Local Governance

Whitby has been under a 3-tier system of councils since 1974. North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is comprised of 7 boroughs, one of which is Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), which is responsible for an area on the east coast from Filey in the south, and beyond Whitby in the north. Whitby additionally has its own town council. Decisions have been made far from Whitby and District, affecting the lives of local people, without sufficient consideration for the needs of residents, and typically prioritising the visitor to the area. Whitby has, in addition, lost out when it comes to funding for many aspects affecting life here, a couple of examples

  • 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.

History

  • From 1905 to 1974, Whitby Urban District Council 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.”

North Yorkshire Council

In April 2023, NYCC will be abolished along with the consistent borough councils, to be replaced by a unitary North Yorkshire Council (NYC).

How the new council will operate is still open to discussion, but initial suggestions from the executive of NYCC are around having Whitby in an area committee with Scarborough, and Filey being part of an area committee with Thirsk and Malton (show below). The thought process appears to be around parliamentary constituencies, but the fact is that there is no legal basis for requiring alignment with parliamentary boundaries.

There is a significant swell of opinion that Whitby has been unfairly disadvantaged over more than 40 years by being in a group with Scarborough, losing out on funding, and being subject to prioritisation coming from Scarborough, against the wishes of the Whitby residents. It will come down to how these “area committee” groups are defined in terms of their powers and what processes they operate to, as to whether Whitby councillors will be outvoted continually and the town continue to be disadvantaged. The fact is that the residents of this town have made it clear they will not tolerate it further.

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 25 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 proposed greater power, though clearly NYC has not yet started and there is no definition of where these “around 25 community networks” will be located.

Poll : Same Area Committee as Scarborough?

How the new council will operate is still open to discussion and we feel , as underlined in the above history, that Whitby has 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 benefit 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?
 
Note that the leadership of the North Yorkshire unitary council said previously that they will listen to what the people want to happen with this new authority.
 
This poll resulted in 88.7% of votes being cast against Whitby remaining in the same area committee as Scarborough. Change is needed, and we wait for the North Yorkshire unitary Council to respond to this request for action

North Yorkshire Council - 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.

A rural area committee proposal

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.

North Yorkshire Council Alternative

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.

This 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 before!

Town/Parish Councils

Whitby has Whitby Town Council (WTC) to provide “ultra local council services”, managing local assets and services. Its councillors are not generally paid. It has full council meetings (every 2 months), as well as individual committees for specific areas. A similar situation applies to Parish Councils around the District, though they do not have individual committees, and their meeting tends to be once per month.

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; much more limited than in Whitby Community Network where a resident can determine their own level of involvement. Amongst the problems that have been raised about the way WTC is currently run

  • They do not provide a friendly atmosphere for members of the public. Saying people are welcome is one thing, but more is needed for that to come across as welcoming and encouraging participation.
  • Members of the public can only speak at the start of the meeting, up to 5 people, for a maximum of 3 minutes each. They can only speak if either the topic involved is on the agenda, or at the discretion of the chair (the Mayor).
  • Members of the public cannot ask questions later on during a debate of an issue, or even contribute to the debate. 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 of WTC meetings only ever seem to get published on their website just before the next meeting of that type. 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.
Some of these criticisms likely do not apply to all Parish councils in the District (where they have a website) as Parishes are able to set their own rules.