Tower Gardens: Draft Open Brief

11th August 2020

Through My Castle Gateway we’ve been talking about Tower Gardens since 2017. Yet Tower Gardens is the area where the least active masterplanning work has been done so far. This was in large part due to the controversy created by the idea in the draft masterplan of putting a boat-shaped building close to where the Arts Barge is due to be (don’t worry, that idea has long passed into the Castle Gateway ‘archive’ file) but also the unresolved issues of flooding, of flood recovery and, especially, of trees.

We are returning to Tower Gardens now as there is the possibility of using a specific pot of money for a limited scope of work (Section 106 money from development nearby in the city). The challenge is the work needs to have been committed by October. The strategy the masterplanners are adopting is to draw up proposals for the gardens as a whole, within which some elements can be carried out to this tighter timescale and budget.

Here we draw out information from the previous three years’ work to create a working draft brief for Tower Gardens. Specifically, we identify the areas where there seems to be an emerging consensus, and other areas where there are still pretty large question marks and where further conversations and maybe some experimentation are necessary.

What people want to be able to do there – areas of consensus:

What people want to be able to do there – outstanding questions:

Design Challenges – for the areas of consensus:

  • Flood recovery: ensure that falls enable water to drain off Tower Gardens without pooling. Ensure silt can be hosed off without damaging surfacing or planting. See conversation with Dave Meigh.
  • Closer connection to the river: Make it possible for people to sit and walk closer to the Ouse.
  • More seating: enable more people to sit and spend time in Tower Gardens
  • Entrance from Tower Street: make the entrance to Tower Gardens more open and easy to navigate, avoiding conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. Also consider the route from the bus stops.
  • Minimise the impact of roads: Create a strong connection to Clifford’s Tower and the Eye of York, minimising the impact of Tower Street.
  • Minimise the impact from traffic: Shelter the Gardens from traffic noise; how can planting do this?
  • Planting: Create an environment which is less “geese friendly”
  • Clear navigation routes: combine playfulness with accessibility for people who are blind and partially sighted.
  • Clear cycle route across Tower Gardens

So, where does this get us with design proposals?

There seems to be broad agreement that the area close to the river – which currently contains pedestrian and cycle routes, plus a lot of silt and the riverside – can be looked at by the design team with the aim of addressing the challenges above around riverside access and flood resilience and recovery:-

  • probably more hard surfacing
  • more space for seating and tables
  • more careful handling of levels to ensure water run-off and reduce problems with silt deposits

There is also broad agreement on the need to rationalise the area around the connection with Tower Street to improve movement and legibility for all sorts of users. There are also links between this area and the riverside which should form part of this design process to ensure it all works in a connected way. Again, this will be looked at by the design team:-

  • re-modelling the railings and openings for better movement consideration of features such as the flood level marker and providing space to linger
  • thinking about views of the river and the connection with Clifford’s Tower and Eye of York – all the while considering the role of the gardens and its boundaries in flood protection.

Where there remains greater uncertainty is the central part of the gardens – the shaded lawns and the plinth and seating where the paths meet. The aim here is to take longer and to explore options in ways which make it easier to see what works and is popular, but without making any permanent changes until there is greater certainty and has been lots more public engagement. This might include:-

  • Using temporary surfacing to explore the impact of different activities/uses
  • Trying different locations and arrangements of seating
  • Holding pop-up events to see what works well there
  • Continuing public discussion about the trees and increasing understanding about their history, their role and their health.

How to be part of this design process

There are many ways to engage with this conversation. The deadline for comments on the draft brief is: 31st August 2020. You can…

  • Simply reply to this blog with your thoughts/ideas, or with questions
  • Use the feedback form
  • Tweet us @mycastlgateway or post on Facebook

2 thoughts on “Tower Gardens: Draft Open Brief”

  1. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute thoughts and ideas. As we will be operating the Arts Barge, this area is really important to us.
    With regard to the riverbank, we are of the opinion that the riverside area could be remodelled inspired by it’s original design, which had a similar look to the South Bank in London. The space is a clear wide hard-standing which is flat (probably with a slight run-off towards the river), with lamp posts on the riverside at intervals, with a string of lighting between them. We feel this would be really attractive and stylish, support the ‘consensus’ activities and honour the heritage of the area at the same time as bringing a fresh open feel to the gardens. It would also provide a perfect context for the Barge with clear access and visibility.

    We have thought about the possibility that the barge could potentially be used as an occasional open air stage with viewing from the bank. This could be part of a potential change to our business model in the event that COVID restrictions affect operations. To have this as a potential use of space, design would need to incorporate access around the back of the temporary ‘audience space’.

    Regarding the central space in the gardens from a business point of view, we want to continue to offer our pop up Riverside Festival, which takes place in one of the grassed quarters. The ‘quartering’ of the garden was useful for this in terms of a natural boundary to contain the activity. However it would be interesting to consider what other layouts could offer. A more connected space might facilitate new aspects of the festival to develop, such as an arts and crafts market place for example. We would be keen that anything like this was in keeping with the Arts Barge aesthetic and community ethos and would be keen to prevent the area feeling like a ‘commercial’ space.

    In the long term we would like the Arts Barge to inspire a wider barge festival that attracts other barge businesses into York for a two week period annually. The Tower Gardens could be a focal point as part of this festival.

    Creative and distinctive play structures and play-on sculptures would be a good addition. I wonder if it’s possible to have boats to play in that float on the surface when the area is flooded?

    The gardens would need a water supply installing. This is always an issue when we do events there.

    Many thanks for listening!

    • Thanks so much Hannah – all noted, we’ll be back in touch after 31st August when all other intial comments will have been gathered.


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