In North Yorkshire unitary Council Karl Battersby is the officer with responsibility for Harbours, with assistant director Paul Thompson.
We are trying to raise funds for the Whitby Harbour court costs (see below).
There is a crowd funding campaign running using CrowdJustice which will directly fund the solicitors / barrister costs of this legal case. Alternatively you can donate directly (via bank transfer) to Fight4Whitby.
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The Whitby harbour area is the central amphitheatre of the town. It is the primary area visited by the many tourists coming to the town, as well as being an integral part of the work in the town.
A local government Act in 1905, the Whitby Urban District Council Act, required that all revenue generated on harbour land should be retained “ring-fenced” for maintaining the harbour. When Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) took over from Whitby Urban District Council (WUDC) in 1974, the terms of this Act fell on them, and they maintained separate accounts for the Whitby Harbour area until between 2000 and 2005. Thereafter, harbour revenue was not ring-fenced, and was spent across the Borough. SBC have under-invested in the Whitby harbour area for years.
Some examples of underinvestment
- The Tourist Information Centre was closed in 2015. For a resort with over 3 million visitor days per year we consider it unacceptable to remove it from this prime location.
- The piers, extensions and quays have been in urgent need of repair for years. See below for reports into their status.
- Facilities for landing fish are lacking, meaning that trawlers land their catch elsewhere.
- Fishing parties have next to no facilities to use when returning.
- NYC is pocketing the order of £800k / annum in car parking fees.
- The east pier had to do without a connecting bridge to the extension for 20 years before it was finally replaced (cost £300k, with £120k coming from the Whitby Town Council because SBC refused to fund it).
Fight for Whitby
There is an on-going dispute regarding the revenue generated on harbour land in Whitby harbour. This is being fought by the Fight4Whitby campaign. In researching the background to the ring-fencing of harbour funds, it was discovered that income from Whitby harbour appeared to have been reserved for harbour use until some point between 2001 and 2005 when it stopped. During this period Scarborough Council had severe financial problems because of a £30M overspend on a coastal project in Scarborough. It was also identified that the actual surplus from the Whitby Harbour undertaking, including the car parks on harbour land, was in excess of £1.2M for the accounting year 2015/16 alone. Clearly, such an annual income would make a huge difference to the funding needed for the repairs to the piers over the next 20 years.
The 1905 Act, which requires all revenue obtained from harbour land to be ring-fenced for use on maintaining and developing the harbour, has seemingly not been upheld since around 2005. SBC, and now NYC, are questioning the extent of Whitby harbour (SBC have claimed that Marina car parks and Endeavour car park are not on harbour land, despite being on reclaimed land owned by WUDC). As a result of this case, financial accounts for SBC have not been signed off since 2015. Now that SBC no longer exists this falls upon the new North Yorkshire Council.
The case has finally reached the court (would it ever have if SBC continued to exist?). The court will have to determine
- How should the 1905 Act be properly applied in these circumstances?
- What is the extent of the harbour land? hence defining what revenue has been obtained on harbour land.
- Dependent on the first 2 questions, NYC should then have to move all funds from past years obtained from the defined harbour land into a ring-fenced harbour account, available for use in maintenance and development of the harbour.
This case is due to be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 4th-5th March 2024.
It should be noted that this has ended up in court due to SBC apparently “not knowing” the boundary of harbour land, and requesting that a judge resolve the dispute (despite seemingly accepting the more common interpretation of harbour land as including marina car parks and Endeavour car park up until around 2005). The defendant in court is a retired Whitby and district resident who had the temerity of questioning the councils “interpretation”. They have had to do this at their own expense (due to the external auditor, Mazars, not being willing to resolve it). SBC (and now NYC) can instead utilise tax payers money for their side (and having spent around £280k up until the end of 2022-2023 financial year). Where is the fairness in this situation?
This story has been covered by the Yorkshire Post on 17/02/2024.
The map below shows the standard interpretation of the harbour land boundary (orange outlined shaded area), from WUDC land ownership documents, as was respected by SBC until around 2005.
2002 – A report by High-Point Rendel estimating a residual life for the piers of 10 years.
2009 – A report, Whitby Coastal Strategy – Further Investigations at Whitby Harbour, by Royal Haskoning in 2009 revealed major deficiencies in the maintenance of the east and west piers and extensions. You can find this report HERE, and its appendices HERE.
The poor levels of maintenance of piers and extensions presents the severe risk that one of the extensions will fail, and likely block the entrance to the harbour. The below figure highlights the profound impact that the extensions (and piers) have on the water (and potential flooding) within the harbour area. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the potential consequences of one or both extensions failing.
As highlighted in an SBC report to Cabinet in 2011, the consequences of closing the port would include:
- Risk to life : some 15-20 vessels take unscheduled refuge in Whitby harbour each year in storm conditions. The RNLI station would be unable to leave harbour to respond to emergencies at sea.
- Risk to property : some 500 homes and businesses around the harbour would be at significantly increased risk of flooding from wave and tide action. These include two Grade 1 buildings; four Grade II* buildings; and over 200 Grade II listed buildings.
- Impact on tourism and the environment : As the Whitby Coastal Strategy 2 identified: “The loss of the harbour piers would adversely affect the geological SSSI and 2 conservation areas. There would be loss of tourism and amenity value which is irreplaceable due to the unique tourist appeal of key cultural assets and the iconic location of the Abbey and harbour setting.“
As a result of these reports, the major works on the main piers, costing around £8.5M, were supposed to be completed by 2018, with up to a further £20M of works to the pier extensions needing to be completed at the latest by 2031 (but brought forward if problems were detected).
By 2016, none of this work had been scheduled and the harbour was in a dreadful state of disrepair. Vessels were running aground because of insufficient dredging and the local trawler owners had stopped landing fish in Whitby. Yet a working harbour is central to the whole economy of the town, both as a port and marina operation and as its key tourism attraction. The first phase of work, to repair the piers, was finally completed in 2020. There is still no plan (nor funding) for the work on the extensions.
We have tried to document, using photo evidence, the many problem areas of harbour maintenance on a separate page. Well worth a glance to understand the scope of the underinvestment.
Specifically regarding the potential impact of flooding in the Whitby harbour area.
- 2002 – The report by High-Point Rendel says that there is a potential for West Pier and / or East Pier of Whitby Harbour to breach under storm conditions, possibly within the next 10 years or so.
- 2009 – Further investigations by Royal Haskoning confirmed the 2002 study. They stated “(A pier breach) … would lead to increased flooding along the River Esk, disruption or closure of the harbour, loss of access for vehicles to shelter and to service the numerous commercial operations along the river”, together with “A pier breach could have major secondary effects on the levels of risk experienced elsewhere within the study area, especially along West Cliff””. The conclusions, based on 2006 climate change predictions, were
- Emergency work needed to East Pier extension
- Urgently need £8.4m work to rectify condition (Env Agency £4.6m).
- Total need £18m-24m to improve performance for next 50 years.
- Repairs to extensions delayed for up to 20 years.
- 2019-2020 – Repairs to piers completed, £7.6m.
- 2020 – Completion of a £2.1m flood alleviation scheme consisting of a concrete wall along Church Street.
- 2023 – FOI to Env Agency, “what is the flood risk for Endeavour Wharf?” received a reply of “Zone 2”. After challenging this, the response was “Oops, sorry, Endeavour Wharf is Zone 3“.
- 2024 – Repairs to pier extensions are still not in any plan. Cost = £ ??millions. This work would need to be completed by 2031 (based on 2006 predictions). Estimated time to complete would be 2+ years. There is a need to use Endeavour Wharf for HGV access.
Overall in terms of flood risk assessment
- NYMNPA have done strategic flood risk for the River Esk (i.e river flood risk) down to Ruswarp Weir but not beyond.
- DEFRA have done a tidal flood risk assessment for NE Coast and Whitby Harbour.
- NYC Flood Risk Strategy 2022-2027 does not include tidal flood risks.
The Environment Agency and NYC urgently need to undertake a combined flood risk assessment (river + tidal) for Whitby. This should be done before the Town Deal “Maritime Hub” and “Swing Bridge Pedestrianisation” projects go ahead.
In terms of river basin assessments, there is one performed for the Humber district, and one for the Tees district, but nothing is carried out for the Esk.
Regarding the Environment Agency flood map for planning purposes, you can see representative flood risk maps below for Whitby and for Ruswarp areas
Future Areas for Development
Whitby Harbour and Piers offer an opportunity for generation of hydro power. A feasibility study took place around 2010 involving Royal Haskoning. You can find the final report here.
Whitby Harbour and Piers offer an opportunity for developing industry around the farming of kelp. A feasibility assessment took place around 2010 involving the Atkins group. You can find it here.
History of the Harbour
- St Hilda and the Synod of Whitby 664 AD, first put Whitby on the map. By the early 1300s, wine from Lombardy and goods from all over Northern Europe were imported to supply the wealthy Abbey. The natural harbour had been improved with quays, a bridge and a pier, to shelter the harbour from the full force of the North Sea. Interestingly, coal was shipped to the Abbey from Sunderland as early as 1392 – the first record of the trade that was to make Whitby’s fortune.
- Alum shale was found locally and from the early 1600s, larger sailing ships were built to meet the transport needs of the local alum works. Whitby’s ship-building and repair industry expanded rapidly, driven by demand from the alum trade and the shipping of coal from Newcastle to London. Such was the growth that by the early 1700s Whitby ships were sailing regularly to the Baltic to secure the raw materials for ship-building, sail and rope-making. At its peak in the 1790′s, Whitby vied with Newcastle to be the second largest producer of merchant ships, after London. The wealth of the town is reflected in its built heritage from this period.
- Whitby was a much needed port of refuge for ships sailing along the exposed Cleveland (=cliff land) coast. From 1702, improvements to the piers and harbour were financed by a ‘passing toll’ levied on every shipment of coal from the Tyne ports, past Whitby, to London and other ports.
- It used to be said that ’the only road to Whitby is the sea’. Crossing the wild uplands of the North York Moors was perilous until the first turnpike road was built in 1764. Thus, while many towns centre on a market square, Whitby’s focal point is its harbour. The estuary of the River Esk was the only natural harbour in the 100 miles (160 km) of exposed North Sea coast between the rivers Tees and Humber.
- The market for wooden vessels dried up and the passing toll was finally abolished in 1861. The loss of income led to the harbour falling into a state of total disrepair. The competing interests of the Lord of the Manor, the North Eastern Railway Company, and the Harbour Trustees defeated all attempts to reach agreement on proposed improvements.
- Whitby Urban District Council (WUDC) was formed in 1894. It purchased the harbour rights from the Lord of the Manor and took control of the harbour. Thus, after two centuries of governance by a Board of Harbour Trustees, Whitby became a municipal port in 1905. Funds for the essential and long-overdue harbour improvements could then be borrowed against the security of the local rateable income.
- Though not without controversy about the impact on the rates, major investment made over the next 60 years included deepening the channel to 2m; the construction of new quays; major repairs to the piers and the addition of the pier extensions; renewal of the swing bridge; rebuilding and extension of the Fish Quay; and the construction of Endeavour Wharf for cargo handling on reclaimed land in the Upper Harbour.
- The 1974 re-organisation of local government led to the former Whitby Urban and Rural District Council areas becoming part of SBC. Thus SBC became the Statutory Harbour Authority for the Port of Whitby.
- The town’s isolated position meant there was little to replace ship-building as the mainstay of the local economy – a role now filled by the tourist industry. The population has not increased since the 1800s so, apart from new housing on the outskirts to relieve overcrowding, the town retains its historic ambience. Climbing the steep cliffs to either side of the harbour, the tiered ranks of the ‘amphitheatre’ allow almost every dwelling in the town centre to enjoy a view of the harbour from some window, yard or alley-way.
North Yorkshire Council is the Statutory Harbour Authority for the Port and Harbour of Whitby. Its various powers and duties are set out in the local Acts applicable to Whitby Harbour
- The key local Act of Parliament governing Whitby Harbour is the Whitby Urban District Council Act 1905. Other relevant local Acts include the Whitby Port and Harbour Act 1827, the Whitby Port and Harbour Act 1879, the Whitby Port and Harbour Order 1881 and the Whitby Port and Harbour Order 1883.
- The 1964 Harbour Act removed the need to enact further local Acts of Parliament, by allowing changes to local legislation to be made by applying to the Minister for a Harbour Revision Order. There has not been a Harbour Revision Order for Whitby Harbour since the 1964 Act, so the provisions of the Whitby Urban District Council Act 1905 are still in force.
- The 1905 Act requires:
- That all revenue from the harbour undertaking must applied to the harbour undertaking.
- Payment of the working and establishment expenses and cost of maintenance of the harbour undertaking as the first priority.
- The Council (then WUDC, then SBC, now NYC) to make up the shortfall if the revenue of the harbour undertaking in any year is insufficient to cover the running and maintenance costs of the harbour, the payment of interest and / or dividends on any money borrowed and sinking fund payments (connected to money borrowed). Any surplus revenue is to be invested in a reserve fund (if the Council thinks fit) but, in any event, must be applied to the improvement of the harbour undertaking.
- Separate, audited accounts to be produced for the harbour every year on both capital and revenue accounts (i.e. Companies House-style accounts).
- Costs incurred jointly between the harbour and other council services to be fairly apportioned.
- The 1905 Act allows for the establishment of a Harbour Management Committee of 18 persons, of whom two- thirds at least must be members of the Council (i.e. may include up to one-third independent appointees). The 1905 Act legislated for many of the key recommendations subsequently made in the Municipal Ports Review 2006.
- The Municipal Ports Review 2006 states that “Local authorities may properly seek a dividend as sole shareholder from commercial revenues but income should have ‘assured accounts’, which are protected from outward virement, to ensure that the interests of the port and its 12 users are properly safeguarded.” However, the 1905 Act does not allow for the payment of any dividend or profit-share to the Council and therefore such dividend or profit share cannot be sought. The intention of the Act was to “make provision for the improvement and good government of the district.” By means of the Act, the Council took control not only of the Port and Harbour but other areas such as markets, slaughterhouses, recreation and pleasure grounds, public bathing, street vendors, pleasure boats, beach entertainers and advertisement hoardings. The ‘dividend’ that would accrue to the Council was the improvement in the local economy, which was crucially dependent on the harbour and tourism; that dependence remains.