Anger is growing over council proposals to lease part of the bank of the River Ouse near the Millennium Bridge to the York Motor Yacht Club. In an about-turn yesterday, the council appeared to rule out the deal. But protesters will still gather on Sunday to underline their opposition. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.

DOWN by the riverbank at 8.45am, tempers were running high – at least, as high as they can in York's friendly community of dog-walkers.

"It's ridiculous!" fumed Paul Osborne, of proposals by the city council to lease 200 meters of the river bank south of the Millennium Bridge to the York Motor Yacht Club. "This is one of the few places in York you get a real sense of nature close to the city centre. It's really well used – and not just by dog walkers. There are plenty of places for boats – why do they need to be so near the city centre?"

"It is ours," added Janet Stevenson. "This land belongs to us. It shouldn't always be about money. There's an abundance of wildlife here: lots of birds, field mice, rabbits, the odd kingfisher."

The stretch of land they are talking about runs for 200 meters along the banks of the River Ouse, from the existing motor yacht club moorings towards the Millennium Bridge, on the Fulford side of the river.

There is a wide open meadow which runs down from the bottom of Maple Grove to Love Lane, which is popular in summer with picnickers, Frisbee-throwers, and families playing cricket.

Then, near the river's edge, there is a lower shelf of land, thickly wooded, that reaches to the riverbank itself.

The city council owns this land: and recently it emerged that it was considering leasing a 200 meter stretch of it to the motor yacht club so that the club could create 14 extra moorings, extending northwards along the river bank from the 40-or-so moorings it already has.

This part of the riverbank is green and shady, the grass overgrown, the roots and branches of crack willow trailing into the water flowing quietly by. It is like a little piece of wild, wooded England reaching deep into the heart of the city.

Jessica Knox, who lives near Cemetery Road, loves to bring her two children here to play.

"It's the wildness of it that is special," she said.

"It is difficult to find areas like this. The children love to climb down and play among the roots of the trees. In the summer, there are little mini-beaches there between the roots. It feels mildly dangerous for the children – though I'm always watching over them. They feel they are exploring. Rowntree Park is fantastic, but it doesn't have this wildness."

The motor yacht club's proposals would involve closing off 200 meters of this riverbank behind a two-meter-high fence, so that 14 extra moorings in the form of floating pontoons could be sited along the river's bank.

Nobody from the motor yacht club wanted to comment yesterday. The clubhouse, beside the river at the bottom of St Oswald's Road, was inaccessible behind a locked metal gate. "YMYC, Strictly private. CCTV," said a sign on the gate.

The club's planning application explains why it is so keen to expand, however: club members are on a waiting list for moorings.

The club has had an ecology survey produced. It found evidence of bat activity but no bat roosts, and made suggestions for 'migration proposals' to alleviate the impact on bat foraging.

An otter had been observed, together with a bank-side otter holt, it added – but there was a 'high level of disturbance by dogs and humans." That is undeniable: a lot of dog walkers do use the area.

The club has lodged a planning application with the city council. But even if it were to get planning approval, it wouldn't be necessarily be a done deal. The city council, as owner of the land, could easily decide that it didn't want to lease the land to the club. Story over.

Nevertheless, the council advertised a "proposed disposal of public open space" - and invited people to submit comments by October 28.

A notice was put up on a couple of footpaths nearby.

But it was only when Fishergate's Green councillor Andy D'Agorne was warned about the proposals by one of his constituents that things really kicked off.

Now, local people – dog-walkers, residents living nearby, those who like to come and walk or sit by the riverside – are planning a mass protest at noon on Sunday to let the council know how they feel.

In an extraordinary twist yesterday, it emerged that the council may now have decided not to lease the land to the club after all.

When contacted by The Press at about 11am, council leader James Alexander would say only: "I will be looking into this and discussing it with officers."

Two hours later, however, a council spokesperson made a statement. She said there were two separate processes, involving the council as both landowner, and as planning authority.

“In terms of leasing the land, it is NOT something we are looking to take forward,” she said. Asked to explain that statement, she added: “Currently, our position is that we are mindful that we are not going to take the lease forward.”

That would seem to suggest the proposal is now dead in the water.

The planning application was a separate process, the spokesperson said. “We have advised the yacht club that it would be highly unlikely to get planning permission because of the impact on public space and the visual amenity, but we cannot pre-empt the planning process,” she said.

Cllr D'Agorne today hailed the development as a "partial victory".

But he stressed that Sunday’s planned demonstration against the proposal would go ahead nevertheless.

“I think we’ve got to make clear the scale of opposition to this,” he said.

* Those opposed to the idea of the council leasing a 200 meter stretch of the river bank south of the Millennium Bridge to the York Motor Yacht Club will be meeting at the Fulford side of the Millennium Bridge at 12 noon on Sunday to stage a protest.

You can make your views known to the council officially by writing to Valerie Inwood, Property Services, City of York Council, West Offices, Station Rise, York YO1 6GA or emailing by Tuesday October 28

“We’re trying to encourage tourists to come to York...’

NOT everybody walking their dog beside the River Ouse yesterday morning was against the proposal to lease a stretch of the riverbank to the York Motor Yacht Club.

One dog walker, who wouldn't give his name, said it would be 'good for York'. It would tidy up the area, he said.

"We're trying to encourage tourists to come to York, so why not?"

People had raised concerns about wildlife, he said. "They say ' where will it go to?' Well, possibly the other side of the river. There's plenty of bank."

Fionna Haigh, who walks beside the river every day on her way to work, sad she wouldn't object if the yacht club didn't fence the riverbank off. "But if it was fenced off, that would be a shame, really."

Almost everyone else approached by The Press was against the proposal, however.

"It is appalling," said Julia Foster, who lives nearby. She loved the riverbank for the wildlife and the tranquility, she said. "I feel very strongly about this."

David Larkman, walking his border terrier Skylon, said he had only recently heard about the proposal. It should have been much better publicised, he said. "It is beautiful here, a lovely place to be, and it is a public space."

Mark Havercroft, a member of the Friends of New Walk who will be standing for the Green party in Micklegate at next year's council elections, said the motor yacht club had every right to want to expand. And he accepted that the city council had a huge hole in its budget.

"It needs to find money somewhere. But this is not the area to find it," he said.

Political leaders were divided on the issue.

Fulford councillor and leader of the Liberal Democrat group Cllr Keith Aspden has already formally objected on behalf of his constituents.

"I understand the application would result in the the extension of the moorings along the river bank and involves a fence and clearing of trees. The area forms a good wildlife habitat and evidence has been found of otter resting places. Residents feel that public open space owned by the City should not become private open space," he said in his objection.

But Conservative group leader Chris Steward said he couldn't take a view on the issue until he knew how much the council could potentially earn through leasing the land. In principle, he wanted to see public land remain public, he said.

"But if the council were getting a lot of money for it, that money could be used for other things."