Demolishing a building so significant to York’s history would be a mistake, argues Alison Sinclair
York council leader James Alexander’s announcement that the old Reynard’s bus garage in Piccadilly will become a “four-star hotel with business conferencing facilities” was jumping the gun a bit.
It is not clear why Cllr Alexander thought he could anticipate a decision on what should replace the old garage but by doing so he has effectively pre-empted further impartial discussion of what would be the appropriate thing to do with it, taking account of its special historical interest.
Reynard’s bus garage was already in existence in 1968 when the Central Historic Core conservation area was designated, bringing with it a presumption that existing buildings contributing to the area should be retained.
Reynard’s has historical significance on several grounds, the first being its original purpose in 1921, to serve as a depot for expanding motor and trolley bus services between Fulford and the city centre.
Located in Piccadilly, it also has significance as a structure indicative of the creation of a new street in the medieval city in the early years of the twentieth century. Most significantly, it has the completely unlikely distinction of being the original factory of the Airspeed aircraft manufacturer, founded by Neville Shute.
Given these attributes, and in line with good conservation principles, the old garage should be retained and redeveloped.
The hotel question
It is hard to see how the existing building could be adapted to accommodate hotel and conference facilities, or to understand how a hotel would meet any of the criteria for reusing a highly significant heritage asset such as this. The conclusion must be that to accord with Cllr Alexander’s declaration it would be demolished and a new building constructed in its place.
But no information has been made available about any other option for the site except that of the Elvington Air Museum. This proposes the creation of an exhibition telling the story of the Airspeed company, re-using the existing building in an exemplary way.
At present, we have no other ideas to compare it with but it is hard to think any other suggestion could be more appropriate than the museum’s.
Furthermore, questions have been asked in recent months about the number of hotels already approved for the city, or in the pipeline. Do we need another one? Does the city really need all these hotel rooms? Apparently, no research has been commissioned by the council to provide an informed answer to this question.
Restore, not demolish
In the interests of sustainability, it would be far more beneficial to retain and re-use the existing building with all the materials and energy embodied in it, than to knock it down and build something new in its place.
It is certainly true that the appearance of the old garage detracts from the appearance of the conservation area: but its demolition and replacement by an unnecessary hotel would be far more detrimental to its character.
Reynard’s bus depot should be conserved and adapted for whichever of the several schemes put forward is the most appropriate and makes best use of its historic character. Replacing it by a hotel and conference centre should not be taken for granted as the solution.
- Alison Sinclair is an historian and conservationist
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