YORK is well placed to recover from the economic impact of coronavirus – but we still don’t know what the long-term effect on the city will be, says former BBC boss turned Make It York chair Greg Dyke.
Mr Dyke said the city had been transformed in the 50 years since he was a student here.“It is a brilliant place to live,” he said. “I’ve been telling my kids and others for many years to ‘go and live in York’. If you’re a teacher or a council worker, you can have a much better life living in York than in London.”
The city’s long-term future must be about encouraging more businesses, organisations and civil servants to move here, he said. “I always say ‘move the money’. If you can move the money here, it works.”
That’s why projects such as the development of York Central are so vital, he said. The House of Lords may not be coming to York – but there is a real chance that a big government department will. And that would bring with it all the services that surround major government operations, such as PR companies, media groups and office support.
York Central could also provide space for smaller, innovative businesses, which would improve the diversity of the city’s economy, he added.
But he accepted the city faced challenges in the short and medium term to overcome the damage caused by coronavirus.
In an interview given before the Government announced that social gatherings of more than six people would be banned from Monday, Mr Dyke said it was still too early to know what the long-term impact of the virus would be.
He said there had been an ‘understandable panic’ from the Government when the virus first began to spread. But he pointed out that while the number of new cases was rising, mainly among younger people, the number of deaths was not. “If you test more people, you will get more positive results,” he said. “But I think maybe we have learned to cope better with the virus (than we did in the beginning).”
Make It York managing director Sean Bullick added that the key to York’s post-Covid recovery would be diversifying, so the city was less dependant on tourism. He acknowledged there was an impact on city centre footfall if white collar staff continued to work from home rather than returning to the office. “That is something that we will need to cope with.”
AUTUMN EVENTS FOR CITY CENTRE
York is planning a series of events throughout the autumn designed to bring local people back into the city centre.
Make It York Managing Director Sean Bullick said these could include:
- a food festival at the end of this month
- a new heritage trail that will highlight York’s history and heritage from a ‘fresh, unusual angle’
- outdoor evening events at Shambles market.
There would also be a Christmas market and St Nicholas Fair in the run-up to Christmas, Mr Bullick said – plus ‘other new innovations to be confirmed’.
Autumn evening events at Shambles Market could be similar to the recent Shambles Asado – a South American-themed barbecue spread over two nights.
Mr Bullick said strict social distancing measures would be in place at events.
These could include a one-way system and fewer stalls at the St Nicholas Fair so as to increase space and reduce crowding.
The plans will not be affected by the Government’s announcement on Wednesday that social gatherings of more than six people will be banned from next Monday following a steep rise in coronavirus cases, he said.
“We will comply with all guidance, and our primary focus will always be safety,” he said. “But we care confident we can deliver our current plans in that fashion.”
STAYCATIONERS KEY TO YORK’S POST-COVID RECOVERY
BRITONS holidaying at home could be key to York’s post-Covid recovery, tourism bosses say.
Before the coronavirus struck, York was keen to increase the number of foreign visitors.That’s because they tend to spend more and stay in the city longer, Make It York managing director Sean Bullick said.
The city hadn’t been particularly successful, however. “Pre-Covid, only about three per cent of visitors were from overseas,” Mr Bullick said.
As the city emerges from lockdown – and presuming a new rise in coronavirus cases doesn’t lead to further restrictions – that suddenly seems like an advantage.
Nobody knows yet whether Britons will be able to travel overseas again as easily as we once did, Make It York chair Greg Dyke said. So the fact York is popular with British visitors is now a benefit. “There are a lot of people who haven’t had a holiday for a long time!” he said.
Anecdotally, there is already evidence that many of the visitors who have flocked to York’s city centre recently are British, says Mr Bullick. “Listen to their accents. There are a lot of people coming up from London.”