Bulldozergate : Dundas Gardens Play Park Massacre

Whitby Aerial View

While it has been known for some time that Whitby has a deficient quantity (and quality) of green space, the number of play parks for younger children has not been a massive concern. The area on Stakesby Vale behind Dundas Garden has had a childrens play area for some time. The land is owned by Scarborough Borough Council (which is now North Yorkshire Council), however it is currently leased on a 21 year lease (from 2005) to 4 residents (based on current Land Registry). The same residents group in that area has been known to have funded an amount of the play area, and apparently had some funds remaining to cater for limited maintenance; it is understood that an amount of this play park management was arranged through the housing association, Home Housing.

July 18th 2023 – this all changed. Bulldozers were seen next to the children’s play area behind Dundas Gardens! By the end of the day the play park was no more.

Who was consulted about this you may ask? No contact had been made with any community group, not even with the Dundas Gardens residents group, nor the housing association (Home Housing). Whitby Town Council had seemingly not been contacted about it either. Is this an example of the level of consultation on development matters that local communities will have under this unitary authority? More ride roughshod over residents concerns? The contractors, when questioned, said that North Yorkshire Council (NYC) Parks Department had authorised it. This came as some surprise since no planning application for demolition of the play area is available. How was the decision made? By whom? How can planning be ignored for such a decision?

The local NYC Councillor (Cllr Trumper) initially stated that he understood the play park to have been “fenced off for some time” (this is demonstrably untrue and has never been fenced off to the understanding of anybody local), and that the park “has been attracting anti-social behaviour. I believe the decision was made some time ago to remove the play park and replace it with a new landscaping and seating scheme” (not one person is aware of any anti-social behaviour in the vicinity of the play park, never mind aware of “the decision” that has had zero consultation). Removing such a much used facility will only increase any potential “anti-social behaviour”, and besides a council should use a Public Space Protection Order in the case of anti-social behaviour, not a bulldozer!

July 20th 2023 – Cllr Trumper visited the site to meet with available residents, and said that he had been told “the residents group have given up the lease” (again, untrue as confirmed by a local Dundas Gardens resident). Seemingly NYC hadn’t bothered informing the councillor for the ward where the work was happening. All in all, it was a catalogue of excuses from NYC, if one doesn’t stick then use another, to attempt to justify their lack of communication and criminal damage. We, nevertheless, thank Cllr Trumper for talking to residents and taking on the problem that is effectively of his employers making and that he is tasked with sorting out.Cllr Trumper took details to arrange a meeting with all interested parties from the vicinity to provide a replacement play park “that will be better than before“. The meeting is awaited. This should be a lesson to NYC about how never to behave to its residents. Whitby Town Council really ought to be heavily involved in driving this forward from this point, and with some urgency. Cllr Trumper has now arranged a meeting for Monday 21st August at 4pm in Pannett Art Gallery.

From an article Piloting North Yorkshire’s community partnerships we have the quote “While North Yorkshire Council is England’s largest authority geographically, one of the foundations on which we have built its creation from the very beginning was that it would also be the most local. We have always said that the council will be centred on ensuring local communities are at the forefront of all that we do” (seemingly from Cllr Carl Les). It doesn’t seem so in this case.

We are told that councils want people to be more active. Is this really the way to go about it?

The immediate list of questions for NYC out of this episode are

  • How can such a demolition happen without planning consent?
  • Whilst the land where this play park was located is NYC-owned, is it not still under lease to the residents group?
  • Who in NYC Parks approved this? and were they acting beyond their remit, i.e illegally?
  • Will NYC be changing their processes to prevent it ever happening again?
  • Will NYC be reinstating this playground asap?
  • How can children get active when they bulldoze facilities without consent?
  • How can people get more active when the amount of green space in the Whitby parish is below the minimum level?
  • How can people get active when playing fields are either built on by council-led house building schemes, or schools place prison fencing around playing fields?
  • What is the NYC plan for improving the Whitby green space?

Until we have answers to all of these questions, this story will not be closed.

Not having confidence in councillors providing straight answers to straight questions (we’ve already been given 3 answers to the question of why it happened and all turned out to be false), the following FOI has been submitted.

Please provide details of the decision process that led to appointment of contractors to demolish the childrens play area at the rear of Dundas Gardens, Whitby. How was the decision instigated? Who instigated this action? Who signed off the action? Where was the planning permission for this action? Where is the plan for development of that land subsequent to this demolition?

Will we get a response to this from NYC before Cllr Trumper provides answers and some sort of satisfactory resolution (i.e reinstatement of the play park)?

Update : this story continues on this news post with details of the FOI response.

Play Park Assessment - Post Destruction

The current (live) play park assessment for the Whitby parish is shown on the below diagram, with the Dundas Gardens play park marked but inactive. Each play area has a surrounding area appropriate to the type of play area (Local Equipped = 350m reach, Neighbourhood Equipped = 700m reach, Settlement Equipped = 1000m reach).

As we can see, the removal of the Dundas Gardens Play Area has left a significant hole in the coverage. Children in that area likely will not be able to walk unsupervised to the next nearest play area, and so will be left without anything to do. Whilst the Pannett Park Play Area is Settlement Equipped, there remains the problem of young children getting to this facility, and hence the imposition on parents – the whole point of Local Equipped facilities is to provide something close enough that children can be trusted to get there with little supervision. This absence around the Stakesby Vale area has to be remedied with some urgency by NYC. Such an utter lack of communication is frankly shocking, and undermines any amount of verbage coming out of the council about how they want to operate.

It has to be said that access to free-to-access playing fields is also a significant problem around the Mayfield Road area.

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