The idea York could be the temporary home for Parliament has sparked praise from those who say it would be a boost for the northern economy but questions about whether the ancient city is the best location.
The Prime Minister’s touting of the city follows earlier suggestions that it could be the site of a second centre of government, with the relocation of whole departments, or a new home for the House of Lords.
The proposal that the Lords could move to York prompted one peer to note that the city was seen as “something of an outer Mongolia by the general public” and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to comment: “Moving an unelected House to a part of the North that looks most like the South won’t ‘level up’ the country.”
Local politicians have welcomed the idea that Parliament and government departments could move 200 miles north.
But many people took to social media following Boris Johnson’s suggestion to complain that the city is too small to accommodate the influx of people or that other northern towns were more in need of the economic boost the move would bring.
One Twitter user said: “If #Parliament is to head north, then (no snobbery pls) #Doncaster would be a better choice. It’s on mainline rail, has a local airport, excellent motorway links, more space, cheaper premises, less congestion and needs inward investment much more than an already prosperous #York.”
Labour MP for York Central Rachael Maskell said earlier this week that York’s economy had been badly hit by the pandemic and needed the investment.
In response to reports a government hub could be heading for the city, Ms Maskell said: “York is forecast to be the second worst hit place in the country as a result of the post-pandemic economic landscape, with unemployment mapped to rise as high as 18% of the working population.
“York’s economy has not thrived in recent years, and yet the possibility of developing high-skilled jobs in the city will realise its potential.”
Students of Parliament have noted that it has sat in York a number of times before, but mainly in the 14th century.
They have also stressed that York has another claim to fame in relation to the Palace of Westminster’s long history – it is the 1570 birthplace of Guy Fawkes.
York has no obvious building that could replace the Palace of Westminster, but the focus of attention for any new government hub is on a huge brownfield site called York Central, next to the city’s main railway station, which has been described as one of the biggest development opportunities in Europe.
City of York Council leader Keith Aspden, said: “Having written to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office earlier this week, I welcome the Prime Minister’s support for the establishment of a major government hub in York, with the possibility of temporarily relocating one or both Houses of Parliament.
“Liberal Democrats have long called for the London-centric political system to be decentralised and made more representative. There is real potential for this idea to bring major benefits, not only to York, but to our wider region, including higher paid and skilled jobs.
Mr Aspden added: “Whilst discussions are at an early stage, I have already offered the Council’s support in developing these proposals and I look forwarding to seeing the promises made to our city, region and the north, to level-up, being delivered.”
Tory Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake told BBC Radio York that London’s prosperity was partly based on the location of big government departments in the capital.
Mr Hollinrake said: “I bet in average wage term (York) is not as prosperous as Manchester.”
He added: “I personally would much rather live in York than in Manchester.”
The Lords debated the idea of a move to York earlier this week, during which Lord Singh of Wimbledon said: “York is seen as something of an Outer Mongolia by the general public, who view the House of Lords as an outdated institution.”