TOO many shops in central York are being turned into bars and restaurants, causing widespread local problems, it has been claimed.

Councillor and former Lord Mayor Brian Watson says city centre residents regularly endure litter, noise, abusive language and “other unsavoury acts”, and says flaws in the planning and licensing rules are hampering the council’s response.

He spoke out following last week’s decision by a planning committee to allow a new bar in Little Stonegate, at the back of the old Borders bookstore.

Coun Watson said: “The ‘Micklegate Run’ is rapidly being replaced by the ‘Swinegate Stagger’ and the planning system and current licensing rules are not allowing us to get a grip on the situation.

“Applicants threaten to walk away from a scheme if we won’t give them the opening hours they want and basically hold us to ransom.

“I am concerned that the core of the city is losing important retail space to licensed premises and that will change the face of the city centre for years to come”. He said hopes of tackling troublesome behaviour had “taken a step backward” and said: “Litter, noise, abusive language and on occasion other unsavoury acts are what city centre dwellers have to contend with on a regular basis and will push people out rather than make the centre an attractive place to live.

“The city centre must be a place where people can let their hair down and enjoy themselves, but changes of planning use that allow more bars and restaurants mean that antisocial behaviour problems will become more commonplace.”

He said city centre residents had to be considered as well as making the city attractive for visitors.

Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of tourism body Visit York, said: “We all need to work together to make York a vibrant, but safe and enjoyable place to live and visit. Issues of antisocial behaviour, while in the minority, are always of concern, though York is recognised as having one of the safest city centres in the country.”

The new bar in Little Stonegate was approved by councillors last week. In a written report, council planning officer Jonathan Kenyon said there was a concern that adding to the number of bars and restaurants in the area would increase late night disturbance, but said: “This is a city centre location and in this case the impact has to be weighed against the public benefit of bring the listed building back into use.”

Karen Waugh, manager of Kennedy’s bar in Little Stonegate, said: “We feel it’s over saturated in this area, there are already 14 bars with a capacity of more than 2,000 people, so adding another one in such a small historic area with a 300 plus capacity is ludicrous. We as a locally owned premises do our best to keep the area tidy and trouble-free – a multinational operation will not care about the local environment as we do. York needs more retail outlets not bars or it will become the next Blackpool.”

But Anita Adams, owner of The Golden Slipper in Goodramgate, accused Coun Watson of “hypocrisy”.

She said: “He has sat there all these years and allowed charity shops in the city – that’s changing the face of York. Now there’s a business, employing people – not taking on volunteers – and paying full rates. Why should he be up in arms over a bar? I have been asking what the long-term plan is for the city centre ever since licensing was in the hands of magistrates and I have heard nothing.”