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York redevelopment: encouraging tourism at a cost

Plans to develop a tourism spot on Rougier street could help revitalise the local economy after Covid, but may also harm the nightlife scene

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

The city of York may be relying on its tourism industry in order to jumpstart its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The city is already a major tourism destination, with 8.4 million visitors per annum according to statistics from the Visit York branch of the Make it York organisation, a company operated by the council. Further data shows that those 8.4 million visitors inject around £765 million each year.

One attraction that helps to bolster those figures is the Jorvik Viking centre run by the York Archeological Trust (YAT) which has hosted 20 million visitors alone since its inception in 1984, according to the BBC. Now the YAT are planning a new tourist destination to focus on the Roman history of York as opposed to its Viking heritage.

The proposed plans for the Roman Quarter development, supported by the YAT and run by developer North Star, would include a redevelopment of the area surrounding Tanner Street. In said redevelopment, North Star would demolish three major buildings in the area: Rougier house, Northern house, and crucially for students in York, Society bar – the partner venue of Club Salvation. The three buildings would be replaced with a large ten-storey development including apartments, offices and the new visitor attraction.

Likewise, Tanner Street itself, an old Roman highway, would be restored as a public attraction connected to the visitor centre and may also become the site of an archaeological dig run by the YAT which is included in the plans, and would last for two years.

Chief executive of the YAT, David Jennings has endorsed the project, stating that it has a key role in the city’s Covid recovery, and would also assist the city in separating itself from other heritage locations in the UK, allowing it to stand out as a tourism destination.

He also stated when speaking to the BBC:
“This is about uncovering history beneath your feet. Our visitors will be walking on a level that has been hidden for nearly 2,000 years, following in the footsteps of the people of Eboracum who lived and traded on this very spot at a time when York was an important part of the Roman empire.”

However, for students, the plans have some worrying implications. The removal of Society bar is the latest nightlife venue to be threatened after the closure of other venues such as Mansion and Fibbers due to developments by the same developer, North Star. The location of the development is also concerning for Club Salvation, located just across the road from Society, and Flares, which is directly adjacent to Tanner Street. Even if there are no plans to close the two venues explicitly, disruptions to their operation could occur if the planned developments go ahead.

The plans for the Roman quarter have yet to be approved but it is unlikely that the city will turn down a proven developer and their promise to revitalise the local economy.

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