Pop-up shops, cafés and even offices will help York rebuild

Plans to tackle the number of empty shops and vacant buildings following the pandemic could see more pop up shops, cafes and offices open in York.

The use of council-owned land and buildings as temporary space for new businesses – such as the Spark:York shipping container development – has been hailed as one way to reinvigorate shopping centres.

And pop up offices or shops should be created to “revitalise failing locations” – according to economic consultants. They could include cheaper space for new start ups, independent businesses, arts or cultural organisations and even office workspace.

Cllr Andrew Waller highlighted work that has already taken place in York to help businesses through the pandemic – and changes to the city’s shopping streets.

He said: “As we move into the next stages of recovery and reopening the city in a safe and controlled way we are looking to help these businesses with the Business Improvement District, wherever possible.

“This includes opening up public spaces for people to trade in, extended the areas in which cafes and restaurants can trade to help with social distancing and increasing footstreets to make people feel safer in the city.”

Make a profit

Spark is one example of start up successes. Photograph: YorkMix

Economic consultants Creative Space looked at different ways to tackle increasing numbers of empty shops for West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Their report says large empty shops – such as those often occupied by chains – could be used for “safe distanced food and beverage sales by existing businesses so that they are able to operate in public realm and urban centres in the near future”.

And it suggests councils could use their own vacant land for temporary structures to be built to provide pop up business space – pointing to Spark York as an example.

But it says projects face issues including getting planning permission, convincing private landlords of vacant buildings to open them up for temporary use and whether businesses or organisations will be able to set up their scheme and make a profit within the time they can use the space.

Unique position

The former Debenhams store on Davygate is empty. Photographs: Richard McDougall

The report says: “With the economic impact of Covid-19 likely to be profound over the next two to five years, there may need to be a more radical and ambitious response to increased under-occupancy, vacated shops, stalled development sites and all the symptoms of a sudden and deep economic recession.

“Temporary use can provide opportunities to support communities, trial new uses and provide stepping-stones to new long-term functions in a locality.

“Vacant land and property can lead to a spiral of decline, acting as a magnet for antisocial behaviour and impacting on the costs to councils managing such space.

“As the contraction of retail has accelerated, transitional use has now become significantly more relevant following Covid-19 and the impact that will have on vacant public and private sector property in our towns and cities.”

At least 17 city centre businesses have closed their doors for good since lockdown and the future remains uncertain for several more.

Cllr Waller said York will work to attract staycation visitors and added that the city in in a “unique position to bounce back” thanks to its independent businesses.