A £5 million plan is being hatched to secure the future of a customer-starved shopping arcade in York.

The boarded-up Rockwell Rooms caf inside the Stonegate Arcade in York

The Oakgate Group, which 11 months ago acquired Stonegate Walk, linking Stonegate to Blake Street, today revealed that it wants to merge the shops into four huge units and to create super-luxury flats on the upper floors of the Blake Street passageway.

News of the plan comes as the Rockwell Rooms, the well-known restaurant in Stonegate Walk where shoppers could at one time sit outside and drink coffee, closed its doors, the property repossessed by its landlords.

Already the Oakegate Group has bought the building housing the Next store bordering the arcade in Stonegate and the Britannic Assurance building in Blake Street to create brand new shop fronts.

At the moment access - the reason for the Stonegate Walk traders' long battle for trade - is through two passageways.

Richard France, managing director of Oakgate, described the venture as "a substantial redevelopment".

He said: "We are still in the consultation process with the City of York planning authority, English Heritage and the Royal Fine Arts Commission but we are hopeful of submitting a planning application before Christmas.

"One of the reasons that traders moved out of the city centre, where shoppers naturally gather, to places like Monks Cross, was because they needed the room and the city didn't have it. Now they will."

The closure of the Rockwell Rooms left some traders jittery, particularly because the restaurant regularly attracted people to an arcade otherwise hidden from view.

Joanne Preston, partner at hairdressers Roberto Miguel and one of only four traders with leases of more than a year, says that this is one of the reasons she is now trying to negotiate ending her stay at Stonegate Walk.

She said: "It's scary. We rely on building up clientele and you can't do that when there are no clientele. The closure of the Rockwell Rooms hasn't helped."

see COMMENT "New hope for 'secret arcade'"

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.