CASEBOOK: York development held to clash with historic setting

The deputy prime minister has accepted an inspector's recommendation to refuse planning permission and conservation area consent for a substantial redevelopment in York city centre because it would harm a site of national architectural and historic importance.

The 3.75ha site lay within the city walls and included a motte-and-bailey castle founded by William the Conqueror in 1068 together with a wide range of listed buildings falling within an extensive conservation area. Ravenseft Properties Ltd proposed a mixed redevelopment comprising more than 24,000 sq m of retail floorspace, restaurants, leisure, housing and offices.

The company argued that the scheme would enhance the vitality and viability of the city by forming a logical extension to the Coppergate shopping centre. It claimed that the proposal complied fully with the sequential approach because the site lay within the city centre, while the provision of a department store as part of the development would substantially improve York's attractiveness as a retail destination.

In supporting these arguments, the city council added that it was essential that the city was able to expand its commercial area and attract retailers desperate to trade in the centre. But York Civic Trust and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment opposed the proposal on the basis of its design and its failure to respond sensitively to the character of the conservation area and listed buildings.

The deputy prime minister, while noting his inspector's acceptance that the site was located within the city centre, felt that he had insufficient information to reach a definitive view. While acknowledging that there was a proven quantitative need for the development, he ruled that it was unclear as to whether alternative sites existed that could accommodate the development.

However, the deputy prime minister decided that he did not need to come to a definitive view on these matters in the light of his objections to the development based on the harm that it would cause to the character of the conservation area. He agreed with his inspector's conclusion that the scheme would fail to respect the quality of the historic townscape and the setting of numerous listed buildings and ancient monuments.

The applicant had failed to pay adequate attention to the historic context of the area in formulating the scheme, he concluded. In his view, the design was not of sufficiently high quality. Although the scheme had undoubted benefits in improving the quality of shopping provision, he found that these did not outweigh the harm to a city of national architectural and historic importance.

DCS No: 40355718; Inspector: Tony Bingham; Inquiry.

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