Councillor takes legal action to stop ‘deeply flawed’ Clifford’s Tower plans
The most high-profile critic of the proposed Clifford’s Tower visitor centre has put his money where his mouth is.
Business leader and independent councillor Johnny Hayes has launched legal action which could prompt a full High Court judicial review of what he described as the “deeply flawed” decision to green-light the development.
That move has cost him half his pension for 20 years’ teaching in York – but Johnny and his wife Frankie are so appalled at the decision that they are certain the sacrifice is worth it.
Judicial review is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body
It is a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made, rather than the rights and wrongs of the conclusion reached
Another example of a judicial review is the one being held into York’s Community Stadium plans
In October City of York Council granted Clifford’s Tower owners English Heritage planning permission to build a visitor centre into the mound upon which the castle sits.
In the outcry that followed, 3,778 people signed a petition against the development.
As he delivered that petition to the full council meeting on Thursday (December 15), Cllr Hayes revealed his legal challenge.
He said: “I had to think very carefully with my wife Frankie about entering into a judicial review because of the financial implications of taking such action.
“But I have no doubt that we have taken the right decision.”
This was “the wrong building in the wrong place”. If a visitor centre was required it should not be “sticking out of the iconic Clifford’s Tower motte into the beautiful Eye of York conservation area”.
But I also strongly believe that the planning process to decide on this proposal was deeply flawed.
What happens now?
City of York Council must respond to his application for a judicial review by December 30.
If it proceeds it would go to the ‘permission stage’ where a judge will review the application and decide whether to allow the judicial review to go ahead.
Then, usually several months later, this goes to a full hearing in court.
The costs are high. Cllr Hayes estimates that the first stage could cost up to £15K, with another £40K to pay on top if it goes to the High Court for a full hearing.
He said: “I hope that the decision made by the planning committee might be quashed at stage one by City of York Council.
“But that might not happen so we need to be prepared to go all the way to the High Court and that will cost a lot of money.”
To raise the money, Cllr Hayes is calling on the many people against the development to give him their backing.
After consulting their legal team Johnny and Frankie are confident of winning the legal arguments.
“I believe we will be successful with this judicial review,” Cllr Hayes said. “I think that this is a very important case for York.
“In my view it will allow City of York Council an opportunity to pause, and reconsider the right thing for Clifford’s Tower and for the future of that part of our wonderful city.”
The controversial plans
English Heritage wants to develop Clifford’s Tower itself, adding a timber decking roof and wooden walkways inside the 13th century castle.
But it is the plans for a visitor centre, shop, café and viewing platform at the foot of the steps that has caused the greatest controversy.
Cllr Hayes first laid out his objections to the proposal at the planning committee meeting on October 27.
After they voted to grant permission Cllr Hayes organised a protest at Clifford’s Tower last month.
Last month he wrote in YorkMix of the city’s “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to “make the area around Clifford’s Tower into potentially a place of beauty and civic pride”.
Related YorkMix stories
Clifford’s Tower demo in words, pix and video: ‘When 3,000 people speak, their voices must be heard’
Clifford’s Tower reimagined: Seven pictures that show scale of the changes planned for the castle
Turn Castle car park into a beautiful public square – with an ice rink in winter and theatre in summer
Whilst it may be admirable that Cllr Hayes has put his own money forward to fight this development I rather think he should pick his battles more carefully. The car park is an eyesore but where else, in the middle of the City, do people realistically propose 322 car parking spaces are found (not to mention the potential £1 million hit to the CYCs budget?). Multistorey developments are often no better and excavations for subterranean car parks are very costly and at risk of flooding (let us not forget St George’s fields can flood). The plans from English Heritage represent a vote of confidence in York and a considerable investment into an attraction which has failed for years to realise its significant potential – nice to look at but not often visited. If I were the architect I would find the “toilet block” slur most offensive – an offer of investment, of jobs – and this from English Heritage, a group who are likely to be the most sympathetic to the aesthetic of the surrounding. Let us not forget that the tower was ringed by a prison wall not so very long ago. The whole campaign again this project is severely misguided. The result? Money, opportunity and business go elsewhere as is increasingly the case for York. I’m sure there are many disadvantaged towns and cities in the North that would welcome this kind of interest and investment. Value your past York, but don’t stay stuck in it.
I think that the proposed visitor centre shop, cafe and viewing deck is certainly not a bold vision for the future. It is the wrong building in the wrong place. There is a much bolder vision that would aim to transform the Castle Car Park into a new York Square . A place where perhaps a wonderful piece modern of architecture could be built to house a beautiful visitor centre. Or a space where the Castle Museum and English Heritage could work side by side with something truly visionary. Moving the car park and making this a wonderful public space is the vision. The plans that have been proposed I believe lack vision and damage our Heritage. I am not living in the past as was suggested, but would aim for something much more hopeful and positive for the future.