The aim of York Civic Trust is “to protect and enhance York’s architectural and cultural heritage, to champion good design and to advance the high place which York holds amongst the cities of the world”.  In doing so, the concept of managing change is fundamental to how we consider the built environment, symbolised in our vision of ‘promoting heritage, shaping tomorrow’.  

Beyond this, our Mission is to:  

  • Protect and contemporise York’s unique heritage;
  • Champion our environment and its sustainability; 
  • Encourage the city’s economic development in line with its character; 
  • Engage with all sectors of the community.

Founded in 1946, the Trust plays an active role in supporting research into conservation of the built environment.  We were heavily involved in Lord Esher’s report of 1966 and continue to be involved in current conservation and planning initiatives in the city – justifying our position as a local nominated planning consultee for City of York Council.

The Trust has played a leading role in many of the city’s celebrated planning cases, including the pedestrianisation of Deangate, the Coppergate II enquiry, and the redevelopment of the Terry’s site.  

The Trust has also funded the practical conservation and restoration of buildings in York, including Fairfax House, Peasholme House and the Mansion House.  We have an active, internal advisory group for Fairfax House, our home.  It has provided practical and professional advice on recent issues with the building, such as repairs to ceilings, windows and faience, and is currently involved with options to improve Accessibility to and within the building.

In recent years, the Trust has branched out its interest in the built environment and transport, including the creation of a dedicated Transport Advisory Group.  We have moved beyond a conservation-led interest in the historic environment to take on a more holistic approach where the natural, built and historic environments are read as interconnected and interdependent.  This means that we are more involved in addressing the current problems facing York, as well as the future planning for the city and less reactive to others’ proposals.

Repairs to ceilings at Fairfax House in 2020. Many of the house’s ornate ceilings are historic and by the Swiss-Italian stucco artist Giuseppe Cortese.

We pride ourselves on being a welcoming and open organisation. This includes seeking dialogue with those interested in bringing forth change in the city, even if, at times, we are ultimately opposed to these changes.  We seek such dialogue as early as possible, to give the best opportunity to understand one another’s position, but also enough breathing space to influence any changes to a scheme. 

Our role within the city allows us to take a prominent focus on the draft Local Plan, which is undergoing Government Inspection.  Having volunteers to call upon with professional insight has been invaluable in this task, but there is ever more opportunity to widen and deepen such expertise.

Due to its reputation and nominated local consultee status, the Trust is active in several Strategy Boards and Groups.  Two of the most important of these, currently, are the York Central Strategy Board and the York Castle Gateway Advisory Group, and we are leading members of both.  We have also offered substantive advice to York BID in their recent £600k roll out of new wayfinding for the city.

Planning casework is a core activity of the Trust – to be vigilant and act against unsympathetic and unsustainable proposals for York, yet supporting those that positively contribute to the look, feel and life in the city.   The Trust is fortunate to be able to work with so many insightful volunteers in its casework duties.  It draws upon professional expertise through its Planning Review Panel and Environment Committee.

York Civic Trust’s Strategy Away Day, 2021, focusing on environmental matters in York.

The Environment Committee is one of the Trust’s four standing committees – one of the ‘four Es’; the others being Engagement, Education and Enterprise. The Environment Committee’s function is to give strategic direction to the Trust in relation to all aspects of York’s environments – be these the built, natural, or historic environments; to oversee the formulation of York Civic Trust’s position on strategic planning issues and individual responses to urban developments within the City of York.  Specific areas of oversight include: Planning, Transport, Place-making, Built and Natural Environment, and Heritage Projects.

The Planning Review Panel – or ‘PReP’ – comes under the umbrella focus of the Environment Committee.  It meets every 6 weeks, usually on a Thursday, via Zoom.

PReP discusses a small number of important, undetermined planning applications in the city – usually 1-4 cases per session. 

The expectation is that PReP members will have looked in detail at the identified applications in advance of the meeting.  A stance from the Trust will be determined for the application at the PReP meeting, as well as the leading issues, concerns, and opportunities.  This informs a comment that is then later drafted and sent to City of Yor Council by the Trust’s Civic Society Manager or Planning Caseworker. 

For major cases – for example, Hungate, York Central or Northern House – the Civic Trust’s Trustees and members of the Environment Committee are invited to join the PReP session, possibly with a presentation by the developer or their agent.   PReP’s function is not solely internal facing to the Trust.  It also formulates advice on behalf of York Civic Trust for developers and other stakeholders on large or complex building and public realm developments in York.  In doing so it abides with the context of York Civic Trust’s position on strategic issues.

Heritage Planning Studio

The Trust works with postgraduates through our flagship Heritage Planning Studio (aka “Planning Club”), a partnership programme with the University of York’s Department of Archaeology.  

With professional input from a few of our PReP members in attendance, we train the students in the role of a Local Authority Conservation Officer.  They act as ‘the frontline’ of our planning casework.  They critically appraise “live” planning applications in York on behalf of the Trust – usually 150-200 applications per year.

Planning Club “in session” at The King’s Manor.

This year’s Planning Club has been a record for engagement, with 68 students involved, a substantial contribution to the casework capacity of the Trust – the equivalent of four full-time members of staff; an envy of many a Local Authority’s conservation team. 

Due to the Civic Trust’s wider role with the York Design Awards, Planning Club students are involved with the assessment of submissions and also work closely with local schools to explore what constitutes good design in York.

This year has also been special for welcoming an inaugural Planning Caseworker Intern with the Trust.  This paid role is part of the legacy of Michael Bearpark, who championed the protection of the city’s historic buildings and spaces.  Etta Kirkpatrick-Tice, herself a former “Planning Clubber”, was the first such intern, and gained crucial experience to step into a full-time professional position as Conservation Officer with Richmond and Wandsworth Councils in London.

Planning Club students announcing the winner of the Young People’s Award at the York Design Awards 2022, held at the Tempest Anderson Hall, Yorkshire Museum.
Planning club and Archbishop Holgate School Y10 pupils, discussing York Design Awards entrants in 2022