YORK’S big wheel could be set to move to a new riverside location right in the heart of the city centre, The Press can reveal.

World Tourist Attractions (WTA), which owns the Yorkshire Wheel, is considering moving it from the National Railway Museum (NRM) to North Street Gardens, next to the Park Inn Hotel.

Another firm is also looking at opening a floating art gallery on a barge beside the gardens, in a move that could spark a wider revamp of the area.

WTA chief executive Nigel Ward today said North Street was one of several sites the firm was looking at, but insisted it still had a good relationship with the NRM and was delighted with the wheel’s success since it opened in April 2006.

He said of North Street: “There are a number of potential sites within York, but that particular location seems to be very central and looks very good.”

He said the firm was committed to staying in York, and added: “We continue to have a good working relationship with the museum and we are simply covering all our bases, should that contract not be extended.”

The contract to run the wheel is due for renewal this autumn, and WTA’s three-year planning permission runs out in January.

Christian Vassie, City of York Council’s executive member for leisure and culture issues, said talks had been held with a view to finding a new site.

“They are wishing to move on,” he said. “They have been there for a while and they are exploring whether they could find a spot closer to the city centre.”

The gardens in North Street were owned by the Rowntree family until the 1950s, when they were given to the then city council. A covenant was attached to the land, saying the council needed written permission to use it for anything other than a park.

A spokesman for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation today said the council had sought, and received, permission last year to build a wheel on the site.

NRM spokeswoman Catherine Farrell said: “The Yorkshire Wheel continues to be a valuable addition to the National Railway Museum and draws new and repeat visitors from all over the country. No decision has yet been made about its long-term future and we will continue to work with World Tourist Attractions, who own the Wheel, to review and plan its future over the coming months.

“At this moment in time we are unaware of any definite plans to move the Wheel’s location.”

Any move would be subject to approval from a council planning committee. Coun Vassie said he did not want to pre-empt the committee, but said: “The administration is very keen to see us make good use of the river and the river frontage so, in principle, moving the wheel closer to the centre of town could be a good thing.

“We are mindful that some may be less happy but the London Eye has proved phenomenally successful opposite the Houses of Parliament.”

He said talks with a firm wanting to develop a floating gallery opposite Guildhall were at an early stage.

‘I thought it was working well where it was’

Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of Visit York, said: “If they are looking at alternative sites, we would like to be involved in the discussion. There is a balance between getting the site right and everything that is around it.”

City centre councillor Janet Looker said: “I’m terribly supportive of it as an attraction. I think it has been tremendous and I thought it was working very well where it was.”

Jonathan Meehan, managing director of the Park Inn, which is situated next to the proposed North Street site, said he was unaware of the plans but said: “I would be happy to discuss it with them. That area at the moment is just gardens, and anything that increases the footfall down North Street would only be good for us.”