From an overhaul of car parks to illuminated bridges – 9 schemes that could soon improve York

York BID boss Andrew Lowson. Photograph: YorkMix
22 Jun 2017 @ 7.28 pm
| Business

Just over a year ago the York BID was born.

The Business Improvement District was created to enhance the city centre for the benefit of its traders and residents.

It is funded by an annual contribution of 1% of the rateable value from businesses found within the BID area.

This week the York BID held its AGM – and it has some interesting plans for the year ahead.

We caught up with Andrew Lowson, executive director, to find out what improvements are on the way in its second year, 2017-18.

1. Better wayfinding

One of the maps used in Bath to direct visitors around the city. Photograph: YorkMix

York’s ‘green fingerposts’ are “not particularly well kept, they point in the wrong directions and arguably they’re out of date,” says Andrew.

The York BID is funding a feasibility study into improving the wayfinder system, “looking at both physical and digital” solutions.

This will explore how other similar cities have approached the issue, including Bath, Oxford and Chester.

Andrew said some cities promote themselves through an app, which can offer more information than simple maps – for example guiding people to the areas to streets with independent shops like Gillygate and Micklegate.

The BID will talk with stakeholders, including the York Civic Trust and the council, before implementing anything new.

2. More winter lights

Monk Bar with its winter lights. Photographs: YorkMix

The new winter lights on York’s gateways were a huge hit with residents and visitors alike.

And the BID is looking to bring more illuminations to the city from this December.

Andrew said the aim was to be “classy and creative” – “how can we light up buildings? Can we do anything with the bridges or the trees?

“We’re keen to get as much coverage of the city as we can.”

A four-year programme would look to bring streets like Fossgate and Gillygate into a “lighting strategy” for the city.

3. Boost for car parks

Castle car park. Photograph: Richard McDougall

“Our car parking payment system is outdated,” Andrew says. “It relies on pre-payment, and on having a bucketful of change.

“In an age when people are used to using cards and digital payments, things have to change.”

The BID’s aim is to work with City of York Council to alter the behaviour of motorists and encourage them to linger longer.

Pay-on-exit would help – ending the spectacle of people deserting shops and cafes to make a mad dash back to their cars before the time on their ticket is up.

Marygate car park already has pay on exit. But extending the scheme isn’t cheap: both installing the technology and having someone to oversee it is expensive.

“It’s a high priority for businesses. But I have got to be realistic,” says Andrew.

“Even if the BID put in a lot of money it’s not going to change in a few months because of the Castle car park.”

This is a reference to City of York Council’s ambition to move that car park away from Clifford’s Tower as part of its vision for Castle Gateway.

But the BID is investigating the car park technology used successfully in other cities, with a view to drawing up a blueprint for York.

4. More powers for the rangers

On patrol: the York street rangers. Photograph: York BID

The street rangers were considered one of the successes of the BID’s first year (see below). There are two full-time rangers, with their number rising to six in the summer.

Now, Andrew said, they were looking to work with partners to use the rangers in more targeted ways.

Firstly they could be deployed on certain student nights, for example, or on race days to improve safety (not least around the rivers) and discourage anti-social behaviour.

Secondly Andrew is investigating whether they can be granted the power to move people on, and stop them loitering in business doorways. In the case of rough sleepers that might mean pointing them towards the Arc Light Centre.

Thirdly, rangers could support community activities, like the Micklegate Soapbox Challenge. They could help to staff events, offer directions to visitors and keep people safe.

5. Enhancing empty shops

This vinyl was put in the window of what became Sweaty Betty on Stonegate until the shop was occupied. Photograph: YorkMix

Inevitably shops fall vacant. But that doesn’t mean they have to make the city centre look forlorn.

The BID is looking to work with property agents so that attractive vinyl displays can be placed in the windows of empty shops.

“First of all, it will make our streets look more attractive,” Andrew told YorkMix

“Secondly, that could speed up the reoccupation of the buildings.”

6. Taxi marshals

The taxi rank on Duncombe Place. Photograph © Google Street View

This scheme has just launched as part of a 25-week trial.

It sees the BID partnering with York Hackney Carriage Association, Guildhall Ward Committee and the Dean Court Hotel to run a taxi marshal service that will operate from the Duncombe Place taxi rank on Friday and Saturday nights, 11pm to 4am.

The new programme aims to curb anti-social behaviour and control noise levels in the neighbourhood by using taxi marshals to manage an efficient, orderly queue service and report any activity that requires local authority attention.

There will be two marshals on duty. Both are Security Industry Authority (SIA) and first-aid trained and have radio communication with the police and local partners.

“The marshals will address matters raised by local businesses, the residents and taxi association and offer a solution that improves a specific area in the BID which we can eventually offer to other taxi ranks throughout the city if necessary,” Andrew said.

7. Better street furniture

The bins on market street, ready to be corralled. Photograph: YorkMix

Andrew is working with York Civic Trust to identify untidy or unsightly corners of the city centre, and improve them.

Already it has funded repairs to railings near the river close to the Winner Winner restaurant.

Elsewhere it plans to replace old benches and instal bin corrals near Costa Coffee on Market Street. It’s an ongoing programme to smarten up the place.

8. Secure cycle storage

More places to lock your bike

York has one of the highest rates of people cycling to work in the country. But a lot of business don’t have the capacity to provide good quality cycle storage.

And that means up to 80% of the public cycle racks are taken up by commuters, leaving little room for shoppers’ and visitors’ bikes.

Andrew wants to work with the council to bring more secure cycle storage to the city centre.

9. New business savings

It’s all about the money… Photograph © Peter Czerwinski on Wikipedia / lensicle

In its efforts to drive down costs for business the York BID is already working with an energy partner which promises savings on electricity and gas bills of up to 15% for city traders.

As well as rolling this out further over the next 12 months, Andrew wants to extend this programme to other areas – using collective buying power to cut the cost of waste and recycling, or even legal services.

The story of Year 1

Andrew Lowson (centre) with the BID’s cleaning team

The first year of the York BID was about establishing some of what Andrew calls ‘cornerstone projects’.

These are things that would make a quick and positive impact on the city centre, and show the businesses that pay into the BID that their money was making a difference.

So we saw the introduction of the street cleaning team, augmenting the work of City of York Council in keeping York’s retail heart looking at its best.

Rangers and ice trails

Street rangers were recruited to help boost security and safety, and deter anti-social behaviour.

“They have been working very closely with the police, dealing with incidents where they can, calming things down – and where things escalated, making the right decisions to call in neighbourhood enforcement or if necessary the police,” Andrew said.

And the installation of new winter lights on York’s bars proved hugely popular. “Over the next few years the BID needs to do things that will bring a smile to people’s faces and give them pride in the city,” he said.

Also in Year 1 the BID supported

  • the launch of Indie York
  • Fashion City York
  • the December Ice Trail
  • and Gillygate Traders with Christmas Fringe festival.