Could the remarkable success of York’s Christmas shopping offer put people at risk?
Some residents have expressed concern that the crush at St Nicholas Fayre market on Parliament Street was “hell” at the weekend.
Many expressed fears over safety, with one saying “there is a real danger of crushing and people being trampled”.
Guildhall councillor Denise Craghill (Green party) said she likes the atmosphere of the Christmas market most of the time.
But she wants more consideration should be given to people with disabilities, pushchairs and young children, saying:
I do think that as a city we should look carefully at this for future years, perhaps with some kind of review process.
Personally I like the atmosphere most of the time, but we need to avoid becoming victims of our own success.
We should check that traders in the city are actually benefitting – large crowds, especially if they can’t move around easily are not automatically large spenders.
Crowds should be managed
Cllr James Flinders (Labour, Guildhall) said it is great that visitors are enjoying Christmas in York but added it would be a shame if anyone missed out on city centre attractions because of the crowds.
“It’s important that crowds are properly managed, so that everyone is able to enjoy their visit here,” he said.
“I’m particularly concerned at the impact that crowding might have on older residents and residents with a disability.”
But Chris Price, head of markets at Make It York, said safety is the “utmost priority” and the layout of the fair was worked out with help from the fire service, police and council.
He said the event brings in money for the city’s economy but added:
It is important for us to listen to all feedback received so that we can ensure everyone who visits the Christmas markets has a comfortable and enjoyable visit.
Christmas markets do attract crowds and although it can be a little uncomfortable at peak times, feedback about the fair has been fantastic.
Good news for business
Some residents also backed the market, with one saying that without such tourism the city would be empty and depressing, while another said: “The more the merrier. It is an honour for York to be the country’s most festive city. Don’t like it? Simple, don’t go.”
Cllr Janet Looker, leader of the Labour group, said the busy market must be good news for business owners at a tough time for the retail sector.
But she said visitors should be led to explore more of the city’s independent shops and cafes too, adding: “Better signposting to encourage visitors to explore a little further afield might help spread the load a little and give the whole of York’s streets and shops a chance to share in the Christmas fun.
“Obviously it is difficult on an individual level if you are finding the crowds so thick that you cannot enjoy the experience.”
Bucking the trend
Councillor Keith Aspden, executive member for economic development at City of York Council, said it was encouraging that so many people continue to visit York and enjoy the fantastic Christmas markets.
And figures just revealed by the British Retail Consortium showed 3.5 per cent decline in national high street footfall last December – but York footfall had increased by 3.1 per cent. Cllr Aspden added:
We are always looking to improve our city centre offer for residents and visitors and based on the feedback we have received, we will work closely with our partners to see how the Christmas market experience can be better improved.
This will include looking into how we can make it easier for people to move around the market, particularly at peak times.
Councillor Ian Gillies, leader of City of York Council, said: “City centres and high streets are facing a tough time across the UK, especially with the continued growth of online shopping, so it is pleasing to see so many people from York, and around the country coming to our amazing city centre, helping York to buck the national trend.
“We work closely with our partners at Make it York, the York BID, the York retail forum and the informal traders group to make York an even better place for retailers, shoppers and visitors. The Christmas market is just one part of this work and we listen to all feedback.”
He said York had the second lowest vacancy rate of all UK cities for city centre retail/hospitality premises – and retail vacancy rates in the city in November of this year were at the lowest level since December 2012.
Cllr Gillies added: “Last Christmas we increased the number of visitors in our city centre and we are hoping to see the same happen this year.”