TRANSPORT, planning and that infamous Blue Badge Ban, dominated a hustings featuring leading York councillors.

The event, at Street Life in Coney Street, was organised by Indie York, the group of Independent York businesses, and staged a week before the local council elections, due this Thursday May 4.

Representing the Liberal Democrats, who currently run the council with Green Party, was recently-elected leader Nigel Ayre. The Greens were represented by its leader Andy D’Agorne, the Conservatives by Cllr Martin Rowley and Labour by its group leader Claire Douglas.

York Press: Claire Douglas gives her views

After visitors and councillors socialised, there was an introduction from BBC York’s Elly Fiorentini, who moderated the two-hours of lively debate.

First question concerned planning and a call to save retail space in the city centre being converted into holiday accommodation.

Nigel Ayre said a Local Plan, which has still to be adopted, would give City of York Council the ‘strength’ to help stop this. The council, he added, also worked with developers like the Helmsley Group to keep retail frontage.

Martin Rowley sought ‘better scrutiny’ of applications, but noted tourism mattered to York and we cannot have the centre a ‘no go zone’ with boarded up frontages.

Andy D’Agorne also agreed a Local Plan would help stop shop conversions.

Claire Douglas said councils did not have enough powers to stop such conversions and all the four candidates said they backed York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell’s bid to restrict and regulate Air BnB/ short-term holiday lets.

Second question concerned traffic restrictions affecting traders from supplying their stores or tradesmen visiting clients.

York Press: Elly Fiorentini takes to the floor

Claire Douglas said better public transport would allow for “essential movement and travel.”

“A conversation” was needed to settle the Blue Badge issue, she continued.

Andy D’Agorne accepted retailers like M&S needed lorry delivers but wanted more “cargo bikes and foot carriers” rather than seeing “Amazon vans making single deliveries.”

Martin Rowley, a funeral director, said it would be “interesting to see 20 coffins on a bike.”

“We have to be real on transport,” he said. Vehicles were best for deliveries, but York’s arterial roads were jam-packed because minor routes have been closed off. A decision made by the Greens was causing more pollution.

“We need to look at releasing York and its streets,” he said.

Nigel Ayre said the city has to “try and find a system best for both.”

“We have to move to more sustainable travel and do it together.”

Third question was achieving Net Zero despite declining bike use.

Martin Rowley, who drives a hybrid, said reliable public transport was needed.

Andy D’Agorne said government policy was to encourage ‘active travel,’ making it cheaper by bus or bike than electric car.

Claire Douglas promised “citywide sustainable transport plans.”

Nigel Ayre said York is facing 18,000 new homes and a 25% increase in population. New developments would feature bus services from bus companies.York Press: Flick Williams asks her question


“It’s about behavioural change,” he said.

The fourth question concerned the council consulting with businesses, and Martin Rowley said the council did not do enough of it.

Claire Douglas said she has been meeting businesses and other groups.

“That is what has informed our manifesto. It’s not our’s but yours,” she said.

Andy D’Agorne said he was “fully indebted to York Civic Trust on transport.”

Question five concerned controversial planning decisions being made on party lines.

Martin Rowley says there appears to be a trend for this, and Andy D’Agorne said he voted against York Central.

Claire Douglas said it is illegal for councillors to collude on planning.

“There’s no whip. There’s no discussion among the Labour Group.”

But on large schemes, members would go on their values and if a developer did not want a contribution to affordable housing, she was not interested.

“I wish at times our planning department was harder on developers,” she said.

Andy D’Agorne said it is hard to oppose officer recommendations.

But Martin Rowley said the fear of losing on appeal was no reasons for agreeing to things wrong for the city.

Nigel Ayre said he will go against officer recommendations but it is not prudent to spend money on frivolous appeals.

Question six concerned how to spread visitors more widely and encourage more locals into the city centre, who might be deterred by drunks.

Andy D’Agorne supported making people better aware of its diversity.

Claire Douglas wanted the city centre to be more family friendly and pledged a play area.

But Nigel Ayre said the city was safe and events like the Ice Festival have moved away from Christmas and a new ‘character’ festival was taking place in a wider area.

Martin Rowley said the city needed new businesses. There were incentives and ‘hundreds’ of grant schemes available. There should also be free parking after 3pm for York residents.

Martin Rowley also supported more toilets and litter bins, and Andy D’Agorne wanted better singposting for those already there. Nigel Ayre said the city had plenty of toilets and no site has been identified for another one.

In public questions, Flick Williams noted the unity of the city’s Labour and Conservative in opposing the Blue Badge Ban, which suggested ‘hubris’ from the Lib-Dem/Green council.

Nigel Ayre said no, and the ban was one of the most difficult he decision to take.

“I’m surprised others are prepared to ignore counter terrorism advice,” he said.

“It’s protecting human life. A Blue Badge exemption would be seen as an opportunity to attack the city.”

Claire Douglas said it was about balancing risk and she wanted to find compromise.

Martin Rowley said the Conservatives would also reverse the ban.

Andy D’Agorne called for a review in consultation with various groups.

Nigel Ayre added the ban was constantly under review.

The final public question concerned a possible need for York to have a chief executive to lead the council.

Martin Rowley and Claire Douglas said yes, Nigel Ayre said no and Andy D’Agorne said he had ‘no idea.’