York is preparing to make it easier for people to safely meet outdoors as lockdown restrictions ease – with options including extra benches and space for businesses to trade outdoors when they are allowed to reopen.
City leaders also expect York to be a popular staycation destination this summer.
Some hotel and tourist attraction websites crashed with the number of people trying to make bookings after the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday about the lifting of restrictions.
From 29 March, up to six people or two households, are due to be allowed to meet outdoors.
Sharon Stoltz, the city’s director of public health, said: “We are starting to look at creating space for people, particularly for families when they are able to meet together again outside.
“We are looking at how we create space for people to be able to do that, to meet and have picnic tables and that sort of thing.”
People ‘will be sensible’
Cllr Darryl Smalley said he is not expecting problems with crowding in outdoor areas because most residents have behaved considerately during the pandemic – but people will be encouraged to be “pragmatic and sensible”.
He said: “I’ve been really pleased with the pragmatic response we’ve had in York.
“Actually on the whole, when people see that parks are busy, generally we’ve observed that people just go half a mile down the road and visit another park.
“Yes, people have their favourite, but there are so many great open spaces in York to enjoy.”
Measures introduced last summer, including the city centre pedestrian zone and outdoor dining areas, will also return when more businesses are allowed to reopen.
On Monday, the Prime Minister announced that all shops, outdoor restaurants, self-contained holiday accommodation and outdoor attractions could open from April 12.
Tourist websites crash
Cllr Smalley said some businesses saw websites crash with a rush to make bookings in York – but many still have financial worries.
He said: “A lot of businesses weren’t necessarily relieved by what was said on Monday, they have populated their calendars but in terms of the balance sheet there’s still a lot of uncertainty.
“Nonetheless, York being York, there’s a lot of positivity. Speaking to hoteliers there’s been a fantastic response, a lot of websites were crashing on Monday night with people looking to plan trips later in the summer, which is obviously fantastic.”
But he said plans are underway to make sure the city reopens safely, adding: “We took a lot of learning away from the last reopening – it’s not our first rodeo in doing this.”
Last summer, York was recording just one or two cases of coronavirus a day – with rates much lower than they are currently, Ms Stoltz warned.
She said everybody needs to follow the guidance if we are to get rates down to a level where lockdown can be lifted.
The council has begun work on a campaign using behaviour insights to encourage people to behave safely in the city when it reopens, with Simon Brereton of the council’s economic team saying “really innovative work” is going into the plans.