FOR the first time, York Minster has decided to charge visitors an entrance fee.

The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, will not be alone in feeling disappointed and saddened by this decision. After all, as he points out, the Minster is a place for prayer and worship.

Many will share his hope that the decision may at some time in the future be reversed.

Visitors emerging from the cathedral told this paper they had happily paid a voluntary donation, but were less than keen on a fixed charge.

However, given the disappointing response of visitors to the voluntary donation scheme introduced last year, and the cathedral's growing budget deficit, it is hard to see how the Dean and Chapter could avoid bringing in an entry fee.

According to the Minster's own statistics, less than a quarter of visitors have responded to the appeals for a donation, with financial difficulties compounded by further falls in the number of overseas tourists in the wake of the war in Iraq.

The Minster does not have state funds to rely on in the immense and endless task of maintenance and restoration. It must eventually balance the books.

However, if entry fees have to come in, it is absolutely essential that the Dean stands by his promise not to charge those who want to come in for services or private prayer, difficult as it might sometimes be for staff to distinguish between worshippers and tourists.

The plan for a special entry card for parishes in the diocese and for York citizens is also a good idea.

It would be unfair for locals who want to visit the Minster on a regular basis to have to fork out each and every time they come through the door.

Updated: 10:36 Wednesday, April 23, 2003