York is a city of great views – but some are at risk of being lost through development. STEPHEN LEWIS reports on a campaign to save them.

YORK is a city of views. Some of them are obvious ones – the Minster, drowned in late afternoon sunlight, glimpsed from a vantage point on the city walls or soaring high above the city’s rooftops, say; Bootham Bar seen from further up Bootham, a defensive bastion guarding the inner city; or the tree-lined New Walk down by the river, looking towards the Blue Bridge and the city centre.

Others are more surprising, personal or idiosyncratic: a glimpse down a snickelway, perhaps; an unexpected sighting of a favourite building from an unusual perspective; or a honey-coloured city centre church seen out of the corner of your eye from the intersection of ancient medieval streets.

In one sense, given York’s age and the city’s architecture, it is not surprising that we are blessed with so many stunning views.

Yet, despite much of the centre of York being declared a conservation area, we cannot afford to take them for granted.

The views are a part of what makes this city so special, says Sir Ron Cooke, the chairman of the York Civic Trust. We may not always be aware of them as we go about our daily lives, but they are always there, helping to make York the city that it is, and helping to make living here such a pleasure.

But, with the city always facing pressure to modernise and develop, some of our most cherished views are always going to be at risk.

Sir Ron and Peter Brown, the Civic Trust’s director, can think of two examples straight away: the view of York Minster from the top of Fishergate now obscured by the Postern Gate pub; and the view of the Minster from Clarence Street, obscured by the new York St John University De Grey Court building.

That, as the university points out, is a RIBA award-winning building that replaced what was an unattractive and unused site. “The juxtaposition of such an iconic and striking build and the historic city walls shows how we can keep York city’s environment alive and moving forward,” a university spokesperson said.

Yes, all right, Sir Ron says. “But it would have been so easy for them to just step back that little bit… a few yards is all it would have needed.”

Now, the Civic Trust is on a mission to safeguard the views that make York special – the classic ones of the Minster and the Bar Walls, but also the more intimate, personal, surprising ones, too.

The problem is that, much as we might enjoy our cherished views of York, they don’t actually constitute a ‘material planning consideration’.

Actually, that’s not quite the whole picture, says Dave Warburton, head of design, conservation and sustainable development at City of York Council.

It is true that people objecting to a new development near their home do not have an absolute right to see a particular view they like protected.

“But you do have a right to a reasonable level of amenity,” he says. Individuals should be able to expect that a new development will not overly spoil the environment in which they live.

Planning guidance is now tipping further in favour of local authorities that want to conserve their towns and cities, too. New planning guidance published earlier this year – PPS5, for those interested in the details – puts much more emphasis on the “setting of heritage assets”, Mr Warburton says.

And the city council, with the help of funding from English Heritage, has recently appointed a new heritage reconnaissance officer, part of whose new job will be to supervise the drawing up of an official document that will enshrine for the benefit of planners everything that is most important about York’s historic city centre. Known as the Central Historical Core Conservation Area Appraisal, this document will include a ‘views analysis’ – and will have real status when it comes to granting or withholding planning permission.

So things are looking up. But if planners are to continue to safeguard the views that are such an important part of this city, they are going to need all the help they can get.

That is why Civic Trust director Peter Brown has written to all his members inviting them to send in photographs illustrating their favourite views of York. The idea is to use the photographs to compile a complete database of York views that can then be given to the city council as an aid to planners and developers. There are also plans for a major exhibition next autumn to showcase some of the city’s classic views.

It is not just about the views of the Minster and of the city walls that we all know and love, Mr Brown says in his letter – though of course, those are important too. “But there are other minor views that are just as important. The gentle sweep of streets that follow a medieval pattern, the glimpse of heritage layers that remind us of the 2,000 year history of York, or the detail of ironwork, carving and decoration on buildings, all play their part in our understanding of what make York special.”

York’s views, he adds, often contain “cherished landmarks and landscapes, which give pleasure to all. The fact that they enrich our lives, often on a daily basis, is reason enough to ensure they survive and are not degraded.”

Amen to that. So if you have a favourite city view that you think should be preserved, get snapping...

Send us your views of the city

Details of the Civic Trust’s Views of York campaign are included on its new website, yorkcivictrust.co.uk. Simply click on ‘current activities’, and go to Views of York.

“The York Civic Trust is committed, in partnership with City of York Council, to producing a comprehensive survey of contemporary views of York, looking both to and from the city,” the site says. “These views are a communal treasure belonging to all of us.

“The aim is to codify and analyse York’s distinctive character and perhaps identify where an important view has been degraded by the placement of inappropriate new buildings or structures. The digital database will be available to planners, developers and the local community.”

The trust is inviting people to nominate their own favourite views, and contribute photographs of them. Photographs should be sent, digitally, to info@yorkcivictrust.co.uk – along with information about the exact location where the photograph was taken, and the date and time the picture was taken. Images contributed might be posted on the Trust’s website.

Or you can send your pictures digitally to us here at The Press by emailing photosales@ycp.co.uk.

Pictures will need to be high-resolution RGB jpeg attachments with a minimum size of 1mb and a maximum size of 5MB per e-mail. Each image should include the photographer’s name in the filename, as well as details of exactly where and when the photograph was taken.