EMPTY shops in York city centre are being bought by local investors - and that is good news for the high street, according to business leaders.

Max Reeves, development director at York-based property company Helmsley Group, says the recovery from the pandemic will give the city an opportunity to evolve.

The company - which has been involved with redeveloping the Old Fire Station and recently announced plans for the city's first eco hotel in North Street - is also supporting City of York Council's campaign to remain unchanged as a local authority under local government reorganisation proposals.

Mr Reeves said developers and investors have strong relationships with the council and linked public bodies which he fears will be lost if alternative proposals to split North Yorkshire into two much larger councils go ahead.

He said the future looks bright for York and that some of the challenges of the pandemic could be turned into opportunities to boost the economy: “We can look at it as a disaster or an opportunity.

"We have a chance to evolve the city. In York we are seeing the days of generic high streets and buildings owned by remote multi billion pound funds is dying.

“We have seen a big movement this year of properties moving into the investment of local investors who have the interest and the passion to see the city thrive."

Council leaders have already heard that a number of city centre properties - often large vacant shops - have been sold off by pension fund owners and bought by local developers, sometimes a hugely discounted prices, according to York BID director Andrew Lowson.

Mr Reeves said Helmsley Group has bought several properties across the city during the pandemic and argued that York-based investors are more likely to improve and preserve the city's landmark buildings. He added that the residential property market in York has also stayed strong.

The pop-up gallery in the ex-Dorothy Perkins/Burtons shop in Coney Street is part of a Helmsley Group initiative.

He added that York is well-placed for the high street to recover and evolve from the pandemic if new businesses focus on creating an attraction or experience rather than traditional retail.

James Farrar, chief of North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, has predicted a significant rise in staycation trips to York in 2021.

Mr Reeves said: “The opportunities for York going forward are good. I think we forget sometimes how lucky we are, having this city as an asset.

“There are lots of opportunities from devolution. We need the fastest mechanism to enable us to benefit from the funding, that’s one of the big concerns we have about this proposed mega authority splitting east and west. It has really highlighted the benefits of York as a mid sized authority.

"They are approachable. There is engagement between private and public bodies in the city. The council has made a real effort to engage with us and that’s vital. Full focus needs to be on supporting the city and what the city needs."