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A new vision for York

An exploration of a possible future for the City of York, based on consultation with local residents and organisations.

Written by:
Nicholas Falk and Francesca King
Date published:

A new vision for York explores the future of the city. Based on consultation with York residents and organisations, the conclusions will form part of the Community Plan being developed by Without Walls, York’s Local Strategic Partnership, and provide ideas for other British cities considering their future. The study includes a profile of York as it stands today, illuminated by comparisons with other British cities with similar historic legacies such as Bath, Chester, Exeter and Norwich.

It offers ideas for how York might develop, drawing on lessons from comparable European cities and on specially commissioned papers. It also examines the practical constraints on various development options. The authors suggest that York should adopt a strategy of ‘Smart’ growth based on the principles of sustainability and accessibility. They offer six strategic themes for constructing a vision of the future: a modern historic city; a significant European city; a city of creativity and knowledge; a city of villages and neighbourhoods; a city for health and well-being; and a welcoming and inclusive city.


A new vision for York explores what the future holds, or could hold, for the City. Following a proposal from York Civic Trust, a report was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on behalf of Without Walls, York's Local Strategic Partnership. Based on consultation with York residents and organisations, the consultancy firm URBED produced the report to stimulate debate on a new 'vision' for the city. This summary outlines its main conclusions.

  • With its rich historical past, York is mainly known today as a destination for tourism and shopping. But the last decade has seen unemployment fall and an expansion of service industries, with the highly successful University planning major growth, and new opportunities for York's 'Science City'.
  • When measured against comparable British historic cities, York comes out as a 'good average' with a strong economy, but with concerns about potential social divisions, and further to go in achieving excellence in meeting environmental challenges.
  • York has enough natural and historical assets to 'move up a league'. It has untapped potential and could draw inspiration from best practice on the continent. But it will not move forward without tackling some difficult underlying issues, in particular:
    • traffic congestion and pollution;
    • a lack of affordable housing; and
    • a widening gap between those with secure jobs or transferable skills and those (including some who have been in York for generations) who are in marginal jobs or out of work and who are not benefiting from the City's increased prosperity.
  • In contrast to other places experiencing economic growth, York has substantial opportunities for development both on brownfield central sites - such as 'York Central' beside the rail station - and through urban extension.
  • In the view of the consultants, York needs to adopt a strategy of 'SMART' growth. This would mean some expansion - which generates extra revenues - but with attention being given to fundamental principles of 'sustainability' and 'accessibility' for all.

The consultants set out six strategic themes, and twenty-five tangible outcomes, to generate widespread discussion between all those interested in the future of York.


Not since the influential Esher Report in 1968 which studied York city centre has anyone attempted to set out a comprehensive future 'vision' for the City. Many individual plans and strategies exist, including a draft Local Plan, but there has been only limited work to draw these together and to think on a 10- to 20-year timescale. Such work had become overdue and York Civic Trust called for a review on the future directions for the City.

Meanwhile, the Government has been urging all localities to set up broad-based partnerships to arrive at a consensus about what areas should look like in the medium to long term.

In response, York City Council set up an inclusive Local Strategic Partnership called Without Walls to consider York's future and provide the basis for a Community Strategy and action plan. To assist, A new vision for York was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It represents six months' intensive work between the consultants URBED and a variety of organisations, partnerships and citizens.

A new vision for York is a discussion document intended to provoke debate: the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Without Walls partners. This summary outlines the main proposals and ideas.

Benchmarking York

York has a rich and distinguished history: at certain times it could justifiably claim to have been England's second city. It has an unparalleled architectural heritage, and a more recent tradition of philanthropy and social justice. It is perhaps best known now as a tourism and shopping destination, but it has an emerging reputation as a 'Science City', and its outstanding University is planning a major extension of its campus at Heslington.

The consensus is that York has 'taken off' in recent years, despite the closure of its railway carriageworks in 1995. Signs of prosperity are very evident - but there is growing concern about the emergence of a 'twin track' city in which wealthy 'incomers' enjoy a quality of life which is far beyond the means of most of the indigenous population, four-fifths of whom now live outside the city walls.


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