YORK Museums Trust has mooted the idea of charging for entry to York’s Museum Gardens, a senior councillor has claimed.

The possibility of an admission fee to visit one of the city's largest public open spaces was raised last year by the trust's chairman, said Cllr Sonja Crisp, former Labour cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism at City of York Council.

She said Professor Sir John Lawton had met her and former council leader James Alexander at the council's HQ, West Offices, in February last year, following his appointment, and had raised concerns at looming cuts in council funding for the trust.

She said Cllr Alexander had sympathised but spoken of the need to maintain funding for key services such as adult social services, and indicated the arts might lose out, given big cuts in funding to the council from the Government.

Cllr Crisp said the chairman had then made the bombshell revelation that the trust might need to resort to imposing charges to enter the gardens, at which point former council chief executive Kersten England warned that the idea would be totally unacceptable to the people of York. "She said there would be an outcry," said Cllr Crisp.

Current Labour leader Dafydd Williams said the issue of charging for entry to museums and the art gallery was not raised at the meeting or any other meeting with Labour councillors.

Guildhall councillor James Flinders said a great many residents in his ward used the gardens as a route to and from the city centre, as well as for general enjoyment, and he didn't think charging for access would ever see the light of day. "It strikes me as a step too far, however challenging the current financial climate is for the council and for the Museums Trust."

However an amended report to councillors last week warned that if the trust was not able to charge for admission to the Art Gallery and Castle Museum, it could place greater pressure on it to generate revenue from the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens. "There are no restrictions that would prevent them for introducing entry charges to either of these venues," said the report to the decision session of the executive member for culture, leisure & tourism.

Asked if the trust had ruled out entry fees, a spokesman said: "There are currently no plans to charge entry to York Museum Gardens."

Gardens visitors were generally opposed to the idea of an admission fee yesterday

Roger and Julia Pattison, from Poppleton said: “The gardens should be free. There’s currently enough expense for families and this space is great for children to run around in."

Nick Holliday said: "A charge would definitely detract young people from visiting. It’s so great to have this space available free of charge in the city.”

Gillian Birkett, from Chorley suggested: "Perhaps a fee should be introduced, but only a small one.” But Kenneth Dickinson, from Thirsk argued: “If they are struggling to maintain the gardens then I guess it’s necessary."