Tories would still be in charge in Scarborough if Boris Johnson was made PM earlier, says ex-council leader Derek Bastiman

He may no longer be leader of the local council, but Tory Derek Bastiman is optimistic about Scarborough’s future. Rob Parsons spoke to him.

Derek Bastiman doesn't take much prompting to wax lyrical about the beauty of his home borough of Scarborough, insisting it has the beating of any coastal area up and down the country.

But the former estate agent, who has served a combined 67 years in local government in the area in various forms, says the attractiveness of the area has presented its own problems when it comes to combating coronavirus.

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A spike in recent cases has seen the Scarborough borough added to the Government's watchlist, something he describes as "very worrying" but "not surprising".

"If people live in a less beautiful areas than we live in, it's quite obvious they will be attracted to us, the coastal areas, it's a beautiful area to live in is Scarborough borough.

"And so it's not surprising that the numbers have spiked because I do think people have taken the attitude of 'don't worry lads, everything is all right, we can stand next to each other, we're drinking in gangs. People have got complacent to be honest."

The Conservative councillor is upset that this month's Battle of Britain anniversary events were not celebrated in the proper manner, and draws a wartime analogy to describe the nation's current predicament.

Derek Bastiman, pictured at the 2019 local elections. Pic: Richard Ponter

"We're fighting something else that we can't see this time," he tells The Yorkshire Post during an interview carried out via Zoom. "In a normal fight your enemies are in front of you, this is something you can't see so you don't know where it's coming from."

As leader of Scarborough Borough Council until last year, when the ruling Tory group lost power to a Labour and Independent Group coalition in the local elections, he has watched from the sidelines as the new administration has attempted to tackle the fallout from the pandemic.

Earlier this year the 67-year-old called on the authority to bring in a coalition cabinet to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But in response Labour leader Steve Siddons, who declined to take part in an interview with The Yorkshire Post this month, said now was “not the time for unnecessary diversions”. He said at the time: “We already are a coalition council, Labour and Independent, and have been since last May."

Coun Bastiman, who remains a county and parish councillor said his offer to form "a rainbow coalition as we did up in the early 2000s" was supported by the Greens and a cluster of independents.

"And it was a genuine offer to park politics, you have your battle every four years, park your politics now and go into it and try and get the best out for the people who put us there to start with, but they didn't want to know, so we remain an effective opposition, and that's what we've got to do."

In the immediate aftermath of the local elections he said it was Theresa May and her Brexit policies which cost the Conservatives their local grip on power. But he is more positive about the current administration, despite the criticism it has faced over its handling of the pandemic.

"It's all ifs and buts but if the local elections had been when Boris Johnson was leader Scarborough would have had a thumping majority with the Conservatives.

"It wasn't just Scarborough and the North it was countrywide, it was 'ABC - anybody but Cconservatives' in Theresa May's time.

"And then you follow on with Boris becoming leader, and he gets such a majority in the House it's unbelievable. I do blame Theresa May, there's no two ways about it, I blame her. And I do think now we've got Boris there, and more so Rishi Sunak, things are really looking good for the Conservatives, they really are looking good."

Describing himself as a 'glass half full person', he says Scarborough borough will survive the impact of the pandemic, but says changes will have to be made to its retail offer as high streets decline and online shopping grows in popularity.

"Some people won't like me saying this but the high streets have got to contract," he says. "They've got to shrink, have the high streets because they will not be what they were five, 10 15 years ago, secondary and third-trading areas need to go and be turned into residential properties, maybe.

"But the high street has got to contract and become more focused on where it is and become a real interesting place to go to shop, where interesting shops are, not usual run-of-the-mill shops.

"So, from an economy side, yes, the high streets will improve, if they accept that they've got to contract and shrink."

He goes on to sing the praises of the diverse offers from the boroughs three main resorts. Filey 'has its own charm because it has no amusements as such...there isn't a plethora of kiss me quick hats and cash machines', while Whitby 'will always be popular for all the right reasons'.

Scarborough, he says, "will always be the queen of the walking places, because we've got two fantastic bays, we can offer the peace and redevelopment of the north side and you can have the south side with south bay and the amusements".

"Scarbrough will always be there," he says. "And I've visited nearly every coastal resort from the Scottish borders and I've just come back from a few days in Norfolk. There's nowhere that can beat Scarborough when it comes to presentation.

"I know that's biased but there isn't. I'm immensely proud, I'm Scarborough born and bred, and I'm gonna fight to the death for Scarborough."

Seagulls 'just part of living by the seaside'

One of Scarborough's most intractable problems, seagulls and the mess they make, it just part of living by the coast, says Coun Bastiman.

The council last month announced a new action plan, involving a twin “prevention and management approach”, to deal with the growing seagull mess issue.

But Coun Bastiman said: "it's like living in the countryside, where there are crows, pigeons, foxes and everything else, that's where you live, that's what you've got to accept.

"If people would only stop feeding them that would certainly help, but you can put signs up, and you see people sat next to signs and they are throwing chips down or bread buns. You can put what signs you want up but people don't read them and take notice of them."