• York Rotary

Centenary Talks Begin

Updated: May 19

Mike F reports... York Rotary’s series of ‘Centenary Talks’ commenced on May 7th with Andrew Morrison, the CEO of York Civic Trust, giving an oversight to the history of planning and conservation in the city over the last 100 years.

In the early part of the 20th century the centre of York was still dominated by industry, which Andrew illustrated with fascinating photographs and plans of the Foss Islands Road area, which at the time, was in the middle of a very large power station.

The only remaining traces of which are the chimney in Morrison’s car park and an antiquated bridge over the River Foss. The area on the other side of the bridge that had been occupied by cooling towers is now a nature reserve!

Other areas of the inner city were occupied by housing, much of which was of a slum nature. During the inter-War years the Council had started to plan for the regeneration of the inner city with the clearance of slum properties and the creation of new outer city housing estates such as Tang Hall.

The Second World War of course, brought this work to a halt, but by 1945 a spirit of ‘regeneration’ was in the air. Various schemes were proposed. One called for the completion of a ring road that had already been partially started. (Evidence of this can be seen today in the dual carriageways in Kingsway and Acomb.)

Another scheme called for the creation of an inner ring road that would have resulted in the demolition of Gillygate on the City Walls side and the clearance of much of the housing within the ring road, to be replaced with green open space.

Neither of these schemes came to fruition, but in 1946 they did influence the creation of York Civic Trust. Four individuals, prominent in York commerce and society, set up the trust to provide an independent body to monitor proposed developments. John Bowes Morrell, Oliver Sheldon, Noel Terry, and Dean Eric Milner-White were not focussed exclusively on the preservation of historic buildings, adopting the principle “promote heritage – shape tomorrow”.

In the 74 years since then, YCT has continued to be closely involved in the planning process. Ancient buildings worthy of preservation have been restored and repurposed. Others in poor condition have been demolished and YCT has sought to ensure that their replacements have been quality buildings. They have not always succeeded, but some, such as the Hiscox HQ on Peaseholme Green are considered to be significant achievements.

Looking to the future, Andrew sees an important continuing role for YCT. The development of York Central and Gateway sites provides opportunities for an enhancement of York’s facilities if done well. On the other hand…..! York Civic Trust will be there and pitching.

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