York Racecourse is pleased that its application for planning permission to improve the racegoer’s experience of the infield area of the track has been approved by City of York Council.
Formally known as The Course Enclosure, often referred to as the family or picnic enclosure, it is a largely open air space already enjoyed by over 60,000 visitors each season.
Approval has been granted to a scheme that seeks to improve access, enhance and increase the number of toilets and better showcase the iconic Listed Clocktower building, which is the centrepiece of this area.
Proud to have been part of the sporting, social and economic life of York since 1731, the racecourse has seen many popular developments, most recently of the County Stand facilities to its Northern End. The cycle of improvement means it is now the turn of this informal area to once again benefit from an investment; in this case, some £4 million has been earmarked for the project.
The proposed creation of pedestrian walkways from the entry level of the area up to the top of the banking means that racegoers with pushchairs or wheelchairs will find it easier to take advantage of the elevated viewing of the final furlong. A planned new lift will also ease access between the levels.
One of the challenges with the existing facilities is that they are victims of the damp as they are set into the rear (western) side of the grass bank and are also exposed to the consequences of flooding. Each year the racecourse team battle to make them presentable with a cleaning and repainting schedule. Two new toilet blocks can now be built at the northern and southern ends of the bank acting as “bookends”. Constructed to a twenty-first century standard and slightly elevated, they should remain dry, offering a lighter and brighter environment. Of course, disabled toilets will be present in all refurbished areas. When coupled with a wholesale refit of another toilet block on this side of the course, the total number of female toilets will be approximately doubled.
The Clocktower building was originally designed to house the workings of the clock itself; with its exterior being used as a numbers board, where hand painted signs would provide an update on runners, riders and results. The modern era has seen both uses overtaken by the provision of two giant outdoor screens that can provide the latest updates at the touch of a button. However it remains a landmark structure, worthy of its Listed status, so it will benefit from refurbishment and improved access as part of the proposed scheme. The team at Historic England gave their support to the application.
When the Clocktower was first opened in the late 1920s, the stonework of the wall that sits below it, on the western face, would have been far more visible than it is today; as the addition of a steel canopy in the 1950s shrouded this view. The planning application proposes to remove this steel canopy and so the undercroft area, revealing the original stonework to its full effect.
A sunny afternoon picnic is how this area is often enjoyed but the scheme includes provision for the service of food and drinks from a series of kiosks set at the top of the bank. Along with the betting facilities, these will be covered by lightweight canopies similar to the ones already in use on the stands side. These same canopies will afford some wet weather protection but it is not the intention to create the scale of structure that would be required to shelter a large crowd.
The now approved plan was developed in consultation with the appropriate bodies such as Historic England and the Environment Agency, the local conservation and heritage groups, as well as with the relevant departments at the City of York Council. The Committee agreed that it is designed to address both practical concerns around issues such as flood protection as well as having a positive impact on preserving the heritage of this region of the city.
The project schedule would see the new facilities opened during the 2018 summer race season. It will be overseen by York based conservation architects, Purcell.
Speaking about the application, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Course, William Derby said, “the Course Enclosure has always been an important part of racing at York and on a sunny day it provides an unrivalled view of the final furlong with the stunning backdrop of the grandstands. It is an area of the racecourse which generations of families and racegoers enjoy. This scheme seeks to address the challenges of the facilities which are located on the infield. It will improve both the physical buildings and standard of facilities for our Course Enclosure racegoers.”