We very much welcome and support these proposals for a new public open space which after so many years of campaigning will provide York with public realm fitting for this important part of the city.
We believe the proposals will:
- provide a fitting setting for Clifford’s Tower (in place of the very ugly car park);
- connect up the historic route along Castlegate through to the Eye of York and the Castle Museum, supporting the viability of the museum by making it more visible and attractive for visitors and residents;
- open up access to the edge of the river Foss with the very welcome Riverside Park, new green spaces, seating and planting and the Rain Garden with stepping stones, water pools and opportunities for creative play ;
- provide a very welcome pedestrian riverside boardwalk route through to the new public space at the back of the Castle Museum, New Walk and over the new pedestrian/cycle bridge to Piccadilly;
- in keeping with some of the key feedback from the extensive public consultation, provide many pleasant and attractive spaces that residents and visitors can enjoy without having to spend money;
- provide a high quality, flexible events space that can be used for civic, commercial and community events, with further opportunities for small scale events in the redesigned Eye of York;
- remove the circular roadway from the Eye of York and make it into a pedestrian priority environment with a great deal more interest and attraction than the current rather bleak and unimaginative layout.
All of these aspects are hugely important and very welcome. Overall we believe the proposals demonstrate appropriate civic pride in this important part of our historic city centre, whilst also providing improved facilities for residents and visitors.
Many studies, from the York City Beautiful Report produced by Prof Alan Simpson in 2012 to more recent work by Bill Grimsey on the future of the high street demonstrate that this sort of high quality public realm also makes a crucial contribution to the prosperity and vibrancy of city centres and is a crucial part of supporting successful city centres to attract footfall and adapt to the current economic environment.
There are a number of detailed aspects of the proposals that we would like to see improved:
- A key aspect of the consultation feedback was a desire for a city centre playground, which is a big gap in our city centre provision. Whilst we are very much in favour of supporting opportunities for creative play as proposed for the Rain Garden (and also the run through fountains), we still feel that both these creative play options and more formal play structures should be provided. The opportunity should be taken, as part of a £14m scheme, to provide a much needed facility for both visitors and city centre residents in this area. Something along the lines of the new play area recently publicised for the Community Stadium could be appropriate. We would like to see the designers take another look at this.
- We very much welcome the provision of the run through fountains but would like to see an explicit commitment to ensuring the nearby Coppergate toilets can be available an easily accessible to provide changing/drying facilities for families and young children on warm days (as in Bradford).
- We are very disappointed that the number of blue badge parking spaces on Tower Street is only 6. A significantly larger number of blue badge parking spaces should be provided in this location and the proposals redesigned to accommodate this.
- Several images in the papers (including page 34 in the Design and Access Statement) seem to show a very narrow pavement on Clifford Street where it runs alongside the new edging wall to the Clifford’s Tower mound. This a busy pedestrian route and also the location of a bus stop for the tourist buses – it needs to be sufficiently wide.
- It isn’t clear whether the new low wall around the mound allows disabled access to the flat grassed areas around the base of the mound?
- We appreciate that an events space needs to include significant hard standing to prevent everything getting bogged down in mud and to provide all the high quality facilities that are required to provide a flexible space, (power, lighting, etc). Looking at the relevant part of the Design & Access statement we can see that a great deal of thought has gone into this to facilitate both larger and smaller events of all kinds which will add vibrancy to this area of the city and potentially also allow some existing events to spread out from other parts of the city centre. There is huge potentially for this space to be used creatively by York residents. However, the Design and Access statement does also mention that the brief requires the space to also work well when it isn’t being used for events. We still have some sympathy with the view that there is too much paving and not enough green infrastructure in the design. Any way of bringing more green infrastructure into that space would be very welcome, whether through container planting that can be moved or through planting that can also function as audience seating, for example.
- Our understanding was that the feedback from the consultation was that the different layers of the history of the site should be reflected throughout, whether through paving designs, trails or other imaginative means and that doesn’t seem to be very evident in the proposals. Can that aspect be made clearer in the designs?
- Finally, but very importantly, it isn’t clear what work has been done to assess the materials and infrastructure used in the site in the context of climate change and carbon emissions – will there be a statement to clarify that?