In January 1966 Richard Crossman – the then Minister of Housing and Local Government – expressed concern at the destruction of many historic towns in the wake of rampant commercial development. He felt there was a failure to reflect the design, materials and scale of surroundings, which was destroying the beauty and character of many historic towns. He announced the idea of pilot projects where four historic towns would be examined to discovered how best to reconcile preservation and progress.
The York Civic Trust welcomed this initiative and invited Richard Crossman to choose York for one of these projects. In May 1966 it was announced that York had indeed been chosen, and that Lord Esher would undertake the ‘Study in Conservation’.
There was some reluctance by the City Council to participate in the project, but the York Civic Trust offered to share the Council’s proportion of the fee. That gesture resulted in the Council supporting the project.
The Study was published in February 1969 and created a vision which was to influence many future policies. Not all Esher’s proposals were accepted, but we have him to thank for encouraging more residential properties within the City Centre including new houses in the Aldwark area, and the rehabilitation of the Bishophill area. He also advocated the extension of the pedestrianisation of much of the central area of the City.
A legacy of having participated in this scheme continued over many future years. In the 1970s and 1980s the Government gave grants towards townscape/ conservation projects and, together with the Council, shared financial help which encouraged property owners to repair their historic buildings. Without York having accepted the invitation to participate this pilot study, the City as we know it today would not have retained much of its special historic character.