He was always one of the most straight-talking members of Tony Blair’s cabinet – and he didn’t mince his words over a controversial York plan.

Frank Dobson, who was Health Secretary between 1997 and 1999, ripped into English Heritage over its plans to build a modern visitor centre into the motte on which Clifford’s Tower stands.

Mr Dobson, who was born in York in 1940, was speaking at a rally in the Eye of York called to protest about the visitor centre, which has been granted planning permission by City of York Council.

He told the crowd: “I’ve always been proud to be a York lad, and I intend to stay that way.”

‘Daft and awful proposals’

In his address, Mr Dobson referred to the LS Lowry painting of Clifford’s Tower which hangs in York Art Gallery

“If somebody went along today and drew in the ‘public lavatory’ design on the Lowry painting, the police would be sent for, they’d be arrested and prosecuted for vandalism,” he said.

“That’s just for a picture of the place. But English Heritage are proposing doing it to the real thing. That shows just what an outrageous proposal it is.”

His father used to live in Tower Place and “he used to delight in Clifford’s Tower”.

Memories of his father… Frank Dobson

Mr Dobson went on:

I can remember him telling me how wonderful it was when the wall were all ripped down, and the grass came down to ground level.

That was people looking to the future, wanting to make the place even more beautiful and attractive than it was. And now we’ve got English Heritage trying to reverse it.

Fight on

The Lord Mayor Cllr Dave Taylor and some of the protesters

Mr Dobson said people had little chance of changing the minds of the officials of English Heritage “because they will be wedded to their daft and awful proposals”.

But he urged campaigners to target the trustees of the charity. “We should try to embarrass them,” he said, “and possibly invite some of them up here to see what it is that their paid officials are proposing”.

He concluded: “We can’t guarantee we’ll win if we fight. But if we don’t fight we can guarantee we’ll lose.”

‘We should do better for York’

‘Think again’… MP Rachael Maskell

Earlier the crowd had heard from independent York Cllr Johnny Hayes, who has spearheaded the successful campaign to bring the decision to a Judicial Review.

He said he was confident that the court hearing on May 3 would find in their favour and throw out the planning permission.

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, told the crowd:

To gouge and scour a hole in the side of what is such a beautiful landscape – and then to put what has been described as no more than a toilet block there – is beyond belief.

‘Think again’ is what we call on the council and English Heritage to do.

Lord Mayor of York Cllr Dave Taylor addresses the rally

The Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Dave Taylor told the gathering that the history of Clifford’s Tower – including the Jewish massacre that took place here in 1190 – meant it was important to people around the world.

Cllr Taylor called English Heritage’s proposal for the visitor centre “premature”.

“They should be looking at the redevelopment of Piccadilly, and of this site and the Foss Basin, in its entirety.”

He added: “The design is not good, it’s not in the right place. We can and we should do better for York. That’s important.

“I call on English Heritage to reappraise their proposal and come up with a better design.”