Plans for Clifford's Tower visitor centre scrapped after outcry

English Heritage concedes proposal for 13th-century mound in York was ‘too much’

Plans to build a visitor centre sited in the mound of York’s 13th-century Clifford’s Tower have been abandoned after huge opposition.

Residents and archaeologists expressed alarm when it emerged that English Heritage was planning to insert a gift centre into the base of the famous mound, which was raised by William the Conquerer.

Opponents said the proposals would set a “disastrous precedent” for the power of developers to build on heritage sites, and change for ever the land seating the largest and most visible survival of York’s royal castle.

On Thursday, English Heritage conceded that its plans were “too much for many” and had been dropped. Andrea Selley, its new director for the north of England, said she had become “increasingly conscious that many people have a deep emotional attachment towards the mound”.

She added: “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.”

A Viking-themed festival near Clifford’s Tower.
A Viking-themed festival near Clifford’s Tower. Photograph: Loop Images/UIG via Getty Images

Clifford’s Tower is a scheduled monument which, as well as featuring on countless images of York, is revered by archaeologists worldwide for being a remarkably intact survival of a royal building from the reigns of Henry III and Edward I.

In 1190 it was the site of one of the most notorious incidents in English history, when about 150 Jews were massacred after taking refuge there.

In 2016, York city council approved the plan for a gift shop and interpretation centre, which also included new stairs up to the castle and a range of improved visitor features inside the keep.

The decision was challenged by a group of local residents, led by the independent city councillor Johnny Hayes, but their application for judicial review failed at the high court last year. An appeal against that decision was due to be heard next month.

Hayes told the Guardian he was stunned and felt “delighted, ecstatic” by the U-turn. “I think most people thought it would never be built, that it was a ludicrous proposal – myself included – I just didn’t take it seriously. The reality was that it was very unpopular. But I still am stunned. It has come completely out of the blue.”

Selley said the decision still left issues to be solved at the tower. “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,” she said.


Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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