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Prescott calls in Chapman Taylor's York project

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Deputy prime minister John Prescott has called in Chapman Taylor's controversial Coppergate Two development in York for a public inquiry, writes Hugh Martin.

Prescott's review of the plans will examine the project's potential conflict with 'national policies on important matters' and whether it has justifiably given rise to substantial regional controversy.

Ministerial intervention in the beleaguered Land Securities' development is the latest in a history of setbacks. Chapman Taylor replaced Terry Farrell as the architect on the project in 1999.

Coppergate Two's plans were last amended in November to address worries about its proximity to the historic Clifford's Tower. The proposed development is a mixed-use site including a department store, speciality shops and offices.

Prescott's action is being seen as a win for local action group York City Trust. Chairman of the trust John Shannon said the independent review of the project was vital. 'It means that a proper examination is made of the scheme and its effects on the rest of the community, ' Shannon said. He fears that the development would draw focus away from the centre of the city. 'It is important that the core of the city is kept viable.'

Land Securities director Richard Akers said in a statement that the call-in was 'disappointing' for the group, which had conducted an 'extensive consultation process to maintain the historical integrity of the site.

'We have always been aware of the extreme sensitivity of the site, as detailed in the refusal of our first planning application submitted in 1998, ' Akers stated. 'Every reason given for refusal of that application was addressed when we appointed new architects and brought forward this totally new scheme.'

Akers wrote that the delay was despite the planning application being largely supported by the local council. York City Council declined to comment on the development.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment claimed there was little 'evidence of convincing architecture' at Coppergate Two in a review of the plans last March (AJ 20.7.00).

But Akers added that the developers followed the brief for the area, which was drawn up after discussion with all interested parties. He said the group had also performed a thorough and detailed public consultation exercise; won the crucial support of English Heritage and received an 'overwhelming' 13-2 vote in favour of the scheme from York council's planning committee. 'Without the provision of the right sort of unit for retailers, York's position within the retail hierachy will continue to be eroded by satellite schemes.'

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