Comments to Executive from Cllr Craghill, January 2017
As a Guildhall ward councillor, I’m very happy to see the progress being made on plans for the improvement of the area now being called The Castle Gateway. I still have a lot of questions about details of the plans, for example, the design of any new buildings along the west bank of the Foss facing Clifford’s Tower will be a key issue, but hopefully will be fully consulted on.
The paper states that a key purpose is to ‘radically enhance the setting of Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of York to recognise and interpret their importance to York’s unique history.’
This is a very laudable aim – and yet in the next item we have a proposal to sell off Council land to make possible the construction of a visitor centre tacked onto the side of the iconic mound, that in the opinion of a great many people will do just the opposite – not a good start to the Castle Gateway project.
I voted against this proposal in the planning committee and I still believe this building is the wrong design in the wrong place.
The greatest irony is that the paper before you on the Castle Gateway holds out the prospect of an alternative solution and the possibility that a new visitor centre could be located in the new civic space – away from any interference with the mound itself.
Of course, you will be told that it comes down to timescales and money! On timescales it seems we might be looking at around 2020, or even a bit longer, to build as part of the new development – yet Clifford’s Tower has been here for around 700 years – isn’t it worth waiting 3 or 4 or 5 years or so to get this right? English Heritage have the planning permission to go ahead with the conservation work and changes to the interior. Surely working in partnership with the Council and York Museums Trust via the Castle Gateway, they could secure facilities for a temporary visitor centre?
Ah, but it still comes down to money, you might say! English Heritage have essentially been privatised by the Government and must repay the capital investment now on offer from the Government by becoming self-funding by 2022. To do this they need to get more paying visitors through turnstiles and more income from each visitor on coffee and souvenirs – and also they must do the work in 2017 or the money will be whipped away. Well, if this is really the very sad reason why we have to put up with this shoddy solution, then at least we should be honest about it. But do we really believe that funding to support this iconic monument will just be pulled out, that an alternative way forward couldn’t be negotiated with the will to do so?
I’m asking you to show that you do value this unique piece of heritage of which the city of York is the custodian and that you have listened to residents’ concerns – and to defer this land-sale indefinitely pending further investigation into other options for the visitor centre in the context of the Castle Gateway.