On July 18th 2023, NYC contractors bulldozed a play park at Dundas Gardens in Whitby. No notification was provided to residents or town council of this impending action. In the resultant furore we issued a FOI to get basic information out of North Yorkshire Council (NYC).
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?
On August 4th 2023 the FOI came back as follows
1. Reasons for the decision and the decision making process:
The site was inspected by several officers from the Parks and Countryside Department with responsibility for the maintenance of the play area and it was clear that significant capital investment would be required to restore the play area and the failing retaining structures.
In view of the Lease surrender and the lack of any available funding it was decided to recommend the removal of the play area for the reasons given above, especially due to the safety concerns.
The matter was discussed with the Environment, Enforcement and Contracts Manager who emailed the local ward members, Cllrs John Nock and Glenn Goodberry, on 2 February 2023 advising that we proposed to remove the play equipment and reinstate the site to grass and plant some trees.
The officer from Estates dealing with the Lease surrender and the Head of Assets and Risk of the former SBC also expressed the view that in the circumstances the play area could be removed. In terms of signing off the decision to remove the equipment, this was actioned by Harry Briggs, Environment, Enforcement and Contracts Manager
Several prices were obtained from local landscape contractors for the removal of the play area and retaining structures and reinstatement of the ground to grass and the required funds were obtained. In view of the safety concerns the decision was taken to proceed with the work.
The removal of a play area would not normally require planning consent and this has been confirmed in this instance.
3. The Future of the Site:
The appointed contractors will be reinstating the site with topsoil and grass seed following the clearance of existing structures. We have suggested planting some trees on the grass bank but beyond that there are no plans.
The possibility is open for the development of a new play area on the site in future if a group of local residents come forward to explore this and if the required funding can be obtained. If residents have any other suggestions we will be happy to discuss these with them.
We have several questions out of that.
- When was this “Lease Surrender” and who surrendered it? Knowledge of it was seemingly not passed on to the current residents on Dundas Gardens. See below for further details.
- If the lease was indeed surrendered by the original residents group then why did the people taking that decision not inform the current residents, and take appropriate action over the funds remaining?
- Why did Cllr John Nock and Cllr Glenn Goodberry of Scarborough Borough Council (but also on Whitby Town Council (WTC) still) apparently not do anything about this email that was sent to them in February? Did they not inform WTC? Did they not inform residents of the area, and take action to provide alternative play park facilities for those residents? What is the responsibility of a town councillor to its residents? See below for further details.
- Where is the future plan for this space? NYC have admitted they have no plan for this particular area. Why is WTC seemingly devoid of any ideas here? Cllr Trumper has now arranged a meeting for Monday 21st August at 4pm in Pannett Art Gallery.
What do residents think of this process, and the fact that both their town council and their county level council were incapable of informing them of the removal of a Play Park? Are the councils not supposed to be working for the residents?
We have pursued these questions as follows :-
Surrender of Lease
NYC have mentioned lease surrender. The residents group had no knowledge of this, and have been asked whether a member of that group surrendered the lease explicitly. To this end we submitted a FOI to find the truth behind this statement.
Regarding the area previously occupied by a Play Park at the rear of Dundas Gardens, Whitby, this was previously subject to lease from 2005 until 2026 to 4 individuals from the local residents group. Can you please
1. Provide information regarding the “surrender of lease” mentioned in a previous FOI 202302007 [REF/Qd/8q/DK/b3/], stating who (names) surrendered the lease, on what date, and whether this was in writing, or verbally?
2. Can you please define at what point NYC update Land Registry details, since they still say there is an active lease on that land?
On August 15th 2023 the FOI came back as follows
Re: FOI – Play park behind Dundas Gardens – 202302293 [REF/Qz/AP/zD/B4/]
I can confirm that the council holds the names of third parties, however it is exempt from disclosure by virtue of Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (amended by Schedule 19(58) of the Data Protection Act 2018).
An email was received which confirmed the trustees intended to surrender their interest in the land.
Legal services confirmed that it is not necessary to enter into an express surrender i.e. a Deed to surrender the lease. The surrender can occur by the actions of the parties (the tenant asking to hand the property back and the landlord accepting).
We normally charge a fee of £525 for the surrender of a lease. As the trustees had no funds to pay the rent we deemed it acceptable to surrender the lease by agreement rather than a formal deed.
Either the landlord or the tenant is able to de-register a lease at the land registry. Normally this is done via the solicitor of the tenant where they are represented. If they are not represented then the landlord can do it on their behalf.
As no surrender has been signed, we are able to provide the land registry with a statement of truth setting out the circumstances of the surrender, so that the lease can be removed from the
Land Registry. Which we will arrange to do in due course.
So some person unnamed “sent an email to effect surrender of this lease”. Clearly no notification was provided to residents (or the other members of the residents group), but at least we have further facts about the supposed process followed.
After a resident of Dundas Gardens talking to the 4 lease holders from the residents group, the first 3 had zero contact about this issue. The fourth lady emailed the council and informed them of this and made some suggestions as to what they could do next and no one ever got back to her. One of the suggestions was to terminate the contract, another was try and raise more funds. The council (SBC at the time) clearly terminated like they said in the FOI and took the land back, without consulting the landlord or replying back to the first email.
All in all an exercise in how you should never treat residents.
Councillor Nock (now on WTC) contacted us and kindly provided further details about his interactions about the Dundas Gardens situation. So this now answers question 3 above.
It was suggested to me that I read an article on your website about Dundas Gardens.
Either you have insufficient facts or you have chosen to ignore those that you do have. Certainly, you should have contacted both Cllr Goodberry and me for comment before you spread allegations that you cannot support and falsely accusing us of taking no action.
As SBC councillors we were contacted in February 2023 by Harry Briggs outlining the proposal by SBC to remove the play area and re-landscape the site. A visit to the site By Cllr Goodberry and I ensued and we had to agree with Mr Briggs that the play area appeared to be unused, was run down, neglected and that some of the equipment may possibly have been unsafe to use. We asked him to reconsider his decision, as our preferred option was to repair or replace equipment as necessary and to clean up the area to make it attractive as a play area. He replied that SBC considered their option was the one to pursue and that our request was therefore denied.
A few days later I went back to Dundas Gardens to speak to residents whose properties surrounded the play park. One did not even know of its existence; several said that their children had grown up and no longer needed it; a significant number said they never saw anyone using it; a few said their children, although within the relevant age group, did not use it, and most said that were not bothered if it were to be removed. I left my SBC card with all of them, asking them to speak with other residents and to advise me if they wanted us take further protest with SBC. One family said they would monitor its use over a three week period and advise me accordingly. After three weeks or so I telephoned them and was told that that they would make contact when they returned from holiday.
I was given to understand that when the estate was built, residents formed a group which would “look after” the play park but as their children grew up and some of the original residents moved away, their number dwindled and no one has taken care of it for several years. No one mentioned any funding availability or the granting of a lease.
I never heard from any of them again. Thus we concluded that the residents had no interest in the play park and did not contact SBC again. Throughout this process, I kept Cllr Goodberry informed and he agreed with me that the best course of action was that proposed by SBC, and that I would undertake any correspondence on the matter.
All the email correspondence was done on my SBC iPad. This was wiped clean on March 31st and I can no longer access any email history. However, we shall be obliged if you would publish paragraphs 3,4,5 and 6 on your website. Cllr Goodberry and I will consider that as a retraction of the accusation that we did nothing.
Stakesby Ward, Whitby Town Council
Well Cllr Nock, we did not accuse you (and Cllr Goodberry) of doing nothing. Please do read the question we posed. We asked whether you did nothing, and who did you contact. Important difference (the word “apparently“, from the verb “appear” aka “seems like“), because the information from residents that we have spoken to on that estate have never had notification from anybody (hence our question and the use of “apparently“). The answer is that we were not aware of events then, and neither were residents that we have spoken to (and were wanting to know who you actually contacted, so they will ask around to find out), but now we understand that passage of this process from your perspective, so thank you for your contact, and we published the whole of your email in the interest of openness, not just selected paragraphs. You didn’t mention if you raised this with WTC at all, and what their action was. The other obvious thing to say is, you visited in February, and in winter such facilities are used less due to … the weather, the same applies for all play parks around Whitby.
Meeting about a future Play Park
Cllr Trumper set up a meeting (not that he contacted WCN, despite requesting) to discuss the replacement play park, in Pannett Art Gallery on Monday Aug 21st. Representatives of NYC Parks department attended, along with 3 WTC councillors, Whitby Community Network, Cllr Trumper, and the order of 15-20 residents. Councillor Trumper stated that “we want to be clear, the communication throughout this process has been totally unsatisfactory, it is something that NYC need to learn from, and it is not the way to treat residents”. An admission which we can only concur with.
The meeting discussed whether a future play park would be managed by a residents CIC group, or WTC, or via NYC. It was felt that the residents likely would want to avoid full responsibility for it, due to the need for safety inspections etc. WTC were going to report back to one of their committees the following day to discuss. Funding was also mentioned, with NYC Parks having an amount of S106 funds for park improvements like this, and Cllr Trumper has money from his Localities budget to put in. In terms of timescales, the order of 3 months from ordering to install is typical.
A further meeting at the Play Park site is due on Wed 30th August at 1pm.