Turn Castle car park into a beautiful public square – with an ice rink in winter and theatre in summer

An aerial view of Clifford's Tower, Castle Car Park and the Eye of York. Photograph © Bing Maps
20 Nov 2016 @ 5.07 pm
| History, News, Opinion

johnny-hayes-headshotJohnny Hayes says we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do right by this historic site

More than 750 years ago Clifford’s Tower was built to protect York citizens from outside threats. But now the iconic Clifford’s Tower needs the citizens of York to help protect it.

There are two proposals that are on the table. The English Heritage Clifford’s Tower restoration and visitor centre and City of York Council’s much more wide ranging Southern Gateway Report. They both offer threats and opportunities.

I think we must grasp the opportunities and work together for the good of this potentially wonderful area.

With regard to the English Heritage proposals, I am very happy with the proposed restoration of the tower and the internal works. But the planned visitor centre in my view is simply the wrong building in the wrong place.

It is due to be built into the mound itself and it will in my mind look like a toilet block sticking out into the Eye of York.

Decisions in the dark

An artist's impression of the visitor centre planned at Clifford's Tower
An artist’s impression of the visitor centre planned at Clifford’s Tower

Well over 3,500 signatures are now on the petition asking English Heritage to reconsider, and look at having the centre sited elsewhere. The petition will be presented to a council meeting on December 15, and to English Heritage on the same day.

Some people have commented: Why did the signatories not object when the planning permission process was being held? I like many others did not pick up on this until a few days before the planning meeting and others heard only after the planning consent.

I confess I thought there was no chance that this building would ever be given approval.

The truth is that people do miss out on important planning decisions made by the council. Many people feel that very important council decisions are taken without them even knowing that a decision was due to be made.

They feel that they have not been informed and that decisions are taken with only minimum consultation.

A rare opportunity

This is the Southern Gateway area of York. Image: City of York Council
This is the Southern Gateway area of York. Image: City of York Council

That is why it is so important to draw attention to the fact that the Southern Gateway report is going to the council executive committee very soon.

It means the city will be considering a once-in-a-lifetime set of decisions – a chance to make the area around Clifford’s Tower into potentially a place of beauty and civic pride.

The area that is being looked at includes the Castle car park, the Eye of York, Piccadilly, the Foss Basin and St George’s Fields The objective is to consider the pros and cons of the council either doing nothing, doing something with other developers or doing a lot and taking the lead.

Alongside that members must assess doing what can be done to stop piecemeal developments until the Southern Gateway plans are formed.

Our choice

York Castle car park
Leave it as a shabby car park – or make it into a place of civic pride?

I would like to focus on just one very important aspect of this report: the Castle Car Park and the Clifford’s Tower Eye of York opportunity. In my view the debate should be on these lines…

Should the Castle Car Park be changed into a beautiful new square? This would be a lovely public space for people to enjoy the area, the River Foss, the views of Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of York. A place for people to play, to perhaps enjoy music, and entertainment.

A place for perhaps an ice rink in the winter and theatre in the summer. A place where beautiful buildings might be built to improve and enhance the space.

Somewhere of regional and national significance; a place that would bring lots of people to the area benefitting the nearby museums and attractions.

Or should it be left as a shabby and hard to use car park and allow piecemeal development around to do its worst?

Car park alternatives

A view of Clifford's Tower from the Eye of York
A view of Clifford’s Tower from the Eye of York. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

I am aware that the car park is very convenient and it makes around £1 million gross per annum for City of York Council. But there are alternatives.

The St George’s Field Car Park is only a few hundred yards away and is regularly under used. Could another deck be built to provide more space perhaps? There is another car park at Castle Mills on Piccadilly.

Either way I am sure that alternatives could be found.

Would it not make sense for the council to take the lead and work with English Heritage, the York Museums Trust, York Civic Trust and all interest parties in the area, to create a bold and positive vision of a wonderful space?

The threat is that either nothing will be done or that piecemeal development will take place and the opportunity for something lovely might be lost forever.