The former Minster School in the precinct of York Minster will become a café for the world-famous cathedral after councillors voted in favour of the plans.
The main point of argument was whether adding solar-power to the roof of the Grade II-listed building would damage its heritage significance.
But councillors agreed with Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, who has said that the cathedral must lead by example in tackling the climate emergency.
Solar panels had originally been proposed, but the Minster now intends to use less intrusive solar tiles, which would blend in better with the existing roof.
The council’s conservation architect David Carruthers did not approve of either method.
In his planning report submission he wrote: “It appears that a commercially driven approach to conversion is outweighing heritage significance here.”
York Minster’s director of works and precinct, Alex McCallion, told councillors: “Sustainability is the golden thread running through the plan – and when I talk about sustainability I mean environmental, financial and heritage craft skills.
“The time for talking has passed. We have an opportunity, through our proposed solar tiles, to present a exemplar case of national best practice and for York to continue to take a lead role in heritage adaptation.”
Layers of history
Ward councillor Denise Craghill said: “I think that what makes York so special are the layers of history that visitors can see and residents can enjoy, illustrating how each period addressed its own particular challenges and opportunities – layers of history that shouldn’t be preserved in aspic with the 21st century when we face the greatest challenge of all, climate change.”
The Minister itself costs £22,000 per day to maintain and Mr McCallion said the refectory would help towards this.
Christina Fuller, a former councillor and volunteer at the Minster, said: “York Minster is the only cathedral in the country that has no catering or restaurant facilities and it’s been a huge handicap in all the work we’ve been trying to do in welcoming and including people in the work that we do.”
Minster School closed last summer when The Chapter York, who are responsible for the upkeep, running and operating of the Minster estate, decided it was financially unviable.
The open space is also set to include a gazebo, parasols, an ice cream hut, cycle parking and a cycle service hub, with the existing railings also being moved.
The inside of the building will also be made more accessible, with a new lift shaft and level access.
Councillor Janet Looker said: “I think this is going to bring the building back into a much more sensitive use. We’ve got to make historic buildings adaptable and available for everybody – we live in a different world than when they were built.”
An application for new landscaping work, seating and the removal of existing trees – and the replanting of replacements – at nearby College Green in Minster Yard was also approved by councillors.
It has been described as the Minster’s ‘pocket park’.