THE Coppergate debate re-opened today after a new survey put York City centre at the foot of a league table for towns and cities boasting big name stores.

The poll ranked York 19 out of 20 in terms of what it had to offer as a chain store venue, putting it behind places like Hull, Reading and Stoke-on-Trent.

Today, it brought calls for planners to revisit the idea of providing a multi-million pound riverside redevelopment, extending Coppergate.

"This is a clarion call reminding us that we cannot be complacent," said Len Cruddas, chief executive of the York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce. "It reminds us how important it is to sensitively redevelop Coppergate and Piccadilly.

"New development at Spurriergate will help but what we really need is some big shops and big retail names. We have to provide the top brand names that people want if we are to compete against Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester."

The Venuescore report, conducted by retail analyst Javelin, gives each shopping destination in the UK an average score based on the quality of its retailers.

London expectedly topped the table, but only Newcastle upon Tyne was worse than York. Sheffield was ranked eighth, Leeds came in tenth and Hull was 17th.

The controversial City Council-backed plan for Coppergate 2 retail development was turfed out by the Government in 2003 after a lengthy inquiry. When told of York's lowly ranking, City of York Council leader Steve Galloway, said: "I'm not entirely surprised, because one of the justifications for the Coppergate 2 development was surveys over the years which showed that York city centre lacked magnet large stores. Many of our buildings were listed and not suitable.

"It was acknowledged in the inspector's report rejecting Coppergate that arguments against the development were not based on skepticism about the need for quality additional shopping; more on design and proximity to Cliffords Tower."

But, he said, York still had an unrivalled variety of specialist stores in an historic setting which offered a "complete experience".

Meanwhile the city council was drawing up a planning brief to create a new retail offering on Ouseside land at Piccadilly after consulting a panel of landowners, business people and Coppergate 2 objectors.

But, admitted Coun Galloway, "between now and when you might see one brick on top of another is likely to be at least four years."

York's MP Hugh Bayley drew some lessons from York city centre's poor performance in the league table. He said: "We don't want a Meadowhall in Piccadilly, but York city centre could do with some more big stores to go alongside the small specialist shops that make York such a unique place that draws so many people here to shop."

Accolade for designer shops

HERE'S the good shopping news: The Venuescore report names McArthurGlen Designer Outlet, on the outskirts of York as the UK's top upmarket shopping destination outside London.

Retail analyst Javelin compared more than 2,000 retail venues and ranks York's designer outlet in Fulford ahead of Covent Garden and London's Docklands.

The only shopping destinations to score more highly were Knightsbridge, Regent Street and King's Road.

High fashion names such as Paul Smith, Armani Collections and the recently opened Karen Millen store, put the York McArthurGlen centre fourth in the overall national ranking.

Colin Wilding, McArthurGlen York general manager, said: "We're delighted to be recognised as the North's leading venue for fashion retail and to be compared to such world-famous shopping destinations as Knightsbridge and Regent Street.

"With more than 115 top designer names at the centre, we offer a wide choice of leading fashions and attract more than three million shoppers each year."

Hugh Bayley, York's MP, said the success of McArthurGlen had nothing to do with retail shortcomings in York City Centre.

He said: "When McArthurGlen came to York I was skeptical, fearing that it would affect city centre shops but the centre runs buses between the two."

NICKY GIBBONS asked people in York whether they believed the city centre was one of the worst in Britain for shopping.

Helen Turner, 27, of St John's Street, York, said: "It is a good place to come once a year, but it gets boring once you've lived here for a while. It could be improved by opening more individual shops."

Murray Roberts, 22, of Fossgate, described the shopping in York as "super". He said: "There are plenty of big department stores and unique boutiques, especially around Shambles."

Gill Bulmer, 52, of Rawcliffe, described the variety of York's city centre shops as being "very limited" and criticised the parking facilities, suggesting there should be "a cheaper park and ride service."

Brian Cameba, 32, of Bishopthorpe, originally from California, thought York was one of the best places to shop in the UK. "The size is just right, it's not too big, but big enough."

Norah Leaversley, 73, of Bootham, said: "I moved here more than 40 years ago, and thought it was appalling then. More competition and better department stores would improve it."

Updated: 09:57 Thursday, March 24, 2005