A judge has cleared the way for English Heritage to build a visitor centre that some have likened to a public toilet in the motte at Clifford’s Tower.

Campaigners lost their High Court challenge to City of York Council’s decision to grant planning permission for the centre.

A group of residents led by independent city councillor Johnny Hayes took the case to Judicial Review in a legal case paid for in part by crowd funding. That took place on May 3, with the judge deferring his decision.

But Mr Justice Kerr today (Friday, June 9) rejected all grounds of challenge as he handed down his judgment in London.

‘Project enjoyed support’

This artist’s impression gives a view of the visitor centre from the Eye Of York

The judge ordered Mr Hayes and the residents to pay £5,000 towards the City of York’s legal costs incurred defending the plan.

They were refused permission to appeal on the grounds that they had “no real prospect of success”, but were given 14 days to ask the Court of Appeal direct to consider their case.

The judge said of the project:

The perceived public benefits were considered substantial, even though the proposals generated substantial opposition.

The supporters of the proposal included the statutory body with responsibility for preservation, Historic England, and its managing agent, English Heritage.

The project enjoyed the support of the city council, in the person of its most senior officers with professional responsibility for heritage matters.

The judge said that even if the planning permission had been flawed in either of the ways suggested by Mr Hayes, the court would have refused to intervene and block it.

‘Not giving up’

Protesters in front of Clifford’s Tower in March. Photograph: YorkMix

Campaigners fiercely opposed the permission to build a concrete and glass shop, café and visitor centre into the base of the 13th century motte of the medieval castle, a Grade I listed monument.

Nearly 4,000 people signed a petition against the project. One of the most vociferous opponents was former Health Secretary Frank Dobson, who compared the planned building to a “public lavatory”.

“Our grounds for taking this to a judicial review was that the planning committee failed to correctly consider the harm to Clifford’s Tower itself, to archaeology and the surrounding conservation area by the building of the visitor centre,” Cllr Hayes said.

Now he was planning what happens next:

This verdict is a huge blow and we are very disappointed, but we now need to consider what our next steps should be.

Despite this disappointing news we are not giving up our fight against this development. We are listening carefully to our legal team’s advice about where we go from here.

Call for English Heritage rethink

This sketch produced for City of York Council shows how the Castle Gateway could look (no sign of the visitor centre…)

The Save Clifford’s Tower Campaign group has been trying to persuade English Heritage that it would be preferable to build a visitor centre on the adjoining Castle Car Park and not into the mound itself.

This follows the publication of the council’s Castle Gateway report in January.

It advocates redeveloping the car park, creating a large area of public realm with new buildings following the former Georgian Castlegate street line. The campaigners argue this would be a wonderful site for a Clifford’s Tower visitor centre.

“If the Clifford’s Tower Visitor Centre is built it in the motte it will become a little loved building by the few and a much hated building by the many,” said Cllr Hayes.

“In our view it is simply the wrong building in the wrong place. So we will continue our fight to try to get the right building in the right place.”

High cost

Cllr Hayes talking to protesters at the ‘Not In The Motte’ demo in March. Photograph: YorkMix
About £14,000 or 25% of the total legal costs has been raised through donations to a crowd funding site. The remaining legal costs have come from the Hayes family personal savings.

“It has been a very long few months waiting for the outcome of this judicial Review,” Cllr Hayes said.

“It has had a very high personal and financial cost. Many people have supported this campaign and we are very grateful for that support.”