ENGLISH Heritage is coming under increasing scrutiny after a senior director suggested the site at the centre of the Battle of Fulford controversy could be better served with a multi-million pound housing development instead of conserving the land.
The eight-acre site on the southern fringes of York has been the focus of a bitter planning dispute as campaigners have gained the backing of leading politicians in their fight to get the land placed on English Heritage’s official Register of Historic Battlefields.
But email correspondence obtained by the Yorkshire Post from the conservation organisation’s director of heritage protection and planning, Edward Impey, appears to question the validity of including the site on the register only weeks before a decision not to officially designate the land was announced.
In an email to a colleague dated November 2 last year, Dr Impey said: “The case makes me wonder a bit about what we would achieve through designation even if this denatured site is the real one – why is it better that a place where a major event happened, but which left no physical trace, is open land rather than covered in 600 homes?”
The comments have sparked concerns among senior politicians who claimed centuries-old heritage could be lost forever if the housing development goes ahead in Fulford.
The Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Edward McMillan-Scott, has taken a keen interest in the region’s conservation issues since his election in 1984.
He said: “I have followed the proposed housing development at Fulford for many years. It concerns me that York’s ring road and the A64 are now considered the new frontier for development.
“This important site, which I visited last year, is unquestionably where the Battle of Fulford took place.
“Despite unhelpful attitudes by those associated with the developer, enough evidence exists to be certain.
“It is disconcerting that English Heritage seem to be saying that hundreds of houses are a better protection of the site than leaving things as they are.”
An English Heritage spokeswoman defended the comments in Dr Impey’s email, claiming he was “playing devil’s advocate” on the decision not to add Fulford to the register of battlefields.
Dr Impey joined the organisation in 2002 and now heads the heritage protection and planning group which is responsible for protecting and advising on the historic environment across the country.
The English Heritage spokeswoman added: “He puts forward the final point to make sure the designation team have thought through all the possible arguments around the decision.
“We discourage building on registered battlefields because it is important to still be able to read the landscape and understand how forces would have used it in battle.”
But the comments have come as the campaign to ensure the land is added to the official register has taken an unexpected development with English Heritage confirming it is reviewing a decision not to make the official designation.
The Conservative MP for York Outer, Julian Sturdy, has been a staunch supporter of the campaign to protect the site from the housing development and confirmed he would be writing to English Heritage officials to urge them to add the land to the official battlefields register.
Mr Sturdy said: “I am delighted to hear that English Heritage has taken note of the long-running and ongoing campaign to officially register the site of the Battle of Fulford. It is something that I have been supporting the campaigners on and I am hopeful that with this review they will get the proper and due recognition of the site linked to such an important date in history.
“I honestly do (believe this is the site of the Battle of Fulford). There is immensely strong evidence to say that this is where the battle took place.
“You cannot simply wipe out history, it should be cherished and protected.
“This site has huge potential not just in terms of tourism, but also for increasing the understanding and teachings on such an important period of history,” he continued.
“You will not be able to recreate this site if it is built on. This was a moment in history which is hugely important, and I do believe this site should be protected for future generations.”