COUNCIL officials have been asked to investigate the feasibility, cost and benefits of sending York’s ‘eyesore’ Castle Car Park underground.

Transport boss Ian Gillies says he believes creating a new underground car park could be the best way of turning the surface parking near Clifford’s Tower into a landscaped area of public open space, with opportunities for theatre and performing arts.

The executive member for transport and planning at City of York Council said such underground car parks had been successfully created in other historic cities elsewhere, such as Bruges.

“The costs would be substantial but there are ways and means,” he said. “I think we need to be ambitious and have a vision, and we need to explore all the options.”

The Press reported in January that according to council documents, surveyors from Arup had looked at replacement car parking options and said a two tier underground car park would cost £18 million, while a new multi storey on the Castle Mills site in Piccadilly would cost £7.5 million.

But Cllr Gillies said he wanted a fully comprehensive examination which would look at the potential benefits of an underground option over the next 60 or 70 years as well as the costs.

He said he did not believe there were any major archaeological deposits below the car park, as there were, for example, at the nearby Jorvik Viking site.

He believed there might be other spin-off benefits from an underground car park, for example in helping with flood protection - as it might be created as a tank which could be cleared of cars and serve as a flood storage area when the Foss and Ouse rivers threatened to flood.

Cllr Gillies said the proposals to create a pop-up Shakespearean theatre on part of the Castle park next summer would provide the council with invaluable data on how other car parks - in particular the Piccadilly multi-storey and St George’s - would cope with displaced vehicles and on the impact on council revenue, when shoppers were increasingly using Park & Ride to get into the centre.

The data would help inform any decision on whether or not to press ahead with an underground car park as part of the Castle Gateway proposals to transform the whole area.

He added that officers would report back on their investigations to his decision session.

City archaeologist John Oxley last year called the car park the “greatest desecration, the greatest eyesore and the single greatest impediment to understanding and enjoying” the tower.

Green councillor Dave Taylor said he had argued for years the council should find the money to put parking underground and turn it into a public park.