THE Castle Car Park is pretty unlovely. Yes, you've got Clifford's Tower on one side, the Foss on the other, and a horseshoe of elegant court and Castle Museum buildings to at. But the car park itself? Ugly, pot-holed - and ruined still more by the entrance to the underground service yard behind Fenwicks.

So how could the area be improved?

Here's one idea, from an anonymous commenter imagining what he (or she) would like to be able to do there one day: "Stroll around, appreciating the history of this significant space, with lots of interpretative material. Keep an eye on the Foss for bird life and be able to cross over. Attend events, eg Vikings and the St George's day parade. Sit at tables, possibly in front of a new building (hiding the entrance to the Fenwicks service yard) following the alignment of Castlegate."

Pie in the sky? Well, perhaps not. This comment is just one of thousands of responses made during a major consultation last year on the future of the Castle Gateway area - ie the quarter of York taking in Piccadilly, the Eye of York, the Foss Basin, St George's Fields, Tower Gardens and King's Staith.

And before you start sniffing about yet another consultation, this one was very different.

Coordinated by the My Future York group headed by architect Phil Bixby and academic Helen Graham, it began with an initial burst of activity last summer involving walkabouts, drop-in sessions, planning forums and a lively debate online and via social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

City of York Council then invited Manchester-based BDP (the Building Design Partnership) to draw up some key ideas for how the whole Castle Gateway area could change in the future.

Those ideas went out to consultation again, with a series of walks and talks one weekend in November. Since then there have been ongoing debates on the My Castle Gateway website and on social media.

In total, there have been almost 1,000 face-to-face conversations with York people, almost 300,000 tweets received, 80,000 views on Facebook, plus thousands of posts on other social media. "We feel that we really did manage to reach a huge number of people," says Andy Kerr, commercial projects manager at City of York Council who has been overseeing the consultation.

For the last few weeks, Helen Graham, Phil Bixby and their team have been collating the results of their consultation.

You can see the results for yourself at the My Castle Gateway web page, 

The site includes a summary of the key ideas put forward and the responses to them, plus links to pages containing thousands of responses - tweets, photographs, scanned consultation forms, and even photos of hundreds of post-it notes written by members of the public after taking part in one of the walk-and-talk tours of the area.

It means that the proposals being developed by BDP really are backed up by evidence about what the people of York want, says Phil. "If somebody says 'whose idea was this?', we can say 'here you are...?'

BDP are at the moment putting together an initial draft masterplan for the Castle Gateway area based upon the results of the consultation. That masterplan is expected to go to the city council's Executive in April.

But what were BDP's key ideas for the area - and what did the people of York think of them?

Here's our summary...

1. The Castle Car Park

BDP put forward a number of options - including keeping it as a car park but using it for occasional events; removing the car park altogether to create a public open space; and putting up an extension to the Castle Museum.

Most people rejected the idea of keeping the area as a car park, says Andy Kerr. There was much more support for the idea of turning it into a public open space where events could be held at any time of the year.

Comments included:

- "I like the public realm and event space idea the best...I'd really like York not to encourage city centre parking."

- "As well as events planned like the Shakespeare theatre... I would like to see pop-up summer cinema, the showing of sporting events and music events."

- "Turn castle car park into parkland and grassed picnic area with a small all-weather stage for school performers... and licensed buskers to perform in."

There was also, however, some support for BDP's idea for a new extension to the Castle Museum - either in the form of a standalone building organised around open space, or else in the form of a new entrance building extending north from the women's prison into what is now the car park. The prison governor's house once stood here, BDP point out, so it wouldn't really be a break with tradition. Such a building could include restaurants, as well as conference or exhibition space. This idea was not ruled out altogether, says Andy Kerr. "Although people were not keen on a big building taking up most of the space."

Comments made during consultation included:

- "Prefer a building and permanent open space rather than events."

- "YMT extension opening up onto piazza area. Remove car park and re-pave for open space."

2. New building to hide the back of Fenwicks

At the moment this is hideously ugly, says Phil Bixby. It seems to turn its back on the Eye of York, spoiling the appearance of the whole area. BDP suggested that 'a modest extension to the Coppergate centre could provide a better backdrop to the castle and also make the shopping area easier to move around.' This extension would effectively wrap around the back of Fenwicks and face into the Eye of York, says Phil Bixby.

Comments made during consultation included:

- "I find it really hard to get from the Castle Museum to the Coppergate Shopping Centre on foot (with my pushchair). I always seem to find myself in the middle of the car park dodging vehicles... I really don't mind what's in the new building, but I do think decent loos/ accessible changing spaces are worth adding."

- "I can't get that enthusiastic about the new building and its purpose."

3. Location for a new car park to replace the Castle Car Park

An underground car park beneath the Eye of York would be very expensive, so there were really two main options - on the site of the Castle Mills car park, or at St George's Field.

There was a real consensus in favour of siting the car park at St George's Field, says Andy Kerr - which would mean the Castle Mills site on Piccadilly could be used for something else.

BDP says a new car park at St George's Field could either remain a surface-level car park; or else could be a new multi-storey car park alongside a coach park. "The ground floor of the car park would be allowed to flood, with the vehicle and pedestrian entrance and exit at higher levels."

Comments made during consultation included:

- "Multi-storey car park in St George's Field with access high enough to include flooding, built with height allowance of 2.1m for my kiddicarrier to fit through..."

- "Pedestrian access to St George's Field, with footbridge over Tower Street."

- "Decorate new pumping station. Perhaps the art students could have a competition."

4. New walkway along the Foss

A new walkway from the Foss Basin along the banks of the Foss into the city could provide a 'pleasant, unbroken route into the city centre, and a place to relax and spend time', BDP has suggested. Its ideas include:

- a new foot/cycle bridge across the lock and weir at the north end of the Foss Basin, crossing from west to east

- a new footbridge over Tower Street to the back of the castle Museum

- access from the back of the castle museum along the Foss into the area now occupied by the Castle car park

- a new foot/ cycle bridge over the Foss, linking Piccadilly to the Eye of York

Comments made during consultation included:

- "Would use the river more if Foss was opened up."

- "Go for the big plan, don't fiddle around the edges."

- "Loads more river crossings please!"

- "Foss Basin is stagnant. can we get more water through it?"

5. Piccadilly

Most of those who responded to the consultation were against the idea of using the Castle Mills Car Park site for a new multi-storey car park. Rejecting that would mean the site could be used for something else instead - potentially a block of new flats. BDP envisages a "5 to 6 storey residential building with active ground floor uses including retail/ leisure or parking, enhancing the existing neighbourhood at Piccadilly Plaza and the proposed conversion of Ryedale house from office to residential use." Such a block of flats should 'utilise its riverside setting and provide direct access to the River Foss.'

Comments made during consultation included:

- "Turn Piccadilly around to face the Foss."

- Affordable family apartments?"

There was in general a very positive response to the Spark:York plans on the site of the former Reynard's Garage. The food court/ start-up business centre based in old shipping containers will only run until 2020, however. One suggestion put forward by BDP was a permanent building on the site which would contain small workshop/ start-up space and room for small shops and cafés, with flats above - ie continuing with the spirit of Spark:York in a permanent new building. "This idea was very positively received," says Helen Graham.

Comments made during consultation included:

- "Really like Spark and think we should support things like this as part of a mixed economy."

- "I'd keep Spark."

- "Spark:York - a DISGRACE, a collection of rusty old tins. Remove and replace with gardens."

English Heritage Visitor Centre

The proposed visitor centre at the foot of Clifford's Tower does NOT form part of the Castle Gateway masterplan. English Heritage already has planning permission.