Chester Cathedral aims to bring the Dean’s Field back into public use with the positive spin-off of deterring anti-social behaviour.
Part of the cathedral masterplan is to encourage free public access to one of the few green spaces in the city centre.
In a bid to achieve these ambitions, the cathedral has applied for permission to install a timber staircase off the city walls leading down to the field by 12 Abbey Square.
A supporting document states: “The Dean’s Field has, until recently, been closed off from the general public. This resulted in the space being misused, leading to cases of anti-social behaviour. As part of Chester Cathedral’s vision for this area, the Dean’s Field is to be accessed from the walls to encourage free public access.
Stairs would be locked at night
“To prevent any potential problems with the security of the site in the evenings, a member of the cathedral staff will lock the stairs at the end of each day.”
The applicants acknowledge that when informal advice was sought from Kirsty Henderson, conservation officer at Cheshire West and Chester Council, concerns were raised about the principle of new access points for businesses off the city wall.
And they admit the proposed stair would allow easier access to visitors for the Cathedral Falconry Centre, but insist that ‘fundamentally’ it is for the benefit of visitors and residents alike.
Planning and listed building consent is sought for an oak and metal mesh staircase that would also require Scheduled Ancient Monument consent from Historic England.
That’s because this section of the walls is a scheduled monument and grade I listed. The proposal also sits on the Abbey Green Roman site, which is also a scheduled monument due to its archaeological significance.
Due to the significance of the walls, the design of the stairs is free-standing, with no means of support from the walls. And because of the importance of the Roman remains, the design minimises the requirement to excavate for foundations. However, this means it is not possible to create lift or ramp access.
The applicants say the proposal is in line with Chester Civic Trust’s long-standing view that is against new stairs outside the walls but not against new stairs inside the walls.