CAMPAIGNERS have claimed a decision to push ahead with a housing development on land they believe is the site of a key battlefield in English history was a “done deal” as new evidence has emerged of the confusion surrounding the bitter planning saga.
A protracted debate spanning more than three decades has centred on land earmarked for a 657-home project on the edge of York, which opponents maintain is the site of the Battle of Fulford in 1066.
York Council has admitted it was presented with a “unique situation” while liaising with conservation experts from English Heritage, who have taken the decision not to designate the site on the official Register of Historic Battlefields – despite admitting the land remains “the most likely candidate” for the clash between Viking invaders and English forces.
The conflict in North Yorkshire is seen as a key episode by historians as it had a huge impact on the Battle of Hastings and William the Conqueror ultimately being crowned King of England. If the land had been added to the register, planning permission for the Germany Beck housing development which was approved by the Government in 2007 following a public inquiry would have had to have been reviewed.
Correspondence between council officers obtained by the Yorkshire Post has now shed light on the discussions between the local authority and English Heritage – and the confusion which arose ahead of the decision not to list the land on the register.
An email sent to a senior officer by a colleague has hinted that a decision could have been taken as early as February last year not to designate, although English Heritage did not make an announcement until November. It also stated designation may not have been approved due to the site’s planning history – a factor which English Heritage has always maintained was never a consideration.
Members of the Fulford Battlefield Society, who are staunchly opposed to the housing scheme, have claimed the planning fight has been mired in misleading information presented by one of the UK’s biggest developers, York-based Persimmon Homes.
Historian Chas Jones, who formed the society, has launched legal proceedings against English Heritage for a judicial review to be held in London’s High Court amid accusations the planning system has been misled by flawed evidence.
Mr Jones told the Yorkshire Post the latest revelations raise concerns over the transparency surrounding the decision not to include the land on the Register of Historic Battlefields.
He said: “There seems to have been an awful lot of debate behind closed doors between York Council and English Heritage. I have no problem if this was open and honest, but the discussions do appear at best to be confused and at worst ill-informed. There is a very real concern that this lacks transparency and whether the decision (not to designate) was in fact a done deal all along.”
York Council’s directors have maintained that correspondence with English Heritage played no part in the conservation organisation’s decision not to add the land to the battlefields register.
The assistant director of city and environmental services, Mike Slater, said: “This was a unique situation for York and council officers sought to keep up to date with the English Heritage’s consideration of the battlefield designation. However, this was an internal email only and played no bearing on the final decision that English Heritage made on whether Germany Beck should be added to the register of battlefields.”
English Heritage admitted there has been “a great deal of debate” surrounding the Battle of Fulford, but a spokesman “completely refuted all the allegations” made by Mr Jones.
He added: “Our decision process was not affected in anyway by our conversations with York Council – conversations we were bound to have, given our role in the planning system. English Heritage has based its decision not to designate purely on what is securely known about the case.
“We stand by our original advice that although Germany Beck remains the most likely candidate for the site of the battle, on the basis of current documentary and archaeological evidence it is not possible to say the site has been securely identified.”
The national register already lists 43 battlefields including Stamford Bridge and Towton in North Yorkshire as well as Hastings in East Sussex and Bosworth Field in Leicestershire.