Local Government needs to be Close to the People it represents - June 2007

What a contrast there is between Yorkshire’s two great seaside resorts, Bridlington and Scarborough. Both have a great history (the first action of the fledgeling USA navy was fought off Flamborough Head, and Scarborough is famous for its siege by Oliver Cromwell) and both have seen better times. Both retain something of their Edwardian splendour, and both have been given the chance for a new beginning. One has grasped its opportunity, and the other has just thrown it away.

Bridlington is possibly the British seaside resort that has the greatest potential to cash in on climate change. Bridlington bay is sheltered on four sides: by the cliffs, by Flamborough Head and by a mile long underwater bank known as the Smithwick Sands, which breaks the power of the sea and weakens the tidal current. So Bridlington Bay does not only have miles of golden sand, but it is also very safe for water sports of all kinds.

For years there had been talk of building a marina. This would bring into the town several thousand people with money to spend. It would brighten up the town and arrest its seedy decay. Bridlington could easily become a great centre for water sports, rivalling any on the South Coast.  

Two years ago Bridlington had its best chance ever. The EU set aside more than £40M to build a marina big enough to take 500 yachts there. The East Yorkshire Council applied for planning permission. The local people tragically objected. The planning permission was called in and there was a long and expensive public enquiry before a government inspector, who turned it down. So why did the locals object?

The Council was not only determined to build the marina, but they had also decided to take over the harbour as part of the project. The harbour commissioners objected for that and many other reasons. They had a lot of influence within an ancient institution called the Lords Feofee, which has a powerful voice in their appointment. The Lords Feofee are a semi-democratic corporate body, whose members are elected for life by the townspeople. They are closer to the townspeople than East Yorkshire Council. So the local opposition to the marina got a lot of support.

By contrast, Scarborough has a smaller beach and is not half as well sheltered from the sea as Bridlington, but when Scarborough put in their bid for a very much smaller sum of EU money to build a very much smaller deep water marina and brighten up the harbour and South Bay, the local people supported the bid. The issue was then not one of whether or not to build the marina, but how fast they could get on with the job! As a result Scarborough is looking good. The town has become a better  place for yachtsmen to call in at. It’s attracting water sports competitions, and, as a holiday destination, its star is certainly rising again.

So is there a lesson here? On the one hand, there was the over-mighty unitary East Yorkshire Council, which had the very best of intentions, but dealt with the issue in a less than sensitive way and were seen to be far too remote from the town. On the other hand, Scarborough Council, in spite of all its faults, was seen as part of the local community, and was able to get their scheme through.

So what is Scarborough faced with now? Like Ryedale, Scarborough faces North Yorkshire’s takeover bid. If County succeeds, the town will lose most of its ability to take independent action. At least Bridlington is run from Beverley, which is not too far: Scarborough will be run from Northallerton, a smaller town, nearly two hours drive away. If the people of Bridlington perceive a unitary authority run from Beverley as remote, how will the people of Scarborough – and Ryedale – feel about a unitary county run from Northallerton?

How could that ever be described as an improved way of running local democracy?

Privacy Policy