visitor economy in York this Christmas?

The Council has published the latest figures from its footfall cameras. The figures cover the period up to 25th December 2016 and provide a guide to the number of people walking around the City Centre.

December Visitor numbers to York

December Visitor numbers in York

At first glance, the figures suggest that impressions about visitor numbers may have been optimistic.  There has been a dramatic drop in the numbers on Coney Street, no doubt influenced by the high profile shop closures which took place in 2016.

Other streets are also showing a drop compared to 2015 when the Boxing Day floods took a toll on some parts of the City centre.

Even Parliament Street – which should have benefited from the ambitious St Nicholas Fair – doesn’t seem to have enjoyed the expected boost.

Of course, footfall figures are only part of the story. Trader turnover is a vital barometer while hotels look at room occupancy figures. The latter were buoyant earlier in the year.

Large and small visitor attractions monitor admission numbers carefully and there is some evidence to suggest that iconic attractions like the Minster did well towards the end of the year.

It may also be that the benefits of a cleaner, safer and better illuminated City centre – sponsored by the Business Improvement District – will make a difference in future years as “word of mouth” spreads the good news..

…. but in the meantime the authorities should be producing an analysis of what went right, together with a battle plan to address any failings.

Castle car park not full this week

Castle car park not full this week

Parliament Street quiet since Chrsitmas

Parliament Street quiet since Christmas

 

 

Number of York jobseekers stable

DIFF-HAPPY-JOBS-940Preliminary statistics have shown no change to the number of residents claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) in August compared to the previous month’s figures meaning there are 550 claimants in the city.

In August 2015 there were 765 claimants.

The number of residents claiming Universal Credit rose by four throughout August, bringing the total to 638.

The  figures released by the Office of National Statistics today which show a 28.1 percent reduction over the past year of the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance in York.

The Jobseekers Allowance claimant count for York represents 0.4 per cent of the working population and contrasts to the regional average which stands at 1.7 per cent. The figures are also much lower than the national average which stands at 1.3 per cent. (more…)

Record low number of jobless in York

Number of York Job Seekers falls again

US-unemployment-jobs-fair-007Figures released by the Office for National Statistics have shown a 31 per cent fall in the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in York in the past twelve months.

Preliminary statistics have shown a fall of 80 residents claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Universal Credit claimants (out of work) in June compared to last month’s figures meaning there are now 825 claimants in the city.

The Jobseekers Allowance claimant count for York represents 0.4 per cent of the working population and contrasts to the regional average which stands at 1.8 per cent. The figures are also much lower than the national average which stands at 1.4 per cent.

The figures also demonstrate the number of young people (aged 18-24) claiming Jobseekers Allowance has fallen by 60 per cent in the past year.
(more…)

Visitor numbers in York – mixed trends

The latest footfall numbers have been published by the York Council for key shopping streets in the City

Some show stable numbers of visitors over the last few years.

In most cases the trend has been disappointing since the end of the recession.

The figures have been released only a few days after the Museums Trust revealed that declining numbers were visiting their attractions in the City centre. There have been some concerns about the number of vacant seats at the (critically acclaimed) current production of the Mystery Plays.

Visitor attractions and shopkeepers will be expecting that the large amount of money, raised by the Business Improvement District (BID), will be invested wisely and quickly.

 

Number increasing on Church Street

Numbers increasing on Church Street

Visitor numbers declining on Coney Street

Visitor numbers declining on Coney Street

Downward trend until recently on Micklegate

Downward trend until recently on Micklegate

Fewer visitors on part of Parliament Street

Fewer visitors on part of Parliament Street

Number outside Marks and Spencer stable

Numbers near Marks and Spencers stable

Downward trend on Stonegate

Downward trend on Stonegate

York Economic Development strategy report – the unanswered questions

A new economic strategy report is being discussed later this week. It is something of a curate’s egg of a document ranging from an awkward preamble about which of two scenarios we may see over the next 20 years (neither as it happens) followed by a series of rather familiar statements many of which have previously been trailed by the discredited “Big City” lobby.

Sadly, it is another document which is City Centre focused with little comment on the suburbs or indeed most of the existing major employers (retail, tourism, social care, education)

The strategy is right in several areas.City debt

York does need a higher proportion of well paid jobs. It needs “ambassadors” to promote what the City has to offer to the business world. It would be good news if more – well qualified and entrepreneurial –  students from local Universities remained in the City after graduation.

It is also time that progress was made on the York Central development (albeit not at the expense of local taxpayers).

A useful analysis of the present York economy is included.

The report is short on the consequences of what is a, faintly disguised, “Big City “ mind-set.  It says nothing about the assumptions made on the numbers of replacement and the number of additional jobs that need to be generated in the City.

These are the numbers that drive the Local Plan land allocations, not least in satisfying any demand for additional housing, as well as the impact that growth will have on transport and other infrastructure.

The report strategy is over reliant on borrowing money for investment (by the Council) which, it claims, would be repaid from the additional Business Rates generated by the new developments. This strategy conveniently forgets that successive governments have tinkered with the proportion of Business Rates that they allow local authorities to retain. There is no reason to assume that there would be a consistent approach over the next 20 years.

Local taxpayers could be left with an impossible debt burden (currently already circa £300 million)

It seems irresponsible to agree a new economic strategy just days before a new Draft Local Plan is due to be published.

Both complement each other and should be considered together.

Economic Strategy 2016

Stonegate’s iconic Mulberry Hall to close

Mulberry HallSad to hear reports that the iconic Mulberry Hall in Stonegate is set to close.

The business has been an important part of York’s traditional street scene for decades. It offered a unique mixture of high quality china, glassware and jewelry. In recent years it has also been a home for a household equipment section and had opened a popular coffee bar.

The owner of the shop – Michael Sinclair – is also the driving force behind the annual Christmas lights display in Stonegate and led the campaign to have a Business Improvement District established in the City Centre.

The business may have been the victim of increased internet shopping although pressure from the – higher margins/turnover – leisure sector may also have been a factor.

We will see when the future use of the building becomes clearer. A link to a relevant planning application – for change of use to a restaurant – submitted in October can be seen by clicking here

Some will also say that the last decision of the last Labour led Council, to double parking charges in the City centre, may also have been a factor.

We hope that the Mulberry Hall business will re-establish itself elsewhere – it already has a major internet presence – and that the Stonegate building will not remain empty for very long.