New images of Roman quarter revealed – as heritage groups clash over the plans

5 Aug 2020 @ 7.54 am
| Changing city

New images of the Roman attraction planned for York have been revealed, but heritage organisations remain widely split over the idea. 

North Star and York Archaeological Trust want to build Eboracum, a new underground attraction in Rougier Street telling the story of Roman York, just as Jorvik tells the city’s Viking history.

There would be flats, offices and commercial or leisure space above, and the developers have published these updated artist’s impressions.

They have amended the intended height of the new building so it is lower than its neighbours, reduced the number of flats from 290 to 250, and made other adjustments in response to criticisms.

But their planned underground excavations are dividing heritage organisations. 

Historic England and York Archaeological Trust are in particular disagreement. Neil Redfern, development advice team lead at the former, strongly objected to the plans earlier this year, but the York trust’s chief executive, David Jennings, has now issued a lengthy point-by-point rebuttal.

The two sides

The designs have been updated

Comments by Historic England include:

  • The excavation would be “a purely speculative venture that carries considerable risks, because the condition and nature of the archaeological deposits across the whole application site is not known”
  • There would be “likely substantial harm to the archaeological remains of national importance”
  • “We think it is highly unlikely that an excavation of this magnitude and potential complexity could be delivered in the suggested two-year period, and this shortcoming is compounded by our considerable reservations about the likely timely delivery of a post-excavation archive.”
  • “Our considerable concerns about the proposed archaeological strategy cover every part of the archaeological process. There is a complete lack of understanding of the archaeological significance, potential and character of the application site, which – given the significance of the whole development site – falls far short of any minimum standard.”
  • “Historic England objects to this application in the strongest terms. It is contrary to statute and to national and local policy.”
  • The plans should not disregard archaeology between Roman and medieval times.
Another new image

York Archaeological Trust says:

  • The plan is not speculative but is based on extensive research, including past excavations, a desk-based assessment and a bore hole.
  • The two-year target is “eminently achievable”, Historic England provide no data to suggest otherwise, and the trust has a proven record for providing an archive record
  • Historic England’s claims about a lack of understanding are unsupported, and furthermore “the language is hyperbolic and asserts a position that lacks balance, objective assessment and is subsequently not credible.”
  • Historic England has misinterpreted legal guidance and rulings on what is permitted archaeologically
  • Historic England failed to engage with hundreds of pages of supporting documents submitted with the plans
  • It has presented “clear and convincing justification” for an “exceptional and once-in-a-generation opportunity”.
  • There is an “over-riding propensity of Historic England to assert a position without providing any factual evidence to support their conclusion” and many of its claims are “grossly inaccurate” or “lack credibility”.

‘Generate £250m’

Another view

The Council for British Archaeology also objected earlier this year.

It said it sympathised with the desire to open up archaeology to non-experts, and said it could see the benefits of a Roman interactive museum for visitors, but said it was not persuaded that the benefits outweighed the “substantial harm to nationally-important archaeology” that would be caused.

Under the plans, the current Northern House and two adjacent buildings would be demolished and replaced with a new building, with a new basement. 

North Star and the archaeological trust say the project would lead to 450 jobs, generate £250 million for the city over the next 30 years, and involve a two-year dig that would be accessible to York residents.

In a report on their changes to the plans, the developers also say the project is “ever more important, as the city looks to navigate the coronavirus consequences. 

They say: “A new world-class visitor attraction, coupled with a very high profile two-year archaeological dig, and the major investment should be welcomed at this challenging time.

“The ambitious vision will also complement other planned improvements to the area – such as the station frontage, Queen Street bridge removal and York Central – as well as the investment in other cultural attractions such as The National Railway Museum and the Castle Museum.

“In a post Covid-19 world The Roman Quarter is an opportunity not to be missed to raise the profile of York, increase its cultural offer and create a world class new attraction for the benefit of the whole city.”

City of York Council is still processing the planning application. The documents and all comments in support or objection can be found here.

More images