The plans recently submitted to transform the Eye of York reveal a pleasant, stone-flagged open space beside historic Clifford’s Tower, with places to sit and look out over the Foss, and even a fountain.

The designs have been produced following a public consultation in 2019 in which local people gave their ideas for the area. And they are a far cry from what was being proposed for this very site 20 years ago.

Back then, developer Land Securities was pushing to be allowed to build an extension to the Copperate Centre, which would have seen a row of shops extend along the Foss and into the space still, today, occupied by the Castle car park.

The council of the day was fully behind the £60 million scheme - and even employed an expensive QC to defend it at public inquiry. But Coppergate Riverside, as the scheme was known, divided opinion.

York Press:

A 2002 artist’s impression of the Coppergate Riverside scheme

There were those who hailed it as a way to revitalise a much neglected area of the city. But there were many more who said it would be a desecration of a unique and historic area of York.

Groups such as the Castle Area Campaign and York Tomorrow campaigned long and hard against Coppergate Riverside. And ultimately, following a nine-week public inquiry which cost the taxpayer an estimated £220,000, planning inspector John Bingham came down on their side.

York Press:

‘Stop Shoppergate’ protesters marching down High Petergate in March 2001

In a scathing report in 2003, he described the plans as overly commercial and ‘grossly inappropriate’ in such a historic area. He accepted that the development would have brought benefits to York, including jobs, more shops, more visitors, and the regeneration of a run-down area.

But he added: “I have weighed these benefits against the heritage considerations… They are not overriding when seen against the need to protect this site of ... international renown.”

York Press:

Four of the Castle Area Campaigners today. L-r: Richard Lane, Dave Taylor, Stuart Wilson and Stella Hughes

Fast forward 20 years, and members of the Castle Area Campaign today are still breathing a sigh of relief. One of them, former Lord Mayor and independent councillor Dave Taylor, said the new proposals were a huge improvement and seemed to offer ‘everything that we struggled for’.

Stuart Wilson, the face of the Castle Area Campaign all those years ago, added: “We had to wait 20 years, but we have got there eventually.”

York Press:

A pleasant, open space: an artist’s impression from the recently-submitted (in 2022) plans for the Eye of York