Clifford’s Tower visitor centre plan scrapped by English Heritage

Clifford's Tower and the mound which will be untouched. Photographs: Richard McDougall

English Heritage has abandoned plans to build a visitor centre next to Clifford’s Tower.

The charity announced today it will not go ahead with the hugely controversial project.

It is an incredible victory for the York campaigners who have fought the plans all the way to Judicial Review.

Today’s news came just weeks before a High Court appeal – which campaigners were quietly confident would reject the visitor centre.

English Heritage today issued a statement saying:

The new plans to regenerate York’s Castle Gateway area combined with the deep attachment many people have for the mound at Clifford’s Tower means that English Heritage has decided not to proceed with the proposed visitor building at the base of the mound.

‘A lot has changed’

The plans to create a new visitor building at the base of the mound were given planning permission by City of York Council in October 2016. Proposals also included conservation work at the tower itself, and improvements to interpretation within the tower.

“However since then – almost two years ago – a lot has changed,” said English Heritage

An artist’s impression of the visitor centre

It says the masterplan to regenerate the Castle Gateway area, and the council’s “significant financial commitment” to the project, has opened up possibilities that did not exist when English Heritage first developed its plans for Clifford’s Tower.

English Heritage say their new director for the north of England, Andrea Selley, has been listening to the views of the local community.

And while the proposed visitor building “would have sat within a relatively modern part of the mound (dating from the 1930s) and did not pose a risk to the archaeology”, it was clear that many people love the shape of the mound and disliked the thought of its circumference being broken.

Because of these reasons, English Heritage will not now place a visitor building within the mound.

‘Something has to be done’

Clifford’s Tower and the Castlle Car Park. Photograph © Google Street View
However the charity still believes that the experience of visiting Clifford’s Tower is far from ideal and does not reflect the site’s importance, both nationally and within the city of York.

Very few people repeat their visit to the tower or recommend others to visit – “something still has to be done”.

English Heritage will now rework its proposals, “with the help of the local community”.

Andrea Selley, English Heritage’s Director for the North of England, said:

There are a number of things which influenced this decision. The momentum behind transforming the Castle Gateway area is genuinely exciting and it may open up opportunities for Clifford’s Tower that previously did not exist.

We also became increasingly conscious that many people have a deep emotional attachment towards the mound.

Yes, the base of the mound is a 20th-century construction and no, the visitor building would not have touched any of the medieval remains but like the wallpaper in our homes, that small mound is a deeply familiar backdrop and the thought of changing it – even slightly and even with the very best intentions – was too much for many.

But the fact remains that although people love the tower, a visit is far from ideal – there is an ugly shop in the centre of the tower and little interpretation to tell its fascinating story.

We therefore remain committed to doing justice to Clifford’s Tower and we will work with our partners and the public to get it right.

Amazing victory

This is a remarkable victory for the campaigners who have fought the visitor centre plan for two years.

Led by independent councillor Johnny Hayes – who invested a lot of his own money into the fight – they took English Heritage to the High Court for a Judicial Review.

And although the verdict went against them in June last year, permission had been given for an appeal.

Campaigners were quietly confident they would win that appeal later this summer.