Councillor uses pension to launch legal action over tower

Clifford's Tower in York
Clifford's Tower in York
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A councillor is taking legal action against his own authority over plans to build a visitor centre at the foot of one of Yorkshire’s iconic landmarks.

Independent councillor Johnny Hayes has already spent over half his teacher’s pension lump sum on the application to the High Court over the plans for Clifford’s Tower.

In October City of York Council’s planning committee voted 11 to three in favour of English Heritage’s plans of building a visitor centre at the foot of the tower and new walkways and stairwells inside the 13th century monument.

But Coun Hayes, a well-known shopkeeper, who announced his move at tonight’s full council meeting, believes the planning process was “deeply flawed” and hopes the decision, which has caused a huge uproar, will be quashed.

He also presented a petition signed by more than 3,600 residents, which describes the development, as not only “ugly beyond belief” but destroying views of the tower and hill “just to allow English Heritage to put (in) a shop.”

He said: “I had to think very carefully with my wife Frankie about entering into a judicial review because of the financial implications. But I have no doubt that we have taken the right decision.

“I believe that this is the wrong building in the wrong place. I think that a visitor centre would be better placed elsewhere if one is to be built. But this building should not be sticking out of the iconic Clifford’s Tower motte into the beautiful Eye of York conservation area.”

It came after York Central MP Rachael Maskell handed in a petition to English Heritage’s London office asking for the plans to be reconsidered.

Ms Maskell, who has written to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid and Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, has met with English Heritage and the council.

She wants the project to be phased so that a permanent site for the visitor’s centre can be incorporated into the wider development of the Southern Gateway project and the proposed development of the York Castle Museum.

Ms Maskell said very strong local opposition could not be ignored. She said: “English Heritage have a great opportunity to be a partner with the people of York, and I hope they will take this opportunity voluntarily, rather than fight it in the courts”.

Coun Hayes has already spent £7,500 on the first stage of the judicial review, but hopes to raise tens of thousands more needed to fight the case, through crowd-funding.

He said: “We need to be prepared to go all the way to the High Court and that will cost a lot of money. This is really, really important. You have to get it right. Iconic is an overused phrase, but in this case it actually fits the bill.”

A spokesman for City of York Council said: “We are disappointed that a judicial review has been lodged at the High Court.

“The review will only be concerned with the processes followed by the planning committee and will not consider the merits of the application itself.

“We are entirely confident we have followed due process at all stages of the application. The review will cause a delay – which we consider to be unnecessary – to English Heritage’s project to provide greater access to, and enjoyment of, Clifford’s Tower.”