Not everyone has been satisfied with the consultation process so far for the huge York Central site behind the railway station. A new consultation aims to hit the 'reset' button. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

YORK has its fair share of festivals - everything from the Vikings to comedy, short films and food and drink.

The one which will kick off at the National Railway Museum next Monday will be very different, however.

The Festival of York Central isn't aimed at tourists. It's not about having fun, or taking the kids for a day out.

This festival will be all about planning - together - how to make York a better place to live and work in the years to come. Specifically, it's about what we should do with the huge York Central site behind the railway station.

Not again?, you say. Haven't we been talking about that for years?

Well, yes. But in a sense, the Festival of York Central is an attempt to press the 'reset' button on the years of debate and discussion that have gone before.

My Future York, the group headed by architect Phil Bixby and academic Helen Graham which ran last year's consultation on the Castle Gateway area centred on the Eye of York and Piccadilly, have now been brought in to do the same for York Central.

It won't be a question of ignoring everything that's gone before, said Phil. The question of access, for example, has been decided - a new road into the huge, rail-locked site will come in via Millennium Green - and many other important ideas have already been put forward. But the Festival of York will be about about building on what has already been said and done - about asking the questions that haven't yet been asked, and reaching the people that earlier consultations haven't reached.

The appointment of My Future York to run it is a clever move by the York Central Partnership, which represents the four principal owners of the huge site, Network Rail, the Homes and Communities Agency, the National Railay Museum and City of York Council.

There have been complaints that previous consultations haven't listened - and that major decisions on York Central have often been taken behind closed doors.

But the My Future York approach to the Castle Gateway consultation was the opposite of controlling. During the course of that consultation, there were more than 1,000 face-to-face conversations with York people - as well as a huge campaign on social media which saw almost 300,000 tweets received and reviewed, 80,000 views on Facebook, plus thousands of posts on other social media.

The same approach - a combination of walking tours, drops ins, workshops and social media conversations - will be used during the My York Central consultation, and the Festival of York Central at its heart.

"We want to open up the conversation with people," says Helen, who lives in York but teaches museum and heritage studies at the University of Leeds.

"We want to talk to people to identify what the key issues are, ask them what they want from York Central, what they don't know that they'd like to know. Then we'll take that to the York Central Partnership."

The Festival of York Central will run at the NRM for six weeks, from next Monday (March 19th).

At the heart of it will be an exhibition (opening on Wednesday March 21) showing off some of the ideas that the York Central Partnership already has for the site. But it will grow steadily from there.

The first four weeks of the festival will each have a different theme. So it will be:

  • Week 1: Public space in York Central
  • Week 2: Living in York central
  • Week 3: Working in York central
  • Week 4: moving around (and beyond) York Central

Each week, there will be a host of walks, workshops, discussions, debates and question and answer sessions. And there will be a liberal supply of post-it notes so that - just as with the My Castle Gateway consultation - people can write down their questions, suggestions, thoughts and criticisms.

These will all be posted up on the My York Central flickr site, and the My Future York team will use them to distil the ideas and suggestions that come out of the consultation.

At the end of each week, there will be a 'Sunday workshop' to discuss what has come out of the consultation that week - and to update the exhibition at the NRM with some of the new ideas.

After the four-week themed period of public events there will then be a further two weeks of exhibition with an as-yet-undecided programme of events looking at how to pull together all the public input together so that it can help shape the masterplan for the site.

One of the key features of the consultation will be a series of walks - some hopefully around the York Central site itself, but others elsewhere in the city, such as to West Bank Park, and Museum Gardens.

The reason for that is that the proposals for York Central include a lot of open space - with the potential even for a 'Great Park', says Phil Bixby.

"So we want to walk people around to places like Museum Gardens and talk to them about what makes them want to go there," he says.

In York, we have public spaces that are well used, and others that aren't, adds Helen. "So we'll be asking people 'what makes a place a place that you want to use. And what makes a place a place that you don't think about going to?'" It will be about comparing the good and the bad, in other words - and using that to think about how we could best make use of the open space at York Central.

This week, ahead of the main Festival of York Central, there will be a series of preliminary events designed to get the new consultation moving. They include:

  • a 'Meet the York Central Partners and Professionals' session at the National Railway Museum on Wednesday (March 14) from 7.30pm-9pm - a chance to put your questions to the organisations which, between them, own the York Central site
  • a 'My York Central PechaKucha Night' in collaboration with the Arts Barge at the Cycle Heaven Cafe, in Hospital Fields Road from 8pm on Friday, at which different people with different viewpoints - young people, cyclists and pedestrians among them - will each present, in 20 seconds using 20 powerpoint slides, their own visions for the future of York Central

Once the six-week Festival of York Central consultation is over, the ideas generated by it will be fed back to the York Central Partnership for inclusion in its masterplanning process.

An outline planning application for the site is expected to be submitted in August. But there is still an awful lot to be decided, says Phil Bixby - and so a lot that's up for grabs.

The consultation will make a real difference, he believes. "Our input will help shape the masterplan - and I think a lot of good ideas will come out of the process."

That could include some quite radical ideas on transport, for example, he says. Yes, the main access road has been decided. But that still leaves scope for thinking about how people will move around within the huge site itself - and other ways that it might be linked to the rest of the city.

Light rail, anybody? Well, it might be up for discussion at the very least...

  • To find out more about the My York Central consultation and the Festival of York Central at its heart, visit

You can also take part in the consultation on twitter @myyorkcentral and on Facebook at


Members of My Future York have already attended a number of workshops and drop-ins organised by the York Central Partnership armed with post-it notes to encourage people to come up with ideas.

All the post-it notes can be seen on the My York Central flickr site at

Here are a selection of things people have had to say so far:

- "Height? Scale? Please not another Hungate!"

- "Adequate community space."

- "Height restrictions on buildings?"

- "Will views of the Minster be maintained?"

- "Scope for a conference facility?"

- "Footways and cycleways at or above ground level?"

- "What kind of housing are we aiming to provide - for what kind of people?"

- "How will the 'new' York be protected from flooding?"

- "What consideration has been given to routes through - and their connection to neighbouring communities?"