YORK’S treasured heritage is being jeopardised by plans to cut conservationists and archaeologists’ roles, experts have claimed.

City of York Council is proposing to abolish or reduce several key positions as part of its drive to save millions of pounds, sources have told The Press.

Proposals are understood to include reducing the city archaeologist’s and landscape architect’s jobs to three days a week, cutting the number of conservation officers from 2.5 full-time equivalent to 0.6 and scrapping the countryside manager’s post altogether.

Former Lord Mayor Janet Hopton, who led York’s unsuccessful bid for World Heritage status in 2011, claimed the moves could jeopardise a fresh bid which she and fellow members of a steering group were currently preparing.

“The city’s heritage is fundamental to York’s future prosperity, and this small group of people are fundamental to efforts to safeguard that heritage,” she claimed.

Alison Sinclair, former chair of the York Conservation Area Advisory Panel, said: “I am very concerned this could have a very damaging impact on the conservation of the historic environment in York.

“The absence of special conservation advice could jeopardise pre-application discussions and decisions on applications for listed buildings.”

Nick Pearson, of York firm On Site Archaeology, which has worked in cooperation with city archaeologist John Oxley on a number of digs over the years, slated the proposed reduction in his hours, claiming: “It could both damage the city’s stunning archaeological remains and also lead to delays in major developments as developers struggled to meet their statutory obligations.”

Sir Ron Cooke, deputy chair of York Civic Trust, said: “These staff are really essential to York. York’s heritage - above and below ground - is a vital ingredient of its present and future economic success. To maintain and improve it requires staff of experience and ability.”

He added that only about two per cent of York’s archaeology had so far been revealed. The city archaeologist’s post was created in the late 1980s after it was feared priceless Roman remains might be lost during the re-development of a hotel in the Micklegate area.

Mr Oxley has filled the role since it was created, overseeing major projects including digs at the Hungate development, the University of York’s new Heslington East campus and the Park & Ride site on the A59, along with two Time Team projects broadcast on national TV.

A council spokeswoman said there were a number of proposals to re-structure the authority’s city and environmental services department, which included the archaeology team. She said the proposals, aimed at reducing costs, introducing a more coherent and efficient management structure and streamlining and re-aligning its structure, had been put to staff.

She added: “At this stage of the CES review, nothing is confirmed. Given the consultation period is still ongoing, and will be until the end of April, it’s really not appropriate to comment on specific roles and the impact (if any) could happen as a result of these proposals.”

She said the council was keeping an impartial view until staff had had the opportunity to give their views and said feedback would help to influence the new structure of the department.