Airspeed (Reynard’s garage) update, 2014

“It is better to recycle what exists … and to think small. In the life of cities, only conservation is sanity.”  
–  Robert Hughes

1920s building

Back in 2004, when not quite so derelict-looking

Yes, we’re back on Piccadilly again, by the old Airspeed factory (Reynard’s garage). Soon to be flattened for a nice new hotel, it seems.

I had planned to encourage everyone who is interested to email in support of the Yorkshire Air Museum’s bid to preserve the building. But it seems that would be pointless, recent Press reports and other sources suggest. If you do want to, perhaps emails should be sent to Cllr Dafydd Williams, as apparently the decision is to be delegated to him, at a meeting on 7 Jan.

Concerns have been expressed by Peter Addyman and Alison Sinclair, and by many other York residents in letters to the Press, in comments on social media. Many people are now aware of the building’s significance and interesting history.

Because people like Peter Addyman and Alison Sinclair support the retention of the building, and because they know what they’re talking about, and because this building is on the (draft) Local List, and because the Yorkshire Air Museum submitted a bid, which included housing, which we’re apparently desperate for, it was all looking good for a time.

But no. Apparently we don’t need housing, we need another hotel. Apparently the site is sold already, or not. Or as good as. It’s just brownfield. The building is just derelict, just a ‘tram shed’. The leader of the council made his views known months ago, on Twitter, with an exasperated comment about this old ‘tram shed’, not part of ‘York’s true heritage’. In his ‘Northern Tiger’ speech he said that the site had already been sold. Then later that it hadn’t. It has all been quite difficult to follow.

The papers for the relevant meeting on 7 Jan are now online, but the available information has been sparse, and there seems to be nothing publicly available about the criteria being used to make the decision. The council leader’s comment at the recent council meeting suggested that the main issue was how much money the council could get for the site. Which makes sense, except that this isn’t any old brownfield site.

This site/heritage asset belongs to the people of York, presumably, if it belongs to ‘the council’. The current administration – they’re just temporary custodians of our heritage.

We keep reading about ‘transparency’ and how the council want to encourage ‘public engagement’. Yet this whole saga has been as clear as mud. Not ‘transparent’, but certainly engaging, in an ‘I’m furious’ kind of way, for many of us, judging by emails I’ve received on the subject.

I’ve just been reading the 2004 YAYAS annual report, one of a pile of pamphlets and booklets bought at the Barbican Bookshop closing down sale. In it Bill Fawcett reports concerns over the lack of assessment of the remaining buildings (railway and foundry related) on the York Central site.  He notes that ‘the council’s thinking appears to be at least thirty years behind the times.’

Still is, it seems, where industrial heritage is concerned.

Even in this case, even though a creative plan has been put forward to remodel part of the building as a visitor attraction and provide housing too.

But hey, who cares. We’ve got all that proper really old history haven’t we. And our 20th century history isn’t important, unless it’s about chocolate. Nothing else of significance originated in York in the 20th century, apparently. So goodbye Airspeed building, I’m glad I saw you when I did and understood what your big ugly bulk was about. Sorry more people didn’t. You should have been more cute looking, less functional. We only care about the pretty stuff here. Women in chocolate factories singing? Lovely. Men in factories, engineering, aircraft, for example? Not important.

“We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”

– New York Times editorial, October 30, 1963

About Lisa @YorkStories

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  1. Well said Lisa,hurt me where I live,as one of those “Men” in factories,who made/bought”machines that make machines”,in Instrument making/Chocolates/
    Shock Absorbers/Flying instruments and Diesel Eng’s.
    I think our counterparts now live Far East,and we are now just a tired and sleazy,hotel ridden museum!

  2. A great read, as ever. This is such a glaring opportunity missed – a decision based entirely on money rather than reflecting public opinion or civic identity. In other words, a complete sell-out.

    The idea that a building with such an interesting past is ‘not part of York’s true heritage’ (whatever that means) is not only completely wrong, it is an insult to the great manufacturing and engineering this city once boasted.

    If we bulldoze it, we lose that link forever – there is no way to get it back. And in its place we end up with a new-build chain hotel that is devoid of soul, meaningfulness, cultural value and helps put the independents and B&Bs out of business. Will that be ‘part of York’s true heritage’?

  3. Regarding the criteria on which the decision is to be based, seems even councillors haven’t been able to get the details on this.

  4. This is such a short sighted decision by the council. If they really want to protect and develop the city’s history then the 20th century is just as important as everything before it. OK, Stonebow was a big mistake but a building that housed an aviation pioneer would be an important and successful attraction to York citizens and visitors alike. Another hotel is not needed.

  5. Colin Durrans

    Looking at the council papers today it appears that they’re now working on a short list of four… all hotels.

  6. Thanks for your comments. From this and discussion on Twitter it’s clear that there’s a lot of interest in the future of this building, and that many people would like to know more about how the decision is to be made, and how the shortlist (all hotels) has been drawn up.

    The agenda for the meeting I linked to above is massive. On Twitter @GSwinburn highlighted the relevant part, it’s on this link, with summary, background. Info on the Piccadilly site in particular starts at point 14.

  7. Rob McNaught

    I agree very much with all of the above, and am very sad that I have not looked more widely to see if anyone else was interested in the site before now. The lack of interest in ‘recent’ heritage is not confined to York, and unfortunately we can expect to see similar decisions made in relation to many more ‘derelict’ sites in years to come.

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