Peter Addyman, who has been appointed to oversee the York Civic Trust, admitted the city is facing up to some of its biggest challenges in recent years to ensure multi-million pound developments do not impinge on its character.
Schemes including the transformation of the former Terry’s chocolate factory estate and York Central, which is one of the nation’s largest brownfield sites situated around the railway station, are seen as vital to addressing an affordable housing crisis as the city is among the fastest growing locations in the country.
But Mr Addyman told the Yorkshire Post there is a critical need to ensure the first planning brief of its kind to be put in place in York for more than 50 years is adopted to map out future development.
He said: “It is vital we get it right, and this will be one of the biggest challenges I will be facing as chairman of the trust. York is a special place, but it is very easy for the character and fabric of the city to be lost with a wave of development. The paradox is that the more desirable the city is, the more people want to move here and that places York under immense pressure.
“There has always been a very good working relationship between the trust and the council, and this is something I want to ensure continues.
“One of the great things about York is that the city has responded to change throughout the last 2,000 years, and that is why so much of its character is still here today.
“I want to view the challenges as an opportunity rather than a problem. It is important to preserve the past while enhancing the city for the benefit of residents and visitors alike.”
Mr Addyman claimed the city is facing some of its most pressing challenges since he moved to York more than 40 years ago after working as a university lecturer in Southampton and Belfast.
Mr Addyman, who was born in Harrogate, arrived in 1972 to establish the York Archeological Trust, which is now one of Britain’s leading organisations in its field. The 73-year-old grandfather lives in York with his wife, Shelly, and will now hold the post of the civic trust’s chairman for the next three years.
He admitted a question mark remains over the future of York’s historic heart following a shift in focus to out-of-town retail parks which opponents have maintained will undermine the city centre’s independent traders. York Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead in May last year for the Monks Cross development, which will include a contentious retail scheme for showpiece retailers including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis.
Mr Addyman said: “We need to make sure that York’s city centre remains economically viable, as the development of Monks Cross will attract many shoppers out there. There needs to be a push to ensure York builds on its reputation for independent shops in the city centre, so that people still come here for a shopping experience that they cannot get anywhere else.
“If that doesn’t happen, then the city centre will not remain viable, and it will be very difficult to maintain the historic buildings that make York what it is.”
The Government’s drive to streamline the planning process also provoked concern from Mr Addyman, who claimed small-scale developments such as extensions to homes could ultimately impact on the city’s character if stringent regulations are relaxed.
He said: “I can understand the Government wants to help kickstart the construction industry by simplifying planning rules. But this must not be done to the detriment of the character of places like York.”
An over-arching development brief has not been adopted for the city since 1956, and the latest attempts to introduce a planning vision were thwarted last year. Plans for the Local Development Framework’s (LDF) core strategy were withdrawn in May by the council just three months after submitting them to the Government for final approval.
A total of £1.1m of taxpayers’ money has been spent developing the documents since 2006, but the council decided not to pursue the plan after Government inspector David Vickery raised concerns over its “potential soundness”. The council is adamant data collated to develop the LDF will be used as a foundation for a new Local Plan, but an overhauled document will not be in place until 2015.