My Castle Gateway: Final Open Brief for Tower Gardens

A view from the river walk way alongside Tower Gardens

Updated: 3rd September 2020

My Castle Gateway: Final Open Brief for Tower Gardens

Updated: 3rd September 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 slight 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. We shared this for comments on 20th August, received comments and have revised the draft brief to create a final Open Brief, published on 3rd September 2020.

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. For this to be an attractive area and for there to be attractive lighting at night.
  • 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.

Next steps and how to be part of this design process

Now we have the draft brief the designers will work up ideas related to the areas of consensus and we’ll share the ideas in the next few weeks.

There are many ways to engage with this conversation. You can…

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


1 thought on “My Castle Gateway: Final Open Brief for Tower Gardens”

  1. Hi Helen/Phil

    Rather a late reply to all your work on Tower Gardens, but I needed to have a walk round before expressing my views!

    I like the idea of a hard surface area under the trees near the river. If you look there is an obvious clear semi circular ares under the trees which may be the place to start. It would make an good performance or seating area ,and I also agree the idea of strings of lights, or the barge as a backdrop (by the arts barge operators) is brilliant.

    One of the issues is the confusion of cycle and pedestrian routes across the area. It does not make for relaxation as a pedestrian (or probably as a cyclist as well). Perhaps the solution is to build a more formal cycle round in a semi circle round the “back” of the Gardens from New Walk (under Skeldergate Bridge) following the curve of the road and planting beds and then back to the River Ouse walkway to King’s Staith ( cannot remember the name of the road/walkway). This could then be separated from the remaining area by some planting to encourage more defined crossing areas for pedestrians.

    The diagonal crossing paths may then need some re-routing, but hopefully the central feature and the straight route through the Gardens up to the steps to memorial could remain ( even if the roundabout causes access problems to the memorial). The space between the performance/seating hard surface area and the cycle path and planting could be left as grass or perhaps have additional hard surface areas, and could be used on occasion for stalls, fairs and other events.

    Defined pedestrian routes should be provided between New Walk, the river walkway to Kings Staith and the crossing to Cliffords Tower. Perhaps the Crossing to New Walk route would curve round and pass just to the river side of the existing central feature. The route between Kings Staith and the crossing could use the existing path up the side of the garden ( but exclusively for pedestrians as cyclist would use part of the new semi circular cycle route).

    There would also then be space to sort out the main access from the crossing to Cliffords Tower. Hopefully in time the road crossing and entrance could be realigned or moved to provide a more defined straight connection and separation for cyclists and pedestrians.



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