AN ambitious project to turn a former park lodge into a heritage centre and cafe is close to taking a huge step forward.

The group spearheading the project to revamp the property in West Bank Park - known as The Backhouse Project - is close to submitting a planning application to City of York Council.

A feasibility study has been completed after £5,000 was raised online to look into developing the lodge into a venue celebrating the world-famous James Backhouse Plant Nurseries, known as the Kew of the North.

Jane Cullen, founder of the project, said: "We've had a meeting with the council and we are moving forward in terms of putting a formal application into them by the end of next week.

"Once that is in, the wheel will start turning."

Funding for the project will come from numerous grants, but Mrs Cullen says the community is eager to support the project.

She said: "There's a lot of excitement around this.

"The community itself has got on-side with the project because it's something that's needed and will be well used and enjoyed.

"When we did the crowd-funding for the feasibility study, we didn't just parachute in and tell people what was happening.

"We involved people in the process and we did that on purpose.

"It's really important that people feel they are involved as part of this and it's something for them."

James Backhouse (1794-1869) was a gifted botanist, philanthropist and Quaker missionary from York, who visited convicts and setters in Australia and worked hard for their improved welfare and continued his mission to South Africa and Mauritius, writing journals and collecting plants throughout his travels.