Now the formal planning application from owners English Heritage is in with City of York Council. And councillors must decide whether these major changes should go ahead.
So why does it need to change? In their design statement Hugh Broughton Architects and Martin Ashley Architects state:
Despite its popularity, many visitors find the interior of the ruin underwhelming. Many people presently find it hard to climb the steep run of 55 steps to the top of the mound.
Once inside the tower, they find that there is no room for a café, and only a small shop; most of the tower’s interior is open to the elements, with only a few basic displays about the building and its history.
The tower offers commanding views over the rooftops of York, but the wall-walk can only be reached by two narrow spiral stairs. Therefore, to assist with its long term sustainability and ensure its conservation, English Heritage needs to improve the experience for the tower’s visitors, in keeping with the castle’s history and significance.
One of the biggest planned changes is a timber deck on the roof, held up on four columns. The roof deck would have seating and a stepped ‘amphitheatre’ area which could be used as a performance space.
Suspended walkways below the roof would give easier and greater access to the inside of the monument.
At the centre of the deck a large square hole, bordered by a solid timber balustrade, allows shafts of light to penetrate into the tower, adding drama, emphasizing the ruinous state and connecting visitors to the elements.
The walkways will provide access to both the bartizan stairs and the first floor garderobe, all of which have been inaccessible to the public for over 300 years. This will significantly improve the potential for inspiring interpretation and make the ruin far more intelligible to visitors.
– Architect’s report
Contemporary visitor functions – ticketing and membership sales, interpretation, retail, services and staff areas – could be contained within a new building nestling into the base of the motte, and that interventions within the tower could focus on improving interpretation and the overall visitor experience, allowing a celebration of the ruin.
– Architect’s report
The plan would be to increase revenue in the shop. At the moment 67% of visitors go to the shop but only 17% make a purchase.
Food and drink
A proper café would make the visitor centre too big. However, the designs “include a kiosk integrated into the Visitor Centre for the sale of hot and cold drinks, packaged snacks and ice creams with an outside seating area close by”.
The report adds:
The scheme should also include a small catering outlet at roof level of the tower that is sensitively designed and appropriately scaled to suit the setting.