Clifford’s Tower legal challenge: Judge reserves verdict on ‘enormously important’ issue

Historic monument: Clifford's Tower. Photograph: YorkMix
3 May 2017 @ 5.20 pm
| History, News

Campaigners opposed to a plan to build a visitor centre at Clifford’s Tower will have to wait for a decision in their legal challenge.

English Heritage wants to build a centre below the 13th-century castle at the base of its motte.

City of York Council approved the plan for a gift shop and interpretation centre last year, but this decision has been challenged by a group of residents led by independent city councillor Johnny Hayes.

The judicial review hearing forced by Mr Hayes was held on Wednesday (May 3) in the High Court in Leeds but, after a day of detailed argument about planning law, the judge, Mr Justice Kerr, announced he would reserve his judgment.

Opinion divided

An artist’s impression of the visitor centre

The judge told the court his role is not to decide on the merits of the planning application itself but to assess whether the planning law was correctly applied.

He said the controversy has “sharply divided local opinion” and that “the castle is of enormous importance to everybody” but he stressed that the merits of the council’s decision have “nothing to do with the issues I have to decide”.

The planned centre will feature a gift shop and interpretation centre and will require the excavation of part of the base of the motte – the green mound under the tower.

Planning officials have pointed out that the bottom of the motte used to end with a retaining wall until the 1930s and the very bottom section, to be removed, has therefore only been there for 80 years.

‘Misinterpreted guidelines’

Protesters gather at Clifford’s Tower. Photographs: YorkMix

Cllr Hayes, who was at court, has raised money for the judicial review bid through a crowdfunding site after more than 3,000 people signed a petition against the development.

His barrister, Anthony Crean QC, argued that planning officers had misinterpreted planning guidelines when they reported to councillors ahead of last year’s decision.

But David Elvin QC, for York City Council, said that the officers’ interpretation had been correct and, even if they had been wrong, it is unlikely to have had an effect on the eventual outcome.

Emma Dring, for English Heritage, said her client supported the council’s submissions.

Clifford’s Tower is the last remaining part of York Castle, which was once the focus of royal power in the north of England.

In 1190 it was the site of one of the most notorious incidents in English history when about 150 Jews were massacred after taking refuge in the tower.