York councillors have voted to revert the city’s footstreet hours back from 7pm to 5pm – despite criticism from both businesses and disability campaigners.
However, members of the ruling executive who agreed the reversal have stressed that it is not a permanent decision.
They said time is needed to resolve issues around the impact of pavement cafe licences, which were introduced by the government to help businesses with the impact of Covid, on people with disabilities.
Business owners and leaders lined up to tell the council’s executive that the two extra hours when cars are not allowed in the city centre were a lifeline in tough economic times.
Andrew Digwood, vice president of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Reducing footstreet and pavement cafe hours by two hours in that crucial early evening period will have a disproportionately detrimental effect on the affected businesses.”
The reduction would “jeopardise the recovery and sustainability of a number of city centre businesses”, he added.
Kate Latham, of Pairings Wine Bar in Castlegate, said visitors now expected European style cafe culture in York.
John Pybus, landlord of The Blue Bell, a small pub in Fossgate, said many of his customers still feared drinking inside and that pavement seating was helping keep his pub afloat.
“Please don’t take away the one lifeline that we have left,” he said.
Adam Wardale, Middletons Hotel general manager and chair of Hospitality Association York, added: “The costs of running a business have dramatically increased and the footsteet hours and pavement cafe culture has given many businesses across the city an additional stream of income.”
Keeping the footstreet hours at 7pm would need a consultation, but council officers said now was not the time to do one, given the issues around access and wider uncertainty about government legislation on the issue.
Cllr Ashley Mason, executive member for economy and strategic planning, said: “We remain committed to the long-term vision of the city centre, with outdoor cafe culture playing a part in the success of our economy, but the current city centre infrastructure is not yet ready for this vision to become a long term reality without some further work.”
The council will instead move ahead with a consultation to develop a new framework for how pavement cafes should operate in future.
Disability campaigners said it was the council not following equalities law by issuing some cafe licences on narrow pavements in the first place that was the issue.
Flick Williams said: “Why are you proposing wasting more time consulting on this? The guidance is clear enough now.”
Labour’s group leader Claire Douglas said after the meeting:
“The fact that ruling Lib Dem-Green councillors voted through changes to the foot street hours that don’t solve the Blue Badge Ban in the city centre and are at the same time detrimental to the viability of some city centre businesses is a backwards and damaging step.
“Both the disabled and business communities believe there is a solution that can accommodate both.
“The Labour Group of councillors couldn’t agree more and don’t support the original ban, nor the changes agreed”.
The footstreet hours will extend as usual to 8pm when the Christmas market is operating this year.