SPARK: York WILL have to cover its shipping containers in timber cladding - despite the director of the site claiming the appearance has been "key" to its success.

City of York officials urged councillors to allow Spark: York to go back on its original planning agreement to clad its shipping containers in timber.

But the recommendations sparked fury from critics.

Matthew Laverack, speaking against the proposals at a meeting of the planning committee last night, said: “The planning system is supposed to be fair and consistent. In York it patently isn’t.

“Anyone who has had a refusal of planning permission on a benign little extension over some petty detail will rightly be disturbed at this officer recommendation to allow this monstrous eyesore to remain in place.

“How on earth can anybody look at that in this conservation area and say the harm is less than substantial?”

But Sam Leach, from Spark: York said the scheme had been a success so far, with tens of thousands of people visiting the site.

He added that businesses have made "four or five times" more than what they were expecting to achieve at the site.

Mr Leach said: “We believe the exterior is a key driver of our success. People expect Spark to offer something different.

“Footfall at the bottom of Piccadilly is arguably higher than it has ever been.

“Piccadilly is on the move and this project is a temporary showcase of how good this site can be.

“We are only here until 2020. This is a unique project for the city which the council supported. Thousands of people identify with this as something that is symbolic of this area of York.”

Members of the planning committee were divided on the issue with six councillors voting to approve the application and six councillors voting to refuse it.

Cllr Ann Reid, chair of the committee, had the casting vote and chose to refuse the application to vary the conditions.

She said: "I'm torn. One of the reasons I supported it in the first place was because it was going to have the cladding.

"My view is that actually it was that it needed the cladding to make it acceptable and I have to say I don't particularly like the art that's on the side."