Clifford’s Tower and a tale of protest…

TWO stories in York have extended beyond the bar walls recently and both are peculiar to this city.

The first is the still unexplained ejection from the bell tower of the Minister’s bell ringers; unexplained to me at least. Has anyone yet heard a convincing version of what exactly happened and why?

The silenced bells seem to have been accompanied by a muffled story as York Minster sits out the row, presumably hoping it will go away. As examples of how to manage public relations go, this one has been a disaster, or so it seems – not that I know much about the art of polishing reputations.

More recently the rumblings in York have concerned the plans by English Heritage for a new visitor centre at Clifford’s Tower. Although the plans have been in the public arena for a long time, the protests didn’t stir fully into life until the proposals were passed by the council.

As a leader article in my old newspaper pointed out, only 13 people formally objected to the plan. Since them some 3,000 people have signed a petition objecting to the proposals. This morning the protesters are due to rally around the mound of Clifford’s Tower. As I write the rain is falling so that may dampen their protests, but probably not their ardour on this matter.

The protests have been led by the independent councillor Johnny Hayes, who tells the YorkMix website: “There are strong indications that the turnout will be high at the protest.”

Johnny is forceful in his genial manner and he may well stir a decent crowd, even in the rain.

At this point I have a shameful confession to make: although I have lived in York for nearly 28 years, I have never been inside Clifford’s Tower. I have run up and down the steps occasionally, although not for a while. Last week I parked in the shadow of the tower, an impressive sight at night, oddly let down by being left in the middle of a car park.

York never has got to grips with what to do with that space. The beautiful old tower – from the outside, at least – is tucked away behind a shopping centre. Years ago, two proposals to expand the centre were defeated. That saved Clifford’s Tower from one ignominious fate, but still left it stranded in a car park.

Perhaps proper solutions are too costly. The car park should go – or it should go underground and be hidden away, leaving the Tower in more fitting surroundings. That won’t happen so instead we are left with the English Heritage proposals.

From what I have seen, the plans to add a timber decking roof inside the Tower are good, while the visitors’ centre at the foot of the mound doesn’t look right. Some have complained that it resembles a branch of McDonald’s.

I think the York Central MP Rachel Maskell is right when she says: “There is no reason why the bodies involved, together with City of York Council, cannot sit down together and find the right solution for the city.”

But will that happen? One danger is that the row will rumble on and nothing will happen. Of course, the protesters might see that as a victory of sorts.

Two lessons apply here at a guess. One: something should be done but what? And two: perhaps people should learn to pay attention more and I happily include myself in that, as I hadn’t taken much notice until recently.

I think this shows the difference between old and new school ways of doing things. The proposals went through all the proper old-school channels and nobody much noticed and hardly anyone complained.

When it was almost too late, a new-school social media campaign whipped up a storm. A good storm, a decent-minded storm, but a storm that blew in late.

If more of the complainers had noticed what was going on earlier, perhaps a better scheme might have evolved.

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