Local businesses and members of the public are campaigning to stop cars using a street in York.
‘Free Fossgate’, a petition started by owner of The Blue Bell pub John Pybus, is calling on York City Council to restrict cars from accessing the picturesque street of Fossgate throughout the day.
The street is home to numerous independent cafes, shops, restaurants, and bars.
The petition has already amassed over 1,700 signatures and has widespread support from a range of local businesses including Marzano, a popular Italian restaurant, and independent cafes such as Cosy Time, Remedy, and Kiosk.
Its supporters claim the move towards pedestrianisation will improve access, make the air cleaner, and improve café culture on the street by allowing more outside seating for local businesses.
John, the driving force behind the campaign, told York Vision, “I wrote a letter to every hospitality business on the street and posted it through everyone’s doors saying I was going to put this pedestrianisation campaign up…it was an open invite.”
He says that trying to free the street of cars has been 38 years in the making: “the first pedestrianisation campaign was in the year of my birth, 1985…successive councils have just not run with the idea, even though it makes perfect sense.”
Vision asked other local businesses in Fossgate for their thoughts.
As well as wanting to improve street culture, managers explained how they’d lost their outdoor seating licences after Covid, and that along with pedestrianisation they would like these licences back.
“We all had outdoor pavement licences, then around last year in December they just sent out a letter saying they were taking everyone’s licence away from them,” Jordan, manager at cafe Cosy Time told Vision.
“It’s not as if we’re cutting off access from anywhere – delivery drivers would still be able to deliver at the end of the street; they’re just going to have to walk down.”
“We are supporting it because it’s going to help a lot of businesses,” the manager of Marzano said.
“It’ll bring more people to the street, making it something special.”
Christopher Walkin, manager of cafe Remedy, told Vision he set up his business with a view to having outside seating, which he currently isn’t permitted to have.
“The price of this site included the cost of seating outside,” he said.
“When we spoke to the council about it, they suggested it was a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis.”
He says that prioritising constant car access over pavement licences for seating is preventing potential business. If the street were pedestrianised, seating wouldn’t have to be as closely monitored.
Other businesses on the street also expressed frustration with the specifics of these pavement licence rules, including the need for barriers and maintaining certain distances.
Russell from cafe Kiosk said “we’ve had to make sure our barriers are in place. I had to make these barriers. It took a lot of time and money.”
Without pedestrianisation, there’s only so much of the street they can take up as cars are still permitted access on the road.
“Let’s face it, it’s York Council,” he continued.
“You know, they’re not that lenient. They’ve proved to be not that forgiving.”
The campaign hasn’t come without resistance. Some business owners have raised a number of difficult questions about the logistics of implementing such a policy, including Ken from Mamselle’s Hair Stylist.
“The thing is, deliveries,” he said.
“We are obviously small shops and have deliveries and we do them in the day.”
Ken also points out the issues around accessibility that pedestrianisation could bring: “I have customers with disabilities. If taxis can’t bring them in, when the barriers were up we couldn’t even get their vehicles in.”
The concerns don’t end with mobility. Ken goes on to say: “They did actually have a survey done with sight-impaired people who didn’t know where to go. There’s all sorts of little things to worry about.”
Accessibility can often be overlooked when it comes to projects such as pedestrianisation.
Within York, a campaign group known as Reverse the Ban – comprising a number of disability rights and allied organisations – have recently raised concerns over the previous Council administration’s approach to similar schemes on other streets, which effectively banned Blue Badge holders from the City Centre.
After successful campaigning, the new-Labour Council Executive have now voted unanimously to overturn the ban.
Of the conflict between pedestrianisation and accessibility, John Pybus commented: “You know, I wanted my chairs and tables, they wanted wheelchair access, and that was the fight, so taking it away from that, saying ‘right, let’s just pedestrianise the whole street, let’s work together on this’, that’s where we’re at. That’s where we want to be.”
Councillor Pete Kilbane, Deputy Leader of the York City Council and Executive Member for Economy and Transport told Vision: “In 2017, the Council reversed the traffic flow as part of half a million pound investment in the street and this has greatly improved the environment for residents and businesses.
“At that time pedestrianisation was considered but there are significant challenges due to the access of properties off Fossgate, the availability of Blue Badge parking and ability to turn delivery vehicles around in the street.”
Though the Council have issues pedestrianisation, they are not unsympathetic.
“We will of course review those decisions in the light of this campaign,” Kilbane continued, “I have discussed this with local councillors and will continue to explore all possibilities with residents and businesses. The campaign will also be taken into consideration as we develop a transport and movement plan for the whole city later this year.”
John responded to the wider conflict in Fossgate as a result of the campaign: “pubs have never ever wanted to divide people. That’s not what we’re here for, do you know what I mean? It’s like pubs are all about unity.
“You’ve got all of those businesses that want chairs and tables outside, but we all need big wagons to deliver the beer, so it is complex, you know what I mean? It isn’t just a black-and-white “let’s just pedestrianise it”, so there’s going to be a lot of back and forth, but hopefully this petition will get the council talking.”