Economy threat as heritage sites shut for longer

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A leading conservationist has claimed people are being robbed of Yorkshire’s history from Monday to Friday after English Heritage revealed it had seen a boost in visitor numbers to some of its sites on weekends.

In September, English Heritage announced it would be closing sites including Clifford’s Tower in York, Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle on weekdays from November until April, because of a 32 per cent cut in Government funding.

But despite only being a month into the changes, the organisation says it has already seen a rise in visitor numbers at weekends.

However, the president of the Yorkshire and Humber Association of Civic Societies, Kevin Trickett, has criticised the announcement, claiming the numbers are bound to increase if the sites are closed during the rest of the week.

Mr Trickett said: “If they aren’t opening during the week it will curtail the activity to weekends and this is obviously going to have an impact on visitor numbers. It is a great concern that what are our public assets are closed to visitors on days when they should be open. We want people to take an interest in our heritage.

“From my own experience visiting English Heritage sites during the summer months, I have noticed there’s a huge demand mid-week. I can see their point of view but not everyone is able to visit on a weekend. It reduces the flexibility to visit these sites.”

Mr Trickett fears the move will damage the region’s economy.

He said: “Welcome to Yorkshire is doing all it can to drive and interest in the region. We should be encouraging people to get out and explore and doing everything we can to keep these sites open. Any deterrent to visiting these sites is going to put people off coming to area, which could effect the tourism economy. Closing everything down sends out the message that Yorkshire is closed on a Monday to Friday.

“It’s a sad reflection on where we are in the economy that public monuments are not able to stay open when the public want to use them.”

The closures began last month after a review of visitor patterns – with attractions found to be most popular in winter during weekends.

An English Heritage spokesman said: “Winter is the quietest time of the year and those Yorkshire sites which were open on certain winter weekdays last year received only a small proportion of their total annual visitors on those days. Given the 32 per cent reduction in our Government grant, we simply could not justify the cost of keeping them open during the quiet winter weekdays.”

The spokesman said it was too early to compare this winter with last, but the organisation had noticed a marked increase in visitors over weekends.

He said: “For instance, on the first Saturday in December this year over 280 people visited Clifford’s Tower compared with only 46 last year.

“These increases are partly down to our winter events programme – our biggest ever – but it also suggests that those visitors who previously enjoyed our properties on a winter weekday are now visiting on weekends instead. We’ve also seen visitors to the two beautiful sites that we’ve opened for the first time this winter, Byland Abbey and Kirkham Priory.

“There is no denying that these are difficult days for heritage but we remain committed to protecting it and making it available to everyone to enjoy.

“That means that none of our regular winter Yorkshire properties are closing completely and that more sites will be open than ever before.”

Clifford’s Tower was the worst hit by the changes, as it was the only site open daily, while most opened four days a week. Other sites which have been affected also include Conisborough Castle, Mount Grace Priory and Rievaulx Abbey.