With a major redevelopment of Bridlington dogged by setbacks, those behind the plans tell Sarah Freeman why it’s now or never for the resort.
In February, the one date most people have circled in their diary is the 14th. This year, David Dowson is much more concerned about the 20th.
The chairman of Lloyd Dowson Chartered Accountants is one of those spearheading plans to redevelop Bridlington and the date could come to represent something of a landmark in what has been a long-running and often bitter saga.
Opponents to the Area Action Plan have until then to register further objections to proposals. If none are received, then the project, which has been subject to more setbacks than anyone cares to remember, will finally get off the ground.
The town’s Habour Commissioners, currently considering their next move, have been the most vocal critics of the plans, which have made the case for a new hotel and car park to be built on the front. Such development, they say, would ruin the character of the historic port, but the town, which like many seaside resorts has suffered from economic decline, is desperately in need of investment.
“The Harbour Commissioners have single-handedly slowed down the town’s regeneration for 15 years,” says David. “They have refused to co-operate and they have been governed by a philosophy of self-preservation.
“The harbour is crying out for capital investment and while last year’s expansion of the leisure berths by the commissioners was admirable it is only scratching the surface of what is really needed.
“One thing the new pontoons have proved though is that there is a demand for berths, which the commissioners previously contested. It has been a long hard fight to get to where we are today and now it is time to put an end to the cynicism and for everyone who wants to see Bridlington prosper to get behind these plans which have the potential to make a real difference to the town.
“I don’t like hedging my bets, because I have seen these plans stall so many times before, but now formal objections can only be made on very strict grounds and I am optimistic that finally we might be able to start seeing the fruits of a lot of hard work.”
The Area Action Plan will see up to £160m spent on regeneration projects, which as well as proposals for the long-awaited marina, also include blueprints for a new shopping district, known as Burlington Parade, extended town centre parking, a new town square and the remodelling of Gypsey Race Park. It’s supporters say it will also lead to the creation of 1,900 jobs, which in an area crying out for new employment opportunities could not be more timely.
Last summer, the AAP was declared sound by a government planning inspector and while further consultations have been ongoing, David says that decision has already marked a turning point in Bridlington’s fortunes.
“In previous years the banks have been reluctant to lend money to Bridlington businesses because understandably they were worried about seeing a return from their investment,” he says. “However, the fact we have a plan which has been approved as workable pretty much instantly changed the goalposts.
“Banks can now see that there is not only a vision for the place, but a vision which is both ambitious and realistic and that makes Bridlington an attractive investment.
“This has never been about sweeping away the old. Bridlington is rightly proud of its history and the harbour commissioners have so much to offer the town, but if Bridlington is to survive it has to change and adapt with the times. Remaining stubbornly stuck in a time warp is not going to help anyone.”
The redevelopment of Bridlington Spa which reopened in 2008 after a lengthy restoration project is a glimpse, say those backing the AAP, of what Bridlington’s future could be.
“It has been a fantastic boost for Bridlington,” says David. “But to maximise the benefits what we really need is one of the budget hotels chains to come in, so people coming from elsewhere stay and spend money in the town.
“Yorkshire Water has already committed to investing £40m in improving the way waste water is managed which will ensure our beaches meet stricter EU regulations.
“Our beaches have always been one of the resort’s biggest draws and now we really need to make sure that the rest of the town has the facilities to match. Come February 21 I really hope that the celebrations can begin and Bridlington can get the type of developments it really deserves.”
Until then, the Champagne is most definitely on ice.