THE rafters of York's ancient Merchant Adventurers' Hall resounded to the sound of young people debating the future of their historic city.

Cries of 'we can't just keep building ever higher flood barriers!' competed with suggestions for how to fill York's empty shops - pop-up galleries, café study areas, and indoor spaces for buskers to perform among them.

Young people even tackled the issue of home working - and pointed out some of the costs, as well as the benefits.

Pupils from no fewer than nine of the city's secondary schools headed for the medieval hall on Wednesday night to take part in York Civic Trust's annual secondary schools' public speaking contest on Wednesday evening.

The topics they covered included

  • how can we fill York’s empty shops?
  • is York really a city of sanctuary?
  • spending money on flood defences is a waste of resources
  • working from home is great – why can’t we keep on doing it?

The eventual joint winners of the competition - Huntington School's Nola Fleming and Findlay List - tackled the thorny issue of just what we should do about the growing number of empty shops in the city centre.

Reduce rents for a start, Nola said, and try to encourage more of the small, independent shops that make York so special. "We need to think differently!" she said.

Just turning shops into flats wasn't the answer, Findlay added. "That would be boring!"

The pair batted around ideas. Use them for art and craft workshops, Nola suggested. A micro-brewery! said Findlay - and a Yorkshire Food Museum. "And what about if we had one or two shops that were indoor spaces for buskers?" Nola suggested.

Katie Wrenn and Lucy Johnson from All Saints, who shared first prize with the Huntington pair, debated the issue of York's flood defences.

The defences were hugely expensive, pointed out Katie - £38 million to upgrade the Foss flood barrier alone. But in 2015, 500 homes and businesses were flooded, Lucy pointed out. "And if we didn't build defences, everything would be flooded again."

The pair agreed, however, that simply building ever higher defences wasn't viable in the long term - and that we needed to do something to tackle climate change.

York Press:

The young school debaters at the Merchants Adventurers' Hall. Picture: David Thewlis

Head judge Darrell Buttery said the standard of this year's event had been 'exceptional'. "To hear so many talented young people engaging with their city is wonderful!" he said.

Verna Campbell, chair of the York Civic Trust's education committee which organised the event, added: "I'm proud to live in a city where we have such excellent schools producing these amazing young people. York is in safe hands!"