Councillor takes legal action to stop ‘deeply flawed’ Clifford’s Tower plans

Ancient fortification, modern controversy – Clifford's Tower. Photograph © George Hodan
15 Dec 2016 @ 6.57 pm
| News

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.

‘Right decision’

Johnny Hayes leads the protest in November
What is a judicial review?

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”.

He added:

I am very much against this development.

But I also strongly believe that the planning process to decide on this proposal was deeply flawed.

What happens now?

A side view of the tower
A view from the side of the planned new visitor centre

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.”

Crowdfunding campaign

Protesters in front of Clifford’s Tower. Photograph: YorkMix

To raise the money, Cllr Hayes is calling on the many people against the development to give him their backing.

He said:

We will appeal to the thousands of York residents and beyond who would like to see this decision reconsidered, and ask people if they might consider contributing to our appeal.

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

Another artist’s impression of the visitor centre

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”.