As a new blueprint for the future of York's historic core is revealed, the Evening Press examines the issues it raises and the past controversy surrounding the regeneration of the city's Castle area.

A FRESH vision for the historic heart of York could see car parking round Clifford's Tower driven underground and replaced by a green open space.

City leaders are to consider proposals aimed at breathing new life into the "Castle Piccadilly" area, including the creation of York's first underground car park, and an open space close to Clifford's Tower. The proposals also include a new department store, and extending the city's shopping area to Piccadilly.

York Civic Trust chairman Darrell Buttery gave the report a cautious welcome, saying it showed "a shift in thinking".

AMBITIOUS new proposals for York's vital Castle-Piccadilly area could see the car park at the foot of Clifford's Tower buried underground.

A civic open space by the tower is another feature of a new draft planning brief for the area - along with a quality department store, modest-size convenience food shop, offices and homes.

The brief also outlines ways of enhancing views of Clifford's Tower and highlights the need for "a retail circuit" linking Coppergate with Piccadilly.

City councillors will discuss the proposals on August 3. If they agree, then the proposals will go out to a public consultation lasting at least eight weeks.

Opponents of the controversial "Coppergate II" scheme have previously pressed for a similar area of open space near Clifford's Tower.

The proposals single out the area west of the River Foss and closest to the tower for an "open carpet" free from buildings for cultural events such as festivals and concerts.

The proposed 145-space underground car park would be half the size of the present one. A study of parking by Halcrow Group Ltd concluded that no new sites were likely to become available for car park use.

On the proposed expansion of retailing in York, the brief says links between the Coppergate Centre and Piccadilly should be "maximised".

"Piccadilly should become one of the major shopping streets and be a vital link in the shopping circuit."

It adds: "Well-designed restaurants and bars will also be encouraged adjacent to the public open spaces to create lively frontages and enliven the areas."

Piccadilly would become "primarily a pedestrian environment", while bus stops could be relocated away from the entrance of the Merchant Adventurers' Hall to enhance its setting.

Campaigners in the past feared some views would be partially blocked by development.

But the report says: "Long views on to Navigation Wharf and St Deny's Church tower must be preserved," while the view of York Castle from Tower Street should be "framed" as Clifford's Tower "appears lost in space" from the main civic and ceremonial approach.

"Redevelopment will inevitably result in the loss of some views but will provide the opportunity to provide new views into and within the area."

PLANS to regenerate York's historic core have been dogged by mass objections, high profile planning battles and controversy.

The Coppergate shopping centre was opened in October 1984 - aiming to change shopping in the city forever.

Since then, officials have spent more than ten years planning the area's redevelopment and many thousands of pounds of taxpayers' cash debating exactly how the future of the Castle area should be shaped.

When the Government rejected the £60 million Coppergate Riverside retail and residential scheme in 2003 after a lengthy public inquiry, it was time for the council to go back to the drawing board.

The inspector's decision was crystal clear - the riverside development was a threat to York's historic core, particularly Clifford's Tower.

That decision was triumphantly welcomed by objectors, who had vigorously campaigned against the proposal, tabled by developers Land Securities.

But the death of 'Coppergate II' - first unveiled in 1997 - still left York with the major eyesore of Piccadilly, and Clifford's Tower surrounded by shoppers' cars.

In the aftermath of the Government inspector's decision, City of York Council leader Steve Galloway said major consultation would take place on the future of the controversial Coppergate site.

The Liberal Democrat warned that to rush into another planning application for the area would risk the same outcome as Coppergate II.

He said the council would approach the scheme with a "blank piece of paper" as the ruling executive backed proposals to identify common goals, build community engagement and clarify the planning framework for the area.

Senior councillors were still keen to develop Piccadilly, and saw parking in that area as critical for the city centre's future - as it raised nearly £1 million a year in parking revenue.

But council bosses said that piecemeal development of Piccadilly on its own had to be resisted.

Nearly two years on from those assurances and the Coppergate II failure, fresh plans have been revealed.

Now the debate over one of the most talked-about pieces of land in York will start all over again.

General welcome for plans

THE new proposals for the Castle Piccadilly area were generally welcomed today.

York Civic Trust chairman Darrell Buttery said: "It is a draft report with fine phrases. It is how the developers and council will interpret those that matter."

Gerald Jennings, regional director of Land Securities Plc - owners and managers of the Coppergate Centre and would-be developers in the "Coppergate II" scheme, said: "We welcome the design brief. We, together with other stakeholders, have been part of the referencing group which has helped inform the production of the report."

Len Cruddas, chief executive of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "I welcome the fact they are taking steps to integrate Piccadilly and not just sticking it on the side as an afterthought."

City of York Council leader Steve Galloway said: "I broadly support this and hope it forms the basis for the general consensus on the way forward and is also accepted from a point of view for developers."

Scheme should 'enrich views'

THE new Coppergate scheme should "enrich views within the area", the planning brief says. Among those taking prominence would be the vista from Clifford's Tower, with long views on to Navigation Wharf and St Deny's Church tower being preserved.

Also of particular significance, claims the report, are the view of York Castle from Tower Street - "the main civic and ceremonial approach in York Castle". Consideration should be given to "framing" this view so that Clifford's Tower appears "lost in space", the brief says.

The present dominance of Clifford's Tower in the Coppergate area would be maintained, while a "significant" area of open space would be provided to provide an area for events and a meeting place.

Views to the rear of the castle walls, from Castle Mills Bridge and the east bank should also be enhanced.

The report concludes: "Redevelopment will inevitably result in the loss of some views but will also provide the opportunity to provide new views into and within the area.

"Changes in levels, lighting, emphasis of scale or detail should be manipulated to enrich a sequence of views."

City shopping boost

The scheme's retail proposals would help to meet the need for new shopping in York identified in a council retail study in 2004, the brief says.

The report reveals the retail element of the new project would "form an extension to the central shopping area" and help to maintain the city's role as a key retail centre.

New developments would include a high quality department store, a "modest scale" convenience food store and other high quality units.

But a "retail circuit" between Coppergate and Piccadilly "must be provided whilst also ensuring historic context is paramount".

The White Swan building on the corner of Piccadilly should also be given a new use, "creating attractive retail frontages at ground floor level".

The brief says no new car park sites are likely to come forward.

Piccadilly will become one of the main shopping streets and should be redesigned to be primarily a "pedestrian environment".

Updated: 10:03 Monday, July 25, 2005