The decision by the planning committee last week to allow the replacement of the old tax office (Swinson House) on Piccadilly with a modern hotel, has prompted a debate about the boundaries of the central York Conservation area.
Some say that the loss of the 30’s building – together with other developments on the street not least the ugly Spark container village – means that the street now has little conservation merit.
They have a point.
The current Conservation Area appraisal for the historic core – which can be read by clicking here – lumps Piccadilly in with the Castle as a character area.
A detailed analysis (click) goes further.
Piccadilly is rather a barren street, lacking trees or visible greenery and dominated by large buildings. The Foss is very much hidden behind buildings which back directly onto it, a legacy from its industrial past. This means there is almost no public access to the river; the exception is the Travelodge by Castle Mills Bridge. The large buildings and their positioning also block views to the Castle, only a glimpse of which is possible from Piccadilly Bridge.
The tax office is not identified as a building of merit. The Red Lion pub is as was the, now long gone Airspeed/Trolleybus shed on the site of which Spark now park their shipping containers.
One of the suggestions in the assessment, which have been largely ignored over the last 10 years, was the need for more tree planting on the street.
Whether the time is right to take Piccadilly out of the Conservation Area is a matter of opinion.
There will be those who think that Council resources could be better deployed at this difficult time. Planning permissions which have been granted – and not implemented – can be superseded by new proposals. There must, for example, be a limit on how many modern hotels the City can sustain.
Perhaps the Conservation area status gives greater weight to those who seek a quality approach to the regeneration of the Piccadilly area.
Certainly at present it is little more than a blot on the streetscape.