Users of King’s Square in the City Centre breathed a collective sigh of relief today when Continuum, which operates the York Chocolate Story, withdrew its plan to set up a café in an adjacent space in the square.
Since the end of July when street performers became aware of plans to set aside a portion of the square to be licensed as a café there has been a huge upwelling of protest as street performers and residents worried that the by far the best outdoor pitch was to be compromised. Throughout the summer huge crowds gather around to watch acrobats and jugglers and range of circus quality performers provide great entertainment for visitors of all ages.
The performers, who travel some distance to perform, led by escapologist Rob Roy Collins organized a 5200 signature petition to protest this encroachment of the square. Collins also recognized that even if a compromise to share the square was negotiated the reality is that “It is absolute madness and a total oversight to think there is room for performers, an audience and tables and chairs.”
Even though council planning recommended the plan be approved, Continuum, who understand that they have to coexist with the performers and city residents decided to withdraw their plans.
This controversy highlights the tensions between the need for the city to raise as much revenue from alternate sources to minimise the local rate; and to provide adequate public space for visitors and residents alike. There is concern in some quarters that existing cafes in St. Samson Square occupy too much of the space and on busy days there have been confrontations between visitors and security staff: it would be inevitable that in King’s Square, where there is considerably less space and the crowds are much denser, there would be the potential for accidents as the performer’s audiences would have their backs to the café railings.
In truth both the open spaces and the cafes are needed to maintain the city buzz and it is sad that the cafes close so early: the presence of street café culture is often a key factor in reducing overall rowdiness. At the same time residents with disabilities are finding they have manoeuvre around these obstacles or are subjected to bullying if they stop off exhausted in a ‘licensed’ chair. Some residents, wearied by tourists have likened the carving up of the open spaces to the Enclosures. Council planners need to revisit their policies on licensing public space to ensure that there is adequate room for moving about and that the licensees are discouraged from harassing those who trespass on their space.
Coincidentally, the Reinvigorate York programme has released plans to revamp King’s Square as part of a scheme to repave Colliergate in a similar fashion to Coney Street making it much more pedestrian friendly. This would inevitably bring more people to this part of town putting further pressure on the space in King’s Square.