Scarborough: '˜The old lady needs a bit of polish'

The stats suggest that Scarborough is on the verge of a golden era of tourism '“ but what do local traders think? Alex Wood reports from Yorkshire's Riviera

PIC: Ceri Oakes

The donkeys with their pink reins – one sporting sunglasses – are entrancing small children, as seagulls stalk the wet beach at Scarborough in search of scraps.

“Bombproof” Dougal and “daft lad” Zebedee are two of 10 left at South Bay, a third of the number which were plying their trade on the beach when Lorraine Cooper was a child.

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As Lorraine gazes at her beloved charges, her expression softens: “There’s more personalities in those donkeys than there is on Broadway.”

But it changes when asked how the season has gone so far: “I think the beach has had more people on it than the last two or three years combined, But people are not spending money. Over the last few years we have been pinched and pinched to where people haven’t got money for enjoying themselves.

“The North side is getting it all. People say to me when it’s raining: ‘Where can we take the kids?’ Unless you want to get them gambling at an early age...”

No local could be as scathing as Times cricket writer Michael Henderson who wrote recently of its “putrid pubs and, by the score, tatty shops in buildings that used to be handsome” and suggested the town should be renamed “Chavsville.”

But the lack of money swishing around is a refrain repeated by small traders on South Bay, in the last week of the school summer holidays.

This is despite a slew of upbeat statistics, which suggest the resort is on the verge of a new golden age of tourism.

The latest, provided by Welcome to Yorkshire, suggest hoteliers and guesthouse- owners have had a bumper year, with a 20 per cent increase in visitor spend and a 30 per cent increase in bookings compared to last year.

The £14m Alpamare waterpark, a cornerstone in the wider £50m development of the North Bay, with the UK’s four longest and fastest water slides, is - despite widely varying customer feedback on Tripadvisor - everything from an “overpriced letdown” to “great fun and good value” - pulling in an average 1,200 customers a day. Meanwhile the Open Air Theatre has attracted over 50,000 people to see acts like Bryan Adams, Noel Gallagher and Simply Red.

But you wouldn’t know it round the corner in South Bay.

Carol Fletcher sells seafood from a crab stall great-grandfather Jack Fletcher started 115 years ago said: “It has declined over the last three or four years - but this has been the quietest year. This year it never kicked off at all. People are here but they are not spending. It’s a bad omen if it gets worse next year.”

Colleen Wood, whose father got a nearby stall when she was just eight, agreed: “It’s never really got going.”

Another trader who won’t give her name said: “Alpamare doesn’t give us any trade. They spend four hours eating and swimming, then they go home.”

A few people stop for an ad hoc debate - and give the council stick for not keeping the place clean enough and for shutting the tourist information centre on the harbourfront (it is now a shop selling rock.) The seagulls are another source of frustration. So choosy they only go for fish - not chips - they have an unpleasant habit of swooping “even into children’s prams and wheelchairs.” But the biggest gripe is the great boarded up hulk of the Futurist Theatre.

The Theatre which closed two years ago is also remarked on by a couple of the resort’s long-standing fans, Margaret and Barry Johnson, who have a caravan at Reighton. “We are slightly biased because we love the place,” says Mr Johnson, clearly loath to criticise the town they have visited for six decades: “We came here for years with my children and grandchildren and we came with our mams and dads when we were small.” But Scarborough, he ventures, could do with a “little more investment.” “Some parts do look tired,” he said.