Objectors claim that wheel will be blot on city’s historic skyline

YORK’S answer to the London Eye could tower above the city’s skyline next to a Grade II listed hotel if plans are approved next week to bring back the attraction after it was scrapped three years ago.

Proposals have been drawn up to build a 175ft high observation wheel in the gardens of the Royal York Hotel, where it would remain in the city centre conservation area until January 2013.

If the application is approved, it will bring to an end the long-running saga to find a new location for the attraction after a giant wheel at the National Railway Museum was removed in November 2008 due to a lack of business.

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Great City Attractions, the company behind the wheel at the NRM as well as the new proposals, said it wished to erect a 200ft structure at the Museum Gardens in December. However, it was forced to abandon the attempt in February only 24 hours before it was due to be considered by York Council after evidence was found that protected species of bats were using the site.

After pledging to find a new location following the withdrawal of the scheme, the company has now submitted an application, which has been recommended for approval by officers when it goes before York Council planners on Thursday.

The chief executive of the city’s tourism partnership, Visit York, Gillian Cruddas, said: “We welcome Great City Attractions’ continued interest in investing in York city centre. The wheel was a popular feature of York when it originally opened near the National Railway Museum in April 2006 and became an icon of the city, enjoyed by thousands of visitors and featured in countless publicity photographs. We believe the wheel helps to enhance the international profile of York and adds a new dimension to the cityscape.”

So far the council has received 27 objections over the proposals, with the majority being raised from residents living in the nearby Westgate apartments over fears their homes would be over-looked.

There are also major concerns over the visual impact of the scheme – with objectors fearing the wheel could blemish the skyline and draw attention away from the city’s Minster. A report, which will go before the committee, reveals the majority of the council’s Conservation Areas Advisory Panel were strongly against the proposals.

The group says in the report: “The wheel would be three times as high as the hotel and as such would detract from the setting of this Grade II listed building. The panel did not feel that York should be prepared to accept such a mundane ‘fairground’ attraction which compromised the cultural value of the city.”

However, planners have said the temporary nature of the structure rules out any concerns over the impact on its surroundings.

The author of the report, Jonathan Kenyon, the development management officer at York Council, said: “Officers consider that in its proposed position the wheel would be an unacceptable addition to the city skyline if it were to be installed on a permanent basis.

“It would compete with the Minster for attention and detract from the historic townscape which makes the city special. However, it is only proposed to install the wheel for 14 months, which reduces the harm on the historic environment.”

If the application is given the go-ahead, the attraction will only be allowed to remain open between the hours of 9am and 9pm. Restrictions will also be placed on the illumination of the wheel and it must be completely dismantled and removed from the site by February 2013.

The leader of York Council, Coun James Alexander, said: “The big wheel was a popular attraction in the city, but clearly needs to be in the right location. It’s now up to the planning committee to make a decision on the current application.”