The City of York Council-led project will see 106 new homes built on the former Castle Mills car park, a pedestrian and cycle bridge built across the river and a new footpath and park area created behind Castle Museum.
But the council’s own conservation expert strongly objected to the new apartment blocks – which he said are too high, too large and will harm the setting of landmarks including the Castle Museum.
Future phases of the council’s Castle Gateway scheme depend on the money the local authority makes from the new apartments.
And reducing the height of the buildings by just one storey would mean the council loses £2.5 million – money that is needed for a new multi storey car park in St George’s Field, the meeting heard.
David Carruthers, council conservation architect, said the apartment blocks create a “wall” of similarly tall buildings when put next to Ryedale House, saying: “I believe the proposal is too tall and the massing is too great.”
“Ryedale House has already been identified as having a negative impact because it looms.”
Coun Mark Warters hit out at the scheme, saying: “We’ve ended up at a point where there’s such a strong objection from the council’s own heritage team to the council’s own application.
“From memory £2 million has already been spent on the design and the promotion of the consultation into all this. How have we ended up at this state of affairs?”
But York Civic Trust and York Business Improvement District spoke in support of the scheme.
And the planning team said there has been lots of discussion around the plans – but that the decision balances different issues.
Coun Michael Pavlovic told Andy Kerr, the head of the project: “You state that the financial return from the sale of the apartments would be in the region of £35 million – and will be dedicated to fund the construction of the proposed multi-story car park at St George’s Field.
“You go on to say that the multi-story car park has been delayed [for a review of how much city centre parking is needed after the pandemic. If the multi-story car park is not going to proceed then would losing a storey make that much difference to the viability of the scheme?”
Mr Kerr said even if the new multi-storey does not go ahead, the parking spaces at Castle Car Park must be replaced elsewhere before the car park can be closed. And that a condition of the scheme is that Castle Car Park must shut before anyone can move into the new apartments.
He said Historic England and York Civic Trust find the scheme “causes less than substantial harm”, adding: “Given the harm is less than substantial, the planning officer is of the view that the significant public benefits of a new bridge, riverside park, the role of a scheme in funding the wider masterplan and the direct link to the removal of a car park at the base of Clifford’s Tower outweighs this.”