Good and bad points about life in York…

HERE are some good and less good points about living in York, as compiled after being conveyed around the city on creaky knees for my Sunday morning run.

On the way back I saw that the Micklegate Run Soapbox Challenge was being set up. This fun challenge taking place today will feature 44 teams racing down the steepest hill in a generally flat city.

This is the same hill, incidentally, that the wagons went down at the start of the Mystery Plays in their original form in medieval times. The wagons were stored in Toft Green, near to where York Brewery now is and the scenery was erected early in the morning, then as the wagons began to roll around the city, care had to be taken that none of them ran away with themselves down that hill. The opposite wish will be in operation today in an event that will embrace rather than pull against gravity.

We will be going along to watch the soapbox challenge, on our way for a drink and something to eat in Fossgate, where the street is occasionally shut off and filled with stalls.

York is admirably adept at such events nowadays, and it is no coincidence that the independent councillor Johnny Hayes is one of those behind the soapbox challenge, having long championed the Bishopthorpe Road area.

There is often something on in York and for me that goes into the box marked ‘good’. So what is to be found in the box stamped ‘less good’? Oh, hordes of pissed-up people on a Saturday night and other evenings too; paralytic hen parties and staggering stag parties; day-long racegoers tipped into a night even more drunken than their day; many of them, whatever brought them here, loud and raucous and objectionable. Yes, that sort of thing.

Whenever a shop closes in York, or whenever a landlord turfs out a small local business because they wish to earn more money, you can bet that a bar or restaurant will move in, often part of a national chain. And if not that then a coffee shop

Now I like all of those establishments at times. There are great places to drink in York and no end of restaurants and cafés.

But each year it seems that more local and independent shops disappear to make room for these bars – and to accommodate the tippling masses.

This has not gone unnoticed by those who live in York, many of whom stay out of the city at night. This week members of the Guildhall planning panel, a voluntary group which scrutinises planning applications in the Guildhall ward, warned that too many properties were being converted from shops into cafés, bars or restaurants. In my old newspaper, the chairman of that panel, Chris Edghill, said: “We have been objecting to the quantity of restaurants, bars and cafés. You only have to walk around town to see how many bars and restaurants there are.”

This is true but whether or not anyone has the power or inclination to do anything about it is another matter. Too often the official response is to shrug and then go with the motion – rattling downhill just like those soapbox cars will do today.

York needs to keep hold of its independent shops, and its independent pubs and cafés too. Otherwise the centre of what will always be a beautiful city risks turning, at second glance, into any-town anywhere, filled with all the same chain restaurants. To a large extent this has happened already, but efforts should be made to slow down the race to sameness.

Both of today’s events are designed to promote local businesses and communities in the city. And that can only be for the general good.

Now it is time to creak off to the shower.

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