Whitby is now under a 2-tier system of councils, since 1st April 2023. North Yorkshire Council (NYC) is comprised of 6 area committees. One of these is the “Scarborough and Whitby Area Committee”. Whitby additionally has its own town council, and the surrounding 16 parishes have parish councils.
Previous to this Whitby was under a 3-tier system of councils since 1974. North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) was comprised of 7 boroughs, one of which was Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), which was responsible for an area on the east coast from Filey in the south, and beyond Whitby in the north. Under this system local residents considered that decisions were made far from Whitby and District, affecting the lives of local people, without sufficient real consultation or consideration for the needs of residents, and typically prioritising the visitor to the area.
North Yorkshire Council
NYC has a declared aim of “being built with local at its heart and aims to be the most local, large council in the country“. The implication of this is that local communities will be at the heart of the decision making process, being better able to shape their own communities rather than having them dictated from Northallerton.
- the east pier extension connecting bridge took 20 years to be replaced and only with significant funding from Whitby Town Council.
- with cycling infrastructure, Scarborough gained a local cycling walking infrastructure plan (along with many other North Yorkshire towns, some smaller than Whitby) yet Whitby, by being in a borough with Scarborough, ended up with nothing and subsequently still has next to no cycling infrastructure.
Regarding how the Area Committee operates, we need to mention that the “Scarborough and Whitby Area Constituency Committee” almost always met in Scarborough. It also doesn’t seem to stream its proceedings over the internet for Whitby residents to have access. How this provides anything like an opportunity to participate in the “democratic process” we are not sure. It certainly does not serve the people of this District.
We contacted Cllr David Chance about this in March 2023, and he replied that he had asked NYC officers to find a venue in Whitby, and consider alternating the meetings. This was subsequently passed as a motion for that committee, and the first meeting in Whitby for 5 years took place on 22nd Sept 2023. Thanks to Cllr Chance for addressing this problem.
For the record here are the dates and venues of the meetings of this committee since 2018 :
- 2018 : 20 Jun (Scarborough), 26 Sep (Whitby), 12 Dec (Scarborough)
- 2019 : 20 Mar (Scarborough), 19 Jun (Scarborough), 25 Sep (Scarborough),
- 2020 : 15 Jan (Scarborough), 20 Mar (Scarborough), 16 Sep (Scarborough), 06 Nov (Scarborough),
- 2021 : 20 Jan (Scarborough), 26 Mar (Scarborough), 9 Jul (Scarborough), 17 Sep (Scarborough), 3 Dec (Scarborough),
- 2022 : 19 Jan (Scarborough), 16 Mar (Scarborough), 10 Jun (Scarborough), 23 Sep (Scarborough), 23 Nov (Scarborough),
- 2023 : 24 Mar (Scarborough), 9 Jun (Scarborough), 22 Sep (Whitby),
This list will be updated as more meetings happen.
Poll : Same Area Committee as Scarborough?
In June 2022, how the new council would operate was still open to discussion and we felt , as underlined in the history of the area, that Whitby had been unfairly disadvantaged over more than 40 years by being in a group with Scarborough and the executive of SBC, with facilities being provided to Scarborough as the normal course of action, the visitor being targeted over the resident, and Whitby subsequently missing out on funding for facilities that would have benefitted the local population. This cannot be allowed to continue with a unitary authority. On 13th June 2022 Whitby Parish convened a poll including the question
- Do you want to stay in the same area committee as Scarborough in the new North Yorkshire unitary Council?
NYC "Area Committees" - more of the same?
An opinion piece by Joyce Stangoe – the views expressed are those of the author.
The biggest change to local government in North Yorkshire since 1974 is about to take place. The elections on the 5th of May 2022 has selected the councillors who will serve on the new North Yorkshire Unitary council once it comes into full effect from April 2023.
This single council will replace the present eight district, borough and county councils. The NYCC document “A Unitary Council for North Yorkshire: The case for change – Final Business Case December 2020” promised that:
We are committed to seizing the significant opportunities available to us through a single unitary authority, and we will deliver a transformative agenda for the benefit of our local people, infrastructure, and economy.
After watching the NYCC/SBC Virtual Roadshow, I have to ask if they are really seizing the opportunity, or have they simply missed the boat? The new authority intends to establish six Area Committees based on parliamentary constituencies. This means that Whitby will stay in the same Area Committee as Scarborough, whilst Filey and Hunmanby will come under the Thirsk & Ryedale Area Committee. The Whitby area will have 4 councillors and Scarborough will have 11 councillors.
These Area Committees will have devolved responsibility from the Unitary council for the discharge of statutory functions and services at the local level, including planning, licensing, public rights of way, highways, and potentially other areas. Will this really “deliver a transformative agenda for the benefit of our local people, infrastructure and economy”?
As their submission to the government claimed so proudly, North Yorkshire is unique in having two National Parks and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Ninety eight percent of the county is either sparsely (13%) or super-sparsely (85%) populated with just over a third of the population living in these areas.
It is generally more expensive to deliver services to sparsely and super-sparsely populated rural communities. Their residents often experience physical and digital isolation, with difficulty in accessing services, jobs, transport links and education. Whitby is one of only 6 towns in England classed as an urban settlement set in a sparsely-populated rural area.
The NYCC Locality Profiles 2015-16 identified that those communities living within or on the fringes of the National Parks, such as Whitby, share a distinctive demographic profile plus significant geographic and environmental constraints. The needs of such communities differ substantially from those living in less isolated towns and villages with much easier access to the A1, A19, A64 corridors / main rail routes – or from the Selby area with its good transport links and proximity to the City of York.
Do the proposed Area Constituency Committees really offer the best option? Has the new Unitary considered creating Area Committees that focus on the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, together with their service towns? Such a structure would highlight and support the new Authority’s environmental credentials and their ambition to become the first carbon-negative region.
The existing National Park Authorities have well-established environmental protection and improvement programmes; significant planning expertise; and a good network of parish forums and local contacts. Whitby is one of the service towns serving the North York Moors National Park and it is surrounded by the National Park.
Would it not make more sense for Whitby to be included in a more rural Area Committee, rather than one serving a much larger town like Scarborough, simply because it has shared the same MP for the last 30 years? Parliamentary boundaries can and do change. They are reviewed every five years.
Surely the new Area Committees should group together those communities with common geographic and demographic characteristics, which have a major effect on the local community’s access to the services provided by the Unitary Authority such as education, transport, health, and social care, etc. These services are far more relevant to residents’ daily lives than whether or not they happen to share the same MP.
The 2023 local government re-organisation could offer significant opportunities, but the hoped-for transformation will not happen if Whitby & District is still subordinate to Scarborough, as it was before!
For Whitby and District, the “Scarborough and Whitby Area Constituency Planning Committee” rules over planning issues for Whitby, Sleights and Sandsend (being outside the North York Moors National Park (NYMNP)), and the NYMNP rules over all other planning issues for Whitby and District.
There has been discussion over many years about Whitby, Sleights and Sandsend becoming part of the National Park, being the only settlement totally enclosed by a National Park in the UK. See this document from Whitby Town Council in 2010 for example.
Regarding a possible change of National Park boundary, the Natural England guidance includes “Marine boundaries: In coastal areas where a marine boundary is to be drawn, the boundary should follow the mean low water mark or the County boundary in the case of estuaries“
The formation of NYC states “There will be new powers and money for local people across communities, market towns and parishes to drive local change, local enterprise and local solutions” and that “Local priorities will be decided by around 30 community networks, initially based around market town areas but how many and where they cover will be decided in consultation with local communities”. It is in part from this that Whitby Community Network started, by establishing our own “community network” in advance, to take advantage of this purported greater power.
On 30th May 2023 NYC approved the community network concept but called it “community partnerships”, and their proposal has NYC councillors taking a leading role in shaping the community partnership (i.e picking who is on it), with no provided funding, and claiming it is “independent”. Clearly the idea of NYC councillors taking a role in shaping these groups will negate any independency claim, with little ability to hold NYC to account when hand-picked individuals / groups and, as such, be completely unsatisfactory from our perspective. Maybe the formation of “Whitby Town Deal Team” is effectively the model they are basing this off?, where they had a team of 23 people only 2 or 3 of which were actual residents in the town, and who never reported back to anyone in the town about what it was doing. The fact that there is no operational funding means these groups have to magically do things voluntarily, and apply for their own funds. So much for the “new money” in the above statement then, so maybe some other group in the hierarchy gets the money? Where the “new power” is exactly we aren’t sure either, is this parishes taking charge of devolved assets?, and nothing to do with community networks? Anyway, the concept is a dead duck as currently defined. We have to hope that is not what was intended, nor how it remains.
NYC took over all assets of NYCC as well as those of SBC in April 2023. We have compiled these into a spreadsheet (Aug 2023). This contains some listed as “community asset” (typically open spaces), car parks, some houses, as well as depots and tourist facilities.
Town / Parish Councils
Each parish council has a town / parish council to manage (limited) local assets / services. Town / parish councillors are not generally paid. Whitby Parish has Whitby Town Council (WTC) and has full council meetings every 2 months, as well as individual committees for specific areas (every 1-3 months). A similar situation applies to other Parish Councils around the District, though they do not have individual committees, and their meeting tends to be once per month.
Whilst all parish councils in the District are bound by the same set of overriding rules as WTC, they may interpret those rules more flexibly. The majority of parishes do have websites (though some do not), and some are much more fastidious in updating their information for residents more promptly than WTC are.
Whitby Town Council
Specific to WTC, agendas for meetings are put here, typically 3-5 days before the meeting. Whilst members of the public can attend these meetings, they have a limited role to play. WTC manages most local toilets (via a contractor), a few of the smaller allotments, Christmas lights and Christmas market, and little more. Amongst the problems that have been raised by local electors about the way WTC is currently run
- Meeting atmosphere : The atmosphere for members of the public is not what one would call “friendly”; saying people are welcome is one thing, but more is needed for that to come across as welcoming and encouraging participation. There is little advertisement of an upcoming meeting to encourage participation. Some councillors have their back to the public (this could be easily remedied if they used a horseshoe table arrangement, as used by several local parishes), and the meeting room is unsuitable from an acoustic perspective.
- Public interaction in meetings : Members of the public can only speak at the start of the meeting, up to 5 people, for a maximum of 3 minutes each. Members of the public cannot ask questions later on during a debate of an issue, or even contribute to the debate, unless “standing orders are suspended”. If a member of the public is better informed about a subject than councillors, and cannot contribute, how is the council going to reach an optimal conclusion?
- Minutes : Meeting minutes only ever seem to get published on their website just before the next meeting of that type, and only ever in with the agenda (go figure why it doesn’t make the minutes section of the website for several months, sometimes as much as a year!); this can be nearly 2 months after the meeting in question. This presents a significant barrier to local democracy since, if a resident could not make a meeting, they have to wait til just prior to the next one to see what happened, and by then it is too late to get something added to that agenda. Draft minutes of meetings need putting on the website within say 5 working days of a meeting, and at worst case 10 working days – the public pay for this service.
- Not voted in : the majority of Whitby town councillors have never been elected via a contested vote. Abbey Ward had an election in 2011, West Cliff ward had elections in 2015+2016, and Stakesby Ward in 2012. It was proposed at a Town Assembly in 2023 that the number of councillors be reduced to something like 12, which would facilitate more chance of a public vote, but this has not yet happened, presumably awaiting a governance review by NYC. To quote Cllr Carl Les (NYC) “it would be “healthier” if more parish and town councillors making significant financial decisions on behalf of taxpayers had a democratic mandate”.
- Committees : members of committees are chosen based on “popularity” not experience in the particular aspect of the committee. As an example, as of August 2023, 93% of council committee places were taken up by just 58% of councillors, with 8 councillors having 1 or fewer committee role, and just 5 councillors having more than 50% of the committee places. The fact that a move to correct this deficiency was voted against in August 2023 says much about the dysfunctionality.
- Number of Committees : There are way too many committees, and committees impose a significant load on clerking resources. A first step would be to remove all sub-committees. A solution would be to reduce committees down to a minimum and, with it, change the full council to meet once per month, which would free up clerking time to better provide services; this would follow the path that Malton TC takes (the council that is the only gold rated council in North Yorkshire).
- Communication : Communication with the public is amiss. An example of lack of communication is that it does not announce changes to its precept to the public along with a clear statement of why it is needed and what is being provided for that; a lack of respect for the people it is supposedly representing. It’s social media accounts and website could be put to much greater use to keep the public informed of events or topical issues reported to it, and that would have the added benefit that people would have greater regard for their town council.
- that Whitby Town Council meeting minutes record all actions agreed, and that Agendas of meetings have a section for all currently open actions from all previous minutes, where such actions can be discussed as necessary, and closed when considered complete. If an action is still open after the subsequent meeting then it should be carried forward to the subsequent meeting, until such a time that it is decided that it is either closed or no longer required.
- that Whitby Town Council adopts a policy of informing their residents of any change to precept and the reason for the change, by way of a post in the News section of the WTC website as well as to the WTC social media account(s).
- that Whitby Town Council adopts a policy of publishing minutes of meetings within 5 working days of the meeting, so that residents involved in local democracy. The town mayor for 2023-2024 had a casting vote and voted against this in a council meeting; we consider this contrary to transparency.
Countywide Town Council Comparison
To compare Whitby Town Council to all other town councils within the North Yorkshire Council area, please see the following table, particularly the columns of %Precept for Staffing (in Whitby’s case almost all of the precept is spent just on staffing and little on providing services).
|Population||Pop. / |
|Norton on Derwent||162000||111023||68.5||11||8184||744||2022-2023||Yes||No|
|Sherburn in Elmet||189000||87649||46.4||14||8568||612||2022-2023||No||No|
|Barlby with Osgodby||172384||56967||33.0||11||5566||506||2021-2022||No||No|
Here is a potted history of the significant democracy-related events affecting the Whitby area.
- Whitby Urban District Council (WUDC) was formed in 1894, and first met in Jan 1895.
- The WUDC Act of1905 was a private bill they then put through Parliament to allow them to take over the running of the harbour from the Port & Harbour Trustees, who owned the piers, quays, harbour walls, etc. The Act also allowed them to purchase the bed of the river and harbour from the Lord of Manor, as far as to Ruswarp road bridge.
- From 1905 to 1974, WUDC was the local government authority for the town of Whitby, with some wider functions such as Highways being provided by NYCC.
- The 1968 Maud Report on local government re-organisation had proposed that the Whitby area be included in the Tees Valley functional economic area and thus cease to be part of North Yorkshire. After much local controversy and resistance, the Whitby rural and urban districts instead became part of SBC in 1974. It remained part of the Whitby & Cleveland Parliamentary constituency until 1992, when it was moved into the Scarborough & Whitby constituency.
- After 1974, SBC operated through a committee structure, which allowed local councillors from the Whitby area to participate fully in decisions taken which affected their local area. For example, in 1985, local Whitby councillors defeated property development plans for the Upper Harbour area of Whitby, by securing a resolution at SBC Full Council that in any development of the Upper Harbour the land reclaimed from the Harbour shall be used “for marine purposes only”. Further land reclamation was to be reserved for use as a yachting marina and services.
- In May 1997, the Australian-built replica of Captain Cook’s Whitby-built ship HMS Endeavour sailed into her “home port”. The resultant national and international media coverage transformed Whitby’s economic fortunes: it became a leading tourism destination. SBC estimated that there were 4.5 million visitors to Whitby during the Endeavour stay in May 1997. The replica Endeavour made four repeat visits to Whitby before returning to Australia in 2004.
- Following the visit, in 1998, SBC brought forward proposals to redevelop the remaining Upper Harbour / Marina land. The ‘waterfront development’ project would add further pontoons; provide better on-shore facilities for marina users; and ‘regenerate’ the area by allowing commercial property development of the remaining land for residential, hotel, and retail uses.
- Local residents again objected most strongly. A Town Poll was eventually called on the issue in May 2000. The turnout was higher than for a General Election and showed that 86% of voters opposed any commercial development on the Upper Harbour site. The land was to be used for marine purposes only.
- In response, SBC commissioned consultants to hold a Community Planning weekend. Several years of dispute ensued but a Town meeting held in 2004 voted 400-1 against the revised plans. SBC’s preferred commercial development partner withdrew from the scheme and SBC finally conceded that the proposed development would have required a Harbour Revision Order under the Harbours Act 1964. The SBC Chief Executive acknowledged that, given the level of local opposition such an application was unlikely to be successful. After several further iterations, and an appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman, the new Marina Services building finally opened in June 2010. The upper harbour land was developed for marine purposes only, in accordance with the SBC Council resolution of 4 March 1985.
- The remaining reclaimed land in the Upper Harbour was used for car parking. Those car parks became a major revenue-earner for SBC, since the number of visitors to Whitby has continued to increase steadily throughout the decades following the kick-start provided by the visit of the replica HMS Endeavour. Objections to SBC’s financial treatment of the income from the land in Whitby harbour have resulted in SBC’s Annual Accounts not having been signed off by the External Auditor since the 2014 – 2015 financial year. That issue is due to come to Court shortly, for the Court to decide what is actually harbour land. How can a Council be responsible for a Town from 1974 and not actually know what is harbour land!
- From 2001, SBC implemented executive governance by a Cabinet comprising eight Portfolio holders, to replace the Committee structure which had allowed much wider participation in SBC decision-making about local areas by local councillors.
- Another Town Poll was called in 2009, and again in 2010, to answer the question: “Would the people of Whitby like to be part of a local authority independent of Scarborough Borough Council?”. But given very limited publicity, plus the fact that no polling cards were issued and no postal votes were allowed, the turnout was too low to carry the overwhelmingly clear message of the Town Poll held in 2000.
- Continued dissatisfaction resulted in Whitby Town Council (and Filey Town Council) passing votes of no confidence in SBC in Dec 2017. Since Scarborough town is unparished, thousands of its residents instead signed an on-line vote of no confidence in its administration.
- Local electors in Whitby again called for a Town Poll at the Annual Town Assembly in 2018. The poll question submitted was “Do you want Whitby to leave Scarborough Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council to become part of the new Tees Valley Combined Authority?”. The wording was rejected by SBC as ‘unlawful’, so the Poll did not take place. The Editor of the Whitby Gazette newspaper used his editorial comment column to slam the leadership of SBC. (WG Fri 04 May 2018) saying : “But in all the chatter, there is a single question… Why? Why would people want a Town Poll? It’s not borne from a sudden desire to join Redcar etc, as nice as that is. It sprouts from a deep dislike of SBC’s leadership – and that is the message that needs to be heeded, and dealt with. Whitby people should not take SBC’s lack of engagement or public diplomacy personally though. SBC’s leadership emits contempt for all and sundry, and its current manner and style is the talk throughout Scarborough among everyone and every organisation.”
- April 1st 2023, North Yorkshire Council replaces North Yorkshire County Council and Scarborough Borough Council.
Legislation / Documents
Here we will provide access to various documents that govern different aspects of Whitby and District, as they are encountered.
- Whitby Market Act of 1872 defining the operation of the market in Market Square in front of the Old Town Hall.
- Whitby Market Regulations of Feb 2023 defining the current regulations for the market as interpreted by SBC/NYC.
- Local Government Openness Guide (2014).
- Local Government Finance Act (1992).
- Local Government Accountability and Governance guide (JPAG).