'Sham' storm over marina consultations

Protest group in plea to watchdog

Mark Branagan

CAMPAIGNERS fighting a marina development in Captain Cook's old port of Whitby are taking their battle to the Local Government Ombudsman, claiming the consultations on the scheme have been a sham.

Scarborough Council is planning to transform the upper harbour by putting a pontoon on the River Esk to provide extra moorings and building a Water Resource Centre on Endeavour Wharf with new marina facilities and space for businesses.

But boat owners have objected to the pontoon being in the middle of the Esk when the river is in spate. As well as giving vessels little room to manoeuvre, they fear boats will be torn loose from fittings and swept into the bridge, possibly leading to tragedy.

But their complaint to the Ombudsman centres on the planned Water Resource Centre, which they say will ruin views of the historic harbour and commercialise the area.

The chairman of the Marina Development Action Group, John Freeman, representing opponents in tourism, boating, and the community, accused Scarborough Council of deliberately blurring the dimensions of the building. He added: "It was supposed to be an open public consultation. But we think there is an agenda which is not to Whitby's advantage and we feel used."

There is also concern about how the new-look marina will affect Whitby's bid for World Heritage status.

Mr Freeman added: "People do not come to Whitby for modern shopping arcades but for what is unique about the place. That is going to be badly mauled unless we call a halt to this."

The objectors fear the "starter business units" will merely be let to a few large corporate clients, while the cafe will take trade from local caterers.

Action group secretary Diana Jeuda said: "If people realised the size and scale of the Water Resource Centre there would have been a debate whether they wanted commercial development like that."

In response to the criticisms, the council reopened the public consultations for two weeks before voting to go ahead with the scheme.

But the campaigners do not believe the council had any intention of being guided by the results, which were still being analysed when the decision was taken.

The objectors are now complaining to the Ombudsman about alleged inaccurate and misleading information and flaws in the consultative process. They have asked for redress by having the consultations reopened, even if this jeopardises funding for the scheme by development agency Yorkshire Forward.

Ms Jeuda added: "We have been saying this is not a scheme the Whitby public wants and therefore public money should not be used for it. If Yorkshire Forward does go ahead and give them the money it is pre-judging the report and will prevent the reopening of the consultations."

Scarborough's head of engineering John Riby said: "We have had no contact from the Ombudsman on this issue but if it is referred to us we will of course respond accordingly.

"The council is comfortable with the way it has acted in this matter and that the consultation undertaken on this vital scheme was inclusive and in no way misleading.

"A working party set up well over a year ago to help deliver the project included many local stakeholders. There has been a number of exhibitions held during the evolution and the scheme has been subject to a planning application process which has allowed further public comment."