Revealed: Three out of four footfall cameras in York broken in run-up to Christmas

Broken: The camera above the old Dorothy Perkins shop on Coney Street. Photographs: Richard McDougall
12 Dec 2019 @ 7.45 am
| Business

York’s footfall figures can’t be trusted – because three out of the city’s four footfall cameras have been broken in the run-up to Christmas.

That’s the verdict of the York BID (Business Improvement District), which has stopped circulating the footfall figures, believing them to be inaccurate.

Seen as a key indicator of the city’s economic prosperity, the footfall figures are compiled every week by retail data company Springboard, on behalf of City of York Council.

There was dismay in October when the York Press reported that the city centre had attracted 750K fewer visitors between January and September, compared to the same period in 2018.

But those figures might well be called into question if the cameras have been inoperable for some of that time.

The BID is seeking urgent clarification of how long the cameras have been broken.

‘Not accurate’

The camera above the empty Coney Street shop
In his statement released on the York BID website, executive director Andrew Lowson says:

  • The BID is not circulating footfall information at this point in time.

    It understands that in the lead-up to the 2019 festive trading period, three out of the four footfall cameras located in the city have not been operational.

    For this reason, the BID does not believe the footfall estimates that Springboard are currently reporting on give an accurate understanding of this year’s Christmas footfall, and is not comparable to previous years.

York has four footfall cameras, which measure the number of people walking down each street. They are located on:

  • Coney Street
  • Parliament Street
  • Stonegate
  • and Micklegate.

The Stonegate footfall camera. above the former Rohan shop

Both the Coney Street and the Stonegate cameras have been out of action for some time. The Parliament Street camera was not operational for a shorter period and is now believed to be back online.

That left only the camera on Micklegate working continually, but footfall patterns on that street do not necessarily the picture in other parts of the city centre.

City of York Council director for economy and place, Neil Ferris, said:

  • Together with the company that provide the cameras, City of York Council is working to relocate several footfall cameras in the city centre to improve the reliability of the data.

    Whilst this is taking place footfall figures will be based on estimates using computer modelling based on the available and reliable data from the independent provider.

    In this important period in the run up to Christmas we are exploring options to verify the computer modelled figures. This will give a more robust analysis for city retailers.

Estimated figures

Back working? The Parliament Street camera above Halifax bank
In the absence of the cameras, the published figures have been estimates extrapolated from the Micklegate data, historic patterns and national trends.

The most recent figures, for the week running from 2-8 December, says footfall in York city centre is down 10.3% on the same week last year.

But this comes in the same week that the Press reported complaints about overcrowding in York.

YorkMix understands Andrew first raised his concerns about the accuracy of the footfall figures with the council in the summer, having spotted statistical anomalies.

Phil Pinder, chair of the York Retail Forum, said:

  • This is a key time for city centre retailers, and so it is disappointing to learn that this essential source of data cannot be trusted.

    How can we plan for our High Street if we cannot analyse shopping trends at the busiest time of the year?

It is believed that the contract with Springboard to provide the footfall figures costs taxpayers £20,000 a year.

City of York Council has decided to continue publishing the Springboard figures which can be found here.

YorkMix has asked the council for a response.