A CONSERVATION chief has called for "visionary thinking" in tackling the growing problem of empty shops in York city centre.

Andrew Scott, chairman of York Civic Trust, says the "steady retrenchment and outright disappearance of some well-known retailers has now hit York with a vengeance".

Writing in the trust’s annual report, he said his own recent survey had revealed 12 empty premises in Coney Street alone.

“As some were big outlets, the percentage of ugly disused frontage is even bigger,” he said.

“The trust’s view is that there should be visionary thinking about new uses for shops and the future of the city centre.”

He said the clock could not be wound back to the day when people used the high street to meet all their shopping needs.

“The value of high street properties is much reduced; this offers an opportunity to lower rents and encourage independents to move into central York.

“Could this restore a distinctive shopping experience for visitors and residents alike? The opening of the Cocoa Works in our own Castlegate is a welcome example.”

His comments came as residents are being invited to take part in a live studio debate at Spark:York with experts on city centre regeneration and urban renewal.

Organised by Two Rivers Radio, the debate takes place on Saturday, September 22 and the members of the panel will be Phil Pinder, chair of the York Retail Forum, City of York Councillor Ashley Mason, Imelda Havers, Director of BlueFish Regeneration and David Dunning, news editor of Minster FM.

Jez Russell, of Two Rivers Radio, said: “Seeing the decline of big retailers on Coney Street and the rise of independent businesses; a large number of hotel and student accommodation redevelopments, unaffordable housing, problems with the night time economy and more, is our city heading in the right direction for its residents?

“Is now the time for us to start shaping the future of our city, more?”

Interested residents are being invited to arrive at 2.30pm, with a question preferred but not obligatory, to Spark:York in Piccadilly, for recording to commence at 3pm.

The programme will be recorded and broadcast on Two Rivers Radio on Monday, September 24 at 1-2pm and 5-6pm.

Meanwhile, Mr Scott has praised the work of York’s BID (Business Improvement District) and its contractor Future Cleaning Services in cleaning city centre streets.

He said that last year he "bemoaned the dirtiness" in the city’s streets but now they were cleaner, with more than 300,000 pieces of chewing gum and 1,700 pieces of graffiti and other items removed.