No Refuge for the Borough’s ‘Battered Wives’?
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, examining continuing fierce resistance to the proposed Women’s Refuge at Danes Dyke, Newby, Scarborough.
When the Planning & Development Committee of Scarborough Borough Council met on 12th March 2015, it considered PLANNING APPLICATION (14/02380/RG4) – LAND AT DANES DYKE, NEWBY – the proposed Women’s Refuge. The Minutes show that Planning Consent was GRANTED in accordance with Officers’ recommendations, despite strong dissent from Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] (Scalby Ward) – who was a mere two months away from assuming the Leadership – and Newby ward Councillor Andrew JENKINSON [Con.], who can generally be found following faithfully in his Svengali’s footsprints.
According to the Council’s own specification, the Danes Dyke location matched the requirement criteria exactly; none of the other prospective sites complied.
Only the Danes Dyke location is suitable. No Danes Dyke? No Refuge.
The Safeguarding Joint Commissioning Plan 2012-2016 for the whole of North Yorkshire (inc. City of York Council) stated that its number one priority is:
- “Safeguard Domestic Abuse Accommodation based services and specialist floating support services as much as possible.”
According to this Independent report, around 200 women and children fleeing from domestic abuse are turned away from refuges each day in England.
So, with no provision at all in the Borough of Scarborough, I wondered why Councillor BASTIMAN was so fiercely opposed to an ideally qualified Refuge for ‘battered wives’ in a ward only neighbouring his own. Was it really just the NIMBY factor? Was Councillor BASTIMAN simply trying to placate NIMBY voters fretting over the value of their properties?
Hardly likely, given the comfortable margin of his majority two months later at the May 2015 local elections.
Councillor JENKINSON, who also opposed the Refuge, was also comfortably elected in the Newby ward itself (158 votes clear of Councillor Vanda “The Woman Who Condemned The Futurist” INMAN [Lab.>Ind.]), despite the Women’s Refuge Planning Consent, so the NIMBY factor would appear to have exerted no discernible effect.
Following the Planning Consent, Councillor BASTIMAN told Newby residents “I will fight it all the way”. And fight he has.
Question: Could the Leader’s antipathy to the Refuge be nothing more than a natural reflection of his general attitude to the fairer sex?
I decided to visit this topic because of the recent allegations against Councillor BASTIMAN, citing his alleged “sexist [i.e. misogynist] bullying”. This was not the first I had heard about the Leader’s negative attitude to women.
But returning to the progress of the Women’s Refuge; on 14th July 2015, Cabinet met to consider Finance Director Nick EDWARD’s Report and approve one of the following options:
That tell-tale “Cabinet is asked to consider…” opener is, in fact, a clear indication that Councillor BASTIMAN had no intention of allowing the Women’s Refuge to go ahead – not if he could wangle it (“I will fight it all the way”).
A subject of much post facto discussion was the fact that the Leader, having voiced strong dissent at the Planning Hearing (and thereby having evinced clear ‘predetermination’), was nevertheless able to take part in the debate and the vote because neither the Monitoring Officer, Mrs Lisa DIXON (she of the miraculous ‘dispensations’), nor anyone else, found the temerity to challenge him.
Approached by Councillors afterwards, Mrs DIXON ‘deemed’ that, so long as Councillor BASTIMAN had retained an ‘open mind’, all was in order. Mandy RICE DAVIES comes to mind. Still, I should like to hear Mrs DIXON explain how “I will fight it all the way” amounts to an ‘open mind’. If that is not ‘predetermination’, then we may as well strike the word from the dictionary.
Councillor BASTIMAN’s emailed Objection of 3rd December 2014 does not give the appearance of an ‘open mind’ – rather, it is unequivocal (and, typically, rather rude).
Point 5, in particular, is downright offensive – “Is the secure boundary there to protect the proposed residents or the existing residents in the nearby properties?” This in not a valid objection; it is a superfluous rhetorical question – and a slur. It is pure BASTIMAN – petty, small-minded and obnoxious.
Despite both the then-Mayor Councillor Tom FOX [Con.] and Councillor Dilys CLUER [Green.] attending Cabinet to speak forcefully in favour of Option 1 – selling the land to Home Group and thereby giving the Refuge the ‘green light’ – and despite that view being supported, when it came to the vote, by Councillor Bill CHATT [Ind.] and Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE [Con.]), Cabinet perversely resolved to adopt Option 3 – sell the land to the highest bidder – i.e. seek up to £15K per plot rather than accept Home Group’s offer of £5K per plot (the same standard figure that SBC had previously agreed over the Whitby Helredale development) to build the Women’s Refuge.
So the Leader had his way and the Women’s Refuge was kicked into the long grass – but not without the Leader making some enemies along the way. It was commonly discussed, in Council circles, that the then Deputy Chief Executive Hilary JONES, who, in my experience, was nothing if not compassionate, humane and sympathetic to vulnerable women and victims of domestic violence, was deeply uncomfortable about the way the Leader had imposed his will on the Cabinet and Mrs DIXON, who, she felt, had been placed in a compromised position, though (needless to say) that is not something she shared personally with me. That supposed discomfort is said to have played a large part in Hilary JONES’ decision to leave SBC – that, and her increasing disquiet about the Council’s lack of transparency and accountability.
On 29th September 2015, the Resources Scrutiny Committee met to consider a Call-In of the Cabinet Decision, lodged by Councillor David BILLING [Lab.], whose eloquent argumentation in favour of the Women’s Refuge was reinforced by the fact that one of the signatories to his Call-In was (surprisingly) a Tory – Councillor Jane MORTIMER [Con.]. According to the Council grapevine, the Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting had been deliberately delayed, at the Leader instigation, in order to lessen the impact of its challenge to the Cabinet decision. The Leader, as we know, does not accept challenge with a good grace.
In the event, the challenge was further strengthened by Councillor Tom FOX [Con.], who emphasised that, prior to Cabinet’s July 2015 decision, neither Cabinet nor Full Council had ever expressed any aspiration to sell the land at market value; the Refuge had arguably greater value – ethical value – as a social service asset; the implication being that the Leader’s objections had been conjured out of thin air.
Despite the best cross-party efforts of Councillors BILLING [Lab.], CHATT [Ind.], MORTIMER [Con.], CLUER [Green], Tom FOX [Con.] and Norman MURPHY [Ind.>UKIP>Ind.], the door was slammed on the Home Group proposal in favour, ostensibly, of holding out for a better offer which, in the event, has never materialised.
Few believed that ‘more money’ was all the Leader wanted; it was commonly mooted that it was more a case of what the Leader did not want – a Women’s Refuge at any price. However, given today’s SBC strategy of selling off the family silver (and The Futurist’s grand piano), it is clear that, courtesy of Home Group, SBC is now sitting on a piece of land with planning permission – i.e. a piece of prime surplus silverware. Follow the money.
But the urgent need for a Women’s Refuge had already been well-established and everything appeared to be in place for it to go ahead. I was horrified by the ward-by-ward breakdown of domestic violence incidents in this 2014/15 Domestic Incidents Summary:
That shows a prodigious number of victims with no safe haven – in Eastfield alone, 198 recorded domestic incidents – on average, that’s four victims per week with nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.
Repeat after me, “Duty of Care . . . Duty of Care . . . Duty of Care.”
Victims are presently being transported to York or Middlesbrough – away from family support, family doctor, schooling, the lot.
But it is clear that the only discernible obstacle has been the Leader, Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.]. Readers are invited to consider for themselves what that conveys to us about the Leader’s compassion, as a human being, and appreciation of his Duty of Care, as a public servant.
In a very much behind-the-scenes sort of way, a battle of wills was in progress between the former and present Leaders – Councillors BASTIMAN and FOX – which was odd, to say the least, given that Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] had assumed the Leadship with Councillor Tom FOX’s tacit blessing. It is another pointer to the theory that the demands of Leadership have proved too much for Councillor BASTIMAN, whose style in Council is hectoring and scornful and falls far short of the smooth urbanity of Tom FOX. My guess is that, given a second shot at endorsing a successor, Councillor FOX would prefer another candidate. Looking at the present Cabinet, he might be hard-pressed to pick a viable alternative, with not one good speaker amongst them capable of articulating a vision, a purpose a methodology.
That aside, the Resources Scrutiny Committee resolved as follows:
. . . thus sending the Decision back to Cabinet, where the Leader would have to fight his battle once more.
On 20th October 2015, Cabinet considered the Report of the Resources Scrutiny Committee, which was summarised by Officers under the following three options:
Without so much as a passing mention of ‘predetermination’, Cabinet resolved in favour of Option (iii) – to give members an opportunity to consider an increased offer by Home Group (which would have secured the future of the Women’s Refuge). This was reported in the Scarborough News as a GREEN LIGHT for the Refuge.
But Home Group’s revised offer (thought by some to be merely a strategic bluff) did not meet the £15K per plot expectation (presumably as Councillor BASTIMAN intended) and the deal finally foundered and would appear now to be moribund.
So despite clearing all the regulatory hurdles, the Danes Dyke Women’s Refuge has never to this day been built – and many Councillors are beginning to wonder why. So am I.
The Council’s official line is that central government is to blame:
But are Councillors really comfortable with the fact that the Borough can still offer no Women’s Refuge provision for ‘battered wives’ and their endangered children? Would they rather have a bike race (paid for out of the Parking ‘surplus’)?
And there has been other ‘fall-out’ worthy of public consideration.
Upon his promotion to Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.], by now firmly established as the Leader’s ‘Baldrick’, promptly dislodged Councillor Jane MORTIMER [Con.] from her Chairship of the Planning & Development Committee (replacing her with Councillor Phil ‘Tweet Tweet’ TRUMPER [Con.], who has since disgraced himself with inappropriate re-Tweets denigrating victims of the Grenfell Towers disaster) for her ‘disloyalty’ in supporting the Womens’ Refuge Planning Application in the first place.
Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE [Con.] has been out in the political wilderness since his support for the Refuge and has reportedly (and repeatedly) been the butt of some rather unpleasant sniping by both BASTIMAN and PLANT. It must be remembered that Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE [Con.] resigned from the Cabinet after the Whitby and Filey No Confidence votes in the Leader and Cabinet, interpreted by many to mean that Councillor BACKHOUSE himself had no confidence in the Leader – not forgetting his further ‘disloyalty’ in opposing the Futurist demolition . . .
Now allegations of “sexist bullying” against Councillors BASTIMAN and PLANT have made their inevitable re-appearance, some Conservatives are re-appraising Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE’s credentials with a view to him replacing Councillor BASTIMAN as Leader after the 2019 elections, if not sooner. It would be a prudent step if the Council hopes ever to redeem its dreadful and declining reputation.
But far be it from me to suggest that the Leader is motivated by nothing more tangible than a ‘downer’ on women (though there are only two in his Cabinet). Everybody tells me that he is, in fact, deeply admiring of women, loving the way they move and dress. This would appear to be borne out by the presence on the Council of his spouse, Councillor Lynn BASTIMAN [Con.] – a presence that (it has to be said) appears more dutiful than political, given that she seldom (if ever) speaks – though always votes (with the Leader). A feminine touch, nonetheless.
The question now, as we move towards the last year of the present Council, is this:
- Who is going to get the Women’s Refuge back on track?
Perhaps the mooted ‘merger’ (widely considered a ‘done deal’) between Yorkshire Coast Homes (YCH) and Coast & Country Housing (C&CH) will achieve the 15,000-unit threshold for much-needed central government funding? That could kick-start the process and secure the financial means to bring the Women’s Refuge to belated fruition – good PR for both housing associations. Then again, Councillor FOX’s spouse Ros FOX (herself a former SBC Councillor) has recently completed her term as Chair of YCH, so one favourable voice has been lost.
- Who can we look to drive things forward?
That plot at Danes Dyke, with Planning permission, is more than just another piece of the family silver, to be flogged off to one of the Council’s preferred developers. It is a lifeline to hundreds of vulnerable women and chidren.
Councillor Bill CHATT [Ind.], the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Housing & Public Health, was re-appointed to the Board of YCH in September, having served a 9 -year term previously). He is thus ideally placed to facilitate a deal.
So come on, Councillor CHATT – step up to the plate. I will organise some Tories to back you up. Let us share a New Year’s Resolution – to provide the ‘battered wives’ of the Borough with a place of sanctuary and safety. If it saves one innocent life – murder or suicide – it will bring far greater reward than ‘market value’.