CONTROVERSIAL entrance charges at one of the country's most prominent places of worship provided an income of £1.5m over the past year - but visitor numbers appear to have been affected.

The figure is £300,000 up on the year before when an admission charge to York Minster was not mandatory and visitors were only asked to make a voluntary contribution.

A total of 475,000 visitors paid the charge, which was set 12 months ago at £4.50 for adults and £3 concessions, but the under-16s, local people and those using the Minster for worship are not charged.

And because in the past, people could wander in and out for free and were not precisely counted, Minster officials said the charge's impact on visitor numbers could not be accurately assessed.

But in the year 2000 - before the combined effects of the terrorist attacks in the US and the foot-and-mouth outbreak had their disastrous effect on tourism figures - visitor numbers were much higher.

A report from the English Tourism Council put the Minster as the seventh most visited free attraction in the country that year, with 1.75m people going through the doors.

The charge was introduced as the Dean and Chapter faced a deficit of £600,000.

The Dean, the Very Reverend Keith Jones, said yesterday that all the signs were that introducing the charge had been worth it.

"Any sizeable increase in revenue these days is very valuable to us and we put it to very good use. Who can tell what we would have received if we had not been charging?"

He added: "All of us here wish we did not have an entry charge, but as the Minster is a free-standing organisation with no Government support, it is required to pay its way."

He said preserving and running the Minster was hugely expensive, but it was hoped to cut the deficit even further this year and the income from visitors formed a major part of that.

The money raised has gone towards maintaining the building, educational work and choral music.