A “TASKFORCE” has been set up in a bid to attract more retailers to York - and fill the city’s empty shops.

York Retail Forum is working with City of York Council, Make it York and York BID to try attract new businesses to vacant sites.

The forum’s chairman Phil Pinder said it is not the number of empty premises in York overall, but the concentration of them in two key streets - Goodramgate and Coney Street - that is “concerning”.

River Island was the latest major store to close in Coney Street last Saturday.

Mr Pinder said the forum is working with City of York Council, destination management organisation Make It York and York BID, which invests in improvements and enhancements to the centre of York and its businesses, in an effort to fill some of the empty shops in the city centre.

He said: “York Retail Forum, Make it York, York BID and York council have formed a taskforce.

“We’re all working with the same aim which is to get new businesses in.

“We plan to do this by working together to create a strategy for retail investment, this will include identifying the retailers we think York is missing and would enhance our retail offering.”

City of York Council said the move was a continuation of the work the authority is doing in partnership with the other organisations to keep city centre footfall buoyant and support retailers.

Mr Pinder said York has a “great retail opportunity”, and its footfall is potentially the highest in the north.

He added: “York has many tourist visitors, which I am sure will make the number of unique visitors to York very high. To shops this means an exposure to many different people with a potential for greater spend.”

Councillor Keith Aspden, executive member for economic development at City of York Council, said city centres and high streets are facing a tough time across the UK, especially with the growth of online shopping.

“We’re pleased that York’s city centre occupancy rate remains well above the national average,” he said.

He added: “We will continue to work hard alongside Make it York, York BID, York Retail Forum and the informal traders group to make York an even better place for retailers, shoppers and visitors, and I would like to thank all partners for their hard work.

“As a result of these efforts, the number of people visiting our city, and the money they are spending, is steadily increasing. At Christmas, we bucked the national trend again by increasing the number of visitors in our city centre.

“Demand in the city centre as a whole is high, and we expect the vacancies to fill over time. Ninety-eight per cent of our own city centre premises are let, with offers in on all our available units.

“However, the concentration of empty premises in Coney Street is a concern. Every unit is empty for different reasons so there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. We are working with partners and other landlords to understand why some premises remain empty, and what we can do to help increase the turnaround time between tenants, whilst at the same time, we’re making sure that we promote York’s exceptionally strong offer.”

Speaking about the closure of the River Island store, Andrew Sharp, head of business at Make It York, said: “It is concerning to see another business close on Coney Street, historically one of York’s premier shopping streets. It has traditionally been home to a number of large chain stores and the recent changes in consumer demand, as well as the rise of online retail, have seen some big names disappear from high streets across the country. This has all hit Coney Street particularly hard in recent times.

“However, it’s important to stress York has an otherwise healthy picture for retail and we are working hard with partners including the retail forum, York BID and city of York council to tackle this complex problem and revive the business and retail offer in Coney Street. We’re confident this situation can and will be turned around.”