Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: Citizen Engagement

Photo credit: York Stories

In her third and final guest post, having looked back to 2006 and looked forward to 2026, Lisa@YorkStories brings the focus to dynamics of decision making in York.

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories (

I was invited to write a piece for the My Future York project, and thought that a useful contribution might be to think about the decade just gone, and the changes the city has seen in that time, as another way of thinking about what ten years on might look like. In the earlier part I wrote about the obvious visual changes in the city’s streets and buildings. This piece is more about the changes in ‘citizen engagement’ over the last decade or so, again based on my own observations and experiences. And taking up the question asked by My Future York: what future do we want for York? And adding to that — whose ‘vision’ is going to shape the York of the future? Will you be involved?

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Looking at photos I took in York in 2006 and thinking about the changes in the city in the last ten years (in part 1) has made me think about my own experience, of a developing connection with and understanding of this city, the way it is shaped by planning decisions and other people’s visions, and about my own increasing ‘engagement’ over the years.

Ten years ago I was wandering about getting increasingly concerned about the things I saw happening, such as the sugarbeet factory closure. I knew I couldn’t do anything about that, and suspected I couldn’t have any input into the smaller local things either. But some years later the proposed demolition of a former WW2 service hostel building behind the art gallery provoked a sudden and intense engagement with the planning process, which continued and got deeper and wider over the years in response to plans for King’s Square, and York Central, and several interesting but unlisted buildings, since demolished.

Anger and incomprehension was my reaction after my first attempts at ‘engagement’ with the planning process. Since then I guess I’ve developed a more pragmatic and realistic view of what’s possible. Or maybe I’ve just become more resigned, with age, having seen so many changes in the city, so many buildings lost and streetscapes changed. Maybe that’s the difference ten years makes. But I don’t think it’s just that. I think that a major part of it is reading more, researching more, also watching the council webcasts of meetings, which gives the viewer an opportunity to sympathise more with the fellow humans we know as local councillors as they make decisions on often controversial matters. I think many other residents have yet to find that sympathy, judging by some of the comments about councillors I see online.

Because of the amount of information now available online it is easier than it was to follow what’s happening with planning applications and consultations and various types of ‘citizen engagement’. Still, the planning system through which planning applications are decided remains a mystery to many of us, and the council’s ‘planning access’ online system is frustrating and confusing and often fails to load the relevant documents.

Consultations on larger schemes are becoming more common, but many people still don’t hear about consultations until it’s too late and decisions have already been made. For those who do know and want to comment it can be hard to believe that consultations are genuine and are intended to help shape development.

At least there are now more attempts to consult on important matters, like the access road for the York Central development. I was particularly concerned about the future of the city’s built environment, and that aspect in particular, under the council leadership of James Alexander. It seemed that things not understood were in danger of being swept out of the way because of big ‘visions’ for the city’s future. A memorable low point was seeing a photo of Cllr Alexander in front of the former carriageworks canteen, which he was happy to drive the York Central access road through, because it meant nothing to him.

With that in mind, when I see comments to the effect that we need more leaders with ‘vision’ to shape the city I think about that. Whose visions? What kind of visions? The kind that show no understanding or regard of the complex and deep sense of place felt by the people who have lived here for decades?

So, a few years back we had a council leadership that seemed big on ‘vision’ and wanted to plough through a bridge into York Central regardless of what might be in the way. There seemed to be a simultaneous neglect of basic boring things like drain clearing and street cleaning and supplying of bins. That’s turned around in some ways I think since the current administration took over last year. There seems to be a recognition that the basics matter, and that council tax payers like to see some evidence that our council tax is being spent wisely.

Still, York in 2016 feels like a rather fractured place, with growing resentment about the large student communities and the fact that accommodation is springing up all over for students but not for others who are just as much in need. Many different perspectives about what the city is and what it should be.

Perhaps, in the next ten years, the city will swing back into ‘vision’ mode. I guess it will have to, a bit, to get the York Central project started, and other major sites like the British Sugar site.

I hope that the vision, and the reality, will include and involve everyone, or at least a wider cross-section of the communities that make up this city we call home. The city seems likely to be shaped to fit the needs of the university-educated and relatively wealthy residents. Cities usually are. But perhaps in this age of austerity the divide is becoming clearer, and the danger of exclusion. Already evidence of it. The young, energetic, well-educated and confident residents are claiming spaces and places, setting up the things they feel are missing. The older more settled residents, some of them here for decades, are seeing things claimed, taken away, changed beyond recognition in places. To some residents the city seems like a world of opportunity, a playground for ideas. Others feel a sense of loss and grievance, feel pushed out, powerless.

Having given a personal perspective, in response to the project ‘My Future York’, I’m thinking that perhaps a way in to writing about ‘My Future York’ is to take ourselves out of the picture – remove the ‘My’ and instead think about a Future York better suiting all of us. As it is the city as a whole we’re trying to help with, trying to imagine, and it involves the place working well for everyone who lives here. As Phil Bixby says in ‘Building a city-wide brief‘: ‘it involves altruism – consideration of what we hand on to others’.

Things are going a certain way, towards a city serving the needs of some of its residents — mainly the wealthier ones. How do we make it better reflect all of its residents, and include the needs and wants of those who don’t feel confident enough to put their views across, or don’t know how to?

I used to feel powerless in the face of the changes, in this city I was born in decades ago and have loved since I began to develop a ‘sense of place’. Recently I’ve seen some evidence of a more collaborative approach between decision-makers and other citizens, and I hope that continues to develop, and expand beyond arguing angrily on social media. For that to happen it needs more respect all round – among citizens in terms of how council staff, councillors and other decision-makers are seen, and from those decision-makers in terms of recognising that residents often have a wealth of local knowledge that can be of benefit if brought into the mix in plans for York and its future.

There will always be new residents arriving with energy and vision, and the challenge for the future is how to combine that energy with the wisdom and knowledge already here, to include a respect for heritage — of the built kind and the less tangible understanding of place. Projects like My Future York will I hope help to do this, bridging divides and bringing more of us in to combine our efforts for the sake of this precious place.

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If you’d like to add your own thoughts on York in the future, there’s more info on this page, and you can add your contribution on this link. My own ‘Perfect York, 2026’ is on this link. My Future York has gathered many interesting and thought-provoking perspectives, including contributions from Christopher Styles, Victoria Hoyle, John Cossham, Kit Rafe Heyam, and Helen Graham.

Guest Post by Lisa@YorkStories: ‘My perfect York’

2026: ‘At West Offices there’s a drop-in centre where residents can get details of planning applications and comment on them or discuss them with other residents and local councillors. The old ‘us and them’ attitude has gone, after more residents began to engage with the planning process and put pressure on the authorities to make changes in the way plans were presented.’

In the second of our guest posts by Lisa@yorkstories, she outlines her perfect 2026 York as a contribution to our Day In My Life 2026 project.

Contributed by Lisa@yorkstories

An imaginary walk/cycle ride through York in 2026 … a utopian vision of how I’d like my side of town to be.

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On Burton Stone Lane there’s an entrance to the football and rugby ground, on what used to be the MoD land of Lumley Barracks. The plans for a new ‘community stadium’ at Monks Cross were eventually abandoned after growing ludicrously bloated and unworkable, and a way was found to keep the football club at Bootham Crescent. The MoD land became available, and in a sudden surprise move the massively profitable housebuilder Persimmon decided to be philanthropic in the city where its business had begun, and instead of building houses on the Bootham Crescent ground, as had been the plan, it bought the whole site, and the MoD land, and donated it to the people of the city.

The new stadium has the necessary upgrade in facilities, and is also used by the rugby club. It’s still in the heart of the community, in the same place now for almost 100 years. Both York City FC and York City Knights are now doing well, with larger attendances.

Bootham Park hospital has reopened, and the forbidding ‘no unauthorised persons’ signs around the site have been removed. The double gates to Bridge Lane have been repaired and are now open, allowing cyclists to access the site more easily without the danger of colliding with pedestrians. The former ‘gala field’ is used for community events and the green space is better appreciated and cared for.

The journey from this part of York to the station has been made much easier since the construction of a new more accessible bridge alongside the old Scarborough Bridge, on the Clifton side. It curves across the river, set higher than the riverside paths so that it’s still accessible in times of flood. The floods are less dramatic these days, as there has been more work upstream to manage the flow before it reaches York.

The new curvy bridge over the river takes us into York Central. It’s possible to walk or cycle right through the middle of this area, to reach Holgate Road and Water End. It’s still a work in progress, but parts of it have been built. The tallest buildings, a mix of offices and residential blocks, are carefully sited so as not to block light from the rest of the site. Here, open parkland areas have been created and planted with trees – proper woodland trees like beech, oak and horse chestnut.

A strip of land planted with meadow flowers has extended from the original wildflower meadow around the Holgate arch right along the edge of the site, a river of flowers leading to the carriageworks canteen building.

The canteen was saved and has a new use as a community centre and business start-up space. On its walls are massive images of the carriageworks site in the past, and its workers, including those iconic images of all the bikes streaming out into the Holgate Road traffic. A ‘borrow a bike’ scheme based here pays homage to that memory. Outside and through the wildflower areas are information boards giving a history of the site and what was built here, with a plan of where all the rail workshops were when the site was at its peak. The ‘pride’ we talked about so much in the mid-1990s when the carriageworks closed has eventually been revived, thirty years later, through a thoughtful reuse of the site and its surviving buildings.

The new and old sit more happily together now. There’s not that conflict there used to be between those who want ‘progress’ and those who used to be labelled ‘the heritage brigade’. More people have come to have a wider and deeper appreciation of this city’s heritage and also of their own, and how the two fit together, and there’s a recognition that intelligent development (‘progress’) means working with what’s there, building on that.

Alongside the excitement of all things new and innovative there’s a growing recognition of the fact that it’s fairly easy to start things but much harder to keep them going, how much work and commitment it takes. A while back it was all about innovators and innovating. Now the focus is on maintainers, maintaining. In line with that, a new shopping area behind the station on the York Central development has been massively popular, featuring only those businesses with an established local presence dating from the 1980s or earlier. Many businesses ended up moving out of the walled city, as bars and restaurants moved in. York Central has its own fairly new ‘high street’, with a branch of Barnitts in the middle of it.

Heading back towards the city centre we pass the retained and improved Railway Institute buildings near the station, and pedestrians and those on two wheels can pass through the quiet arches under Queen Street bridge, taking the line the trains used to take, in the mid-19th century, right up to West Offices, the station at that time.

At West Offices there’s a drop-in centre where residents can get details of planning applications and comment on them or discuss them with other residents and local councillors. The old ‘us and them’ attitude has gone, after more residents began to engage with the planning process and put pressure on the authorities to make changes in the way plans were presented. An improved online system has meant greater participation and understanding, and the Residents Planning Centre here at West Offices is usually lively and buzzing, with a good atmosphere, and occasional laughter even.

Leaving West Offices we can then walk along the city walls. Though many changes were proposed to the moats and mounds around the walls most of these weren’t put in place as residents campaigned to preserve the existing views. These have been enhanced by further planting of wildflowers right around the walls. The buzzing of bees can be heard as we pause to admire the view towards the Minster, which looks much the same as it did ten years ago, and a century ago.

Over the other side of Lendal Bridge the library and city archives continue to provide a valuable and well-used service.

If we walk past there, out of the city centre, up Gillygate and Clarence Street and onto Haxby Road, we find that an offshoot of the library and archives has recently opened in the newly refurbished Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, alongside the Nestle South development. Lights are on in the old Rowntree factory building. People are living in there now.

Behind it there’s a new cycle track heading off towards Bootham Stray, which is still open land there for us, as it always was. Or we can cross the road and go past the allotments, towards Clifton Backies, then onto Kingsway, where the green space between the houses is also full of flowers, and bees buzzing. There are benches made by local residents, which are never vandalised, and there’s no litter on the ground, here or anywhere.

Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: ‘Ways in: looking back …’

Since 2004 Lisa@York Stories has been documenting the city under the heading ‘a residents record of York and its changes’. As part of the My Future York project we’ve been asking people to look forward and imagine their lives and York in 2026. In the first of three posting for the My Future York project, Lisa looks back ten years to 2006. What difference can 10 years make?

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories

The My Future York project is asking us to imagine what life might be like in the city of York ten years from now. It can be difficult to think ten years into the future, into an imagined future. It can feel like quite a long period of time.

Perhaps, as a way in, looking back ten years could be a useful exercise. Giving a perspective on what has changed in the ten years just gone might help us imagine what ten years on might look like.

In my online ‘record of York and its changes’ ( I’ve taken photos around York and written about York for more than a decade. I’ve been going through the photographs I took on my York walks ten years ago, in 2006, and reading the website pages I wrote about some of them, focusing on our lives here in this particular city.

The photos include some things that are no longer part of the cityscape, and many things that still are.

Back in 2006 the sugarbeet factory was a prominent feature of the skyline on my side of town, and the announcement of its imminent closure led me to take many photos of it, from the other side of the river, across Clifton ings. Its familiar smell was part of the local landscape at certain times of the year, a reminder that a sense of place and ‘our heritage’ involves all our senses, as we live and work and walk through the local patch.

November 2006, looking over Clifton Ings to the sugarbeet factory – now closed, taking with it familiar smells. Photo credit: York Stories.

What will York smell like in 2026? Will the smell of cocoa still drift across from the Nestle (formerly Rowntree) factory? And will the blue signs for the cycle routes still point the way to ‘Rowntrees’, or by then will they be replaced with ‘Nestle’? The disused part of the Rowntree site, Nestle South, has been marketed as ‘the Cocoa Works’. By 2026 will it have been redeveloped, and will the signs point the way to ‘the Cocoa Works’? Will locals of a certain age always call it Rowntrees, regardless?

But back to 2006. The photos remind me that there wasn’t yet a Sainsbury’s on the corner of Bootham Row, where a new tall building has replaced the former garage building, low level and set back from the road. Just like all the sites built on in the last ten years in or near the city centre, the new buildings are much higher, making as much profit as possible on valuable land.

In the heart of the city, the Minster’s East End was covered in scaffolding, back in 2006, and old carved pieces of stone were stacked on the ground nearby. After painstaking restoration for so many years it was recently unveiled in all its glory. In 2006, around the Minster’s south side, Deangate still had kerbs and tarmac, an obvious road. Now it’s repaved with expensive stone, a shared space where cyclists whizz through and pedestrians are wandering.

Back in 2006 King’s Square still had its 1970s paving scheme, since controversially replaced. Similar major repaving work has occurred in the last decade in part of Exhibition Square, and in Library Square.

The library has been renamed York Explore, and it now has the city archives housed in an impressive added extension. Major work here on this building and all the others around it in what was called for a time the ‘cultural quarter’, though that phrase didn’t seem to catch on. But in the last decade we’ve seen work on the Yorkshire Museum, the art gallery, the theatre, the De Grey rooms alongside, the public loos by Bootham Bar, and most recently St Leonard’s Place. All emerging as handsome and new, and some of them in some ways more accessible, in other ways less accessible (because of increased entry fees, or because bits of them are no longer open to the general public).

Also in the ‘cultural quarter’, at the Lendal Tower corner of the Museum Gardens, the former engine house and the land behind it was scruffy and intriguing in 2006. Now it’s the Star Inn, and very posh. There’s a new access point through an archway in the wall, which in 2006 was used as a storage area for old bits of wood and the like.

Across the other side, the ‘tunnel’, just inside the Museum Street entrance of the Museum Gardens – still an unexplained and intriguing place in 2006, with sarcophagi along its walls. Now it’s a display space for information boards.

Beyond the historic core we’ve lost many buildings that had heritage value but no listing to protect them. Attempts to compile a ‘Local List’ drew attention to many buildings of interest, many of them demolished in the last decade. Including the old iron foundry buildings on Leeman Road, Reynard’s garage (aka the former Airspeed factory), St Barnabas old school building, and the Burnholme WMC, housed in a fine and fancy Victorian villa, now demolished, with a new club and housing in its place.

The Bonding Warehouse was empty in 2006, had been that way for some years, with its plastic letters dropping off: The Boding Warehouse by then. It’s now fully renovated and occupied, with offices in the place we used to booze and dance and laugh. I hope people still laugh there, even if boozing and dancing isn’t on the cards.

The photos from back then also remind me that there were the usual seasonal floods, in the autumn of 2006, lapping around the Boding Warehouse and other buildings by the Ouse. I have many photos of the riverside areas, Clifton ings and Paddy’s Pitch, covered in water, and gulls. But nothing too dramatic, over the ten year period, until of course the major incident in late 2015, with the failure of the Foss Barrier. I have photos of the Foss Barrier in 2006, when like many people I didn’t really appreciate just how important it was. It was rather taken for granted back then. Begging the question: what do we take for granted now that in ten years time we might not?

By the Foss, back in 2006, the old Stubbs ironmongers building was being converted to a Loch Fyne restaurant, with a new residential block behind it. I have photos of it mid-conversion with its new lettering painted on the brickwork and the old Stubbs signage still above the shopfront. The 2015 floods left it closed for almost a year. Another restaurant nearby still hasn’t reopened. Will we be better able to control and cope with the effects of flooding in the future?

June 2006: the conversion from Stubbs ironmongers to the Loch Fyne restaurant is underway. Photo credit: York Stories.

Nearby, walking down the characterful Straker’s Passage off Fossgate in 2006 meant passing the side of the Barbican Bookshop, where a side window held a selection of interesting books. The Barbican Bookshop is one of many familiar well-established shops to have closed down in the last decade. New shops have appeared, but bars and restaurants are more common.

June 2006: the Barbican Bookshop side window down Strakers Passage. New shops have appeared since, but bars and restaurants are more common. Photo credit: York Stories.

Near Fossgate is the Hungate redevelopment area. In 2006 it was still full of the functional low brick-built buildings dating from the mid-20th century. I’m reminded of this by a photo of the buildings on Stonebow taken from the Peasholme Green end. The demolition of those buildings led to a marketing suite on part of the site and a fine buddleia forest behind hoardings on the other part. Behind that, in the intervening ten years, tall blocks have been built. Some private residential and some student accommodation.

June 2006: buildings on Stonebow, since demolished. Looking very different now, with a marketing suite for the new Hungate development. Photo credit: York Stories.

Which brings us to the main change in the city over the last decade. There has been a huge increase in the student population, and that has had a noticeable effect on the city, in terms of the built environment and culturally.

If in 2006 you lived on a quiet street of residential houses occupied by families paying a mortgage and now you’re living on the same street surrounded by rented houses occupied mainly by young people only living there for a short time then your neighbourhood will have a different feel to it. In recognition of this there have been attempts to deal with the large increase in the student population by building huge blocks of purpose-built accommodation. Large accommodation blocks for students have appeared in the Hungate development area and on Navigation Road and Walmgate, and outside the walls along Lawrence Street and Hull Road, where the older properties of the Poor Clare’s and the former St Lawrence WMC/Tuke house are also being converted to student accommodation. The changes on this side of town are quite dramatic.

The changes between then and now stand out. But photos from 2006 also focus the mind on the things that haven’t changed much, the things that endure, much the same, maintained. I have many photos of Homestead Park, York Cemetery, Clifton ings and the riverside areas, Rawcliffe Meadows. All as lovely as they were, actually better than they were, as our appreciation of our local natural environment deepens.

In the paragraphs above I’ve focused on the changes. But ten years isn’t really that long, certainly not in the context of a historic city like York. So how will it change in the next ten years? With competing interests and opposing viewpoints? Technology will of course be part of the mix, and wider cultural changes. But for York, specifically, what changes in buildings and our use of land can you see being likely? What would you like it to be? How would you like it to look? Will it feel ‘like home’?