The North York Moors National Park Authority’s planning committee heard The Old Coastguard Station at Robin Hood’s Bay had served as a destination for many school trips and a mass of tourists wanting to learn about the historic fishing village and coastline since the trust bought the beach-side property in the 1990s.
Objectors told the meeting the station had been bought by the trust specifically to promote the need to protect the coastline and that it was a fundamental rule of exhibition design that displays were not mixed with retail.
They claimed there was considerable local opposition to the trust’s plan, which would “strike a severe blow to the residents of Robin Hood’s Bay and its many thousands of visitors”.
One objector told the meeting: “The opportunity to spread a vitally important conservation message to large numbers of people is being squandered for the income from a few cups of tea.”
However, National Trust boss Eric Wilton said the trust had suffered losses of over £200m during 2020, leading it to close numerous retail outlets.
He said the basis of the proposed changes were that the centre would generate money and pay for staff wages, but also to continue to provide some educational opportunities.
Nevertheless, park authority members questioned whether there was a need for another cafe in the village, and whether the National Trust would make much money from the venture, which they heard was “awash with cafes”.
Member Malcolm Bowes said the trust should be looking to extend the educational offering at the centre, rather than reduce it, as it had “fantastic potential”.
He added: “This was paid for by people providing donations. They provided those donations for an educational facility.”
Another member, Caroline Patmore, added: “I don’t know where the National Trust is coming from at the moment. I think they are poor in nearly everything they do. They shouldn’t be blaming Covid, they should be blaming their own organisation.
“I really do think proposing to serve tea and buns here, without even proposing to put some seating in – most people want to sit down if they’ve got a cup in their hands and something to eat – I really think it’s crazy.”
Ahead of members approving the trust’s plan, Jim Bailey, the authority’s chairman, said the park authority had no powers to force the trust to keep the station purely as a visitor centre, so it was a matter of hoping the National Trust made a good job of the educational facilities it would retain.