The man who almost singlehandedly stopped English Heritage building a modern visitor centre into the motte of Clifford’s Tower has said he is “stunned” by the decision.

We reported earlier today that English Heritage had dropped the contentious plan.

Clifford’s Tower. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

It was independent Cllr Johnny Hayes who led the fight against the project, after City of York Council had granted planning permission.

He raised £18,000 via crowdfunding to fund a legal challenge – and together with his wife Frankie put in their own money to make up the £60K bill.

‘I’m shocked and stunned’

“I am surprised. I’m shocked, I’m delighted, stunned – all of those things,” Johnny said today.

“It’s a really good day because what might be built will be a lot, lot better than what was proposed.”

Talking to Minster FM’s David Dunning, he said: “Nobody’s against the idea of a visitor centre – good luck to English Heritage. It was just a dreadful thought of it being built into the motte.

“And I’m afraid archaeology would have been damaged – because they were going deep down into significant and complex archaeology.

“I don’t accept the argument that it was never going to harm archaeology.”

Remain an iconic place

Johnny Hayes leads a protest in November 2016
He took the decision to build the visitor centre to Judicial Review. And although a judge ruled in favour of English Heritage, Johnny had been granted leave to appeal against that decision.

He said he didn’t regret putting so much of his money into the fight. “I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t believe we would win in the end.

“I don’t want to see this as a win or a loss. This is actually a win-win situation. We will hopefully get some money back – and I think that English Heritage will have a better visitor centre.

“And Clifford’s Tower will remain the iconic place it has been for the last 900 years.”

Jewish support

An artist’s impression of the visitor centre that was planned at Clifford’s Tower

The York Liberal Jewish Community also welcomed the news. The group supports English Heritage’s objectives of increasing access to the tower and providing more information and educational material about the massacre of the city’s Jewish community that took place there in 1190,

But, community founding member, Ben Rich said, it completely understands the many concerns expressed by York residents about the disruption to the integrity of the site.

“We urge English Heritage now to work with the Castle Gateway stakeholders, the City of York Council, the York Museums Trust and the local Jewish and non-Jewish communities to find a deliverable alternative way to better tell the story of the Tower as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“We look forward to being integrally involved in those plans as the representatives of the Jewish community in the City to ensure that the story of the Jews of York is told accurately, with context, compassion and respect.”