Monday 27th May 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

ALDERMAN NORMAN MURPHY offers an interesting perspective on the roots of Route YC, a slushy tour of Yorkshire Coast car parks – yet another Yorkshire Coast BID ‘innovation’.

Readers keenly awaiting Episode One (the third and final Episode of HERO SUMNER’s ‘Trilogy’ – “The Emperor’s New Clothes”) will not have long to wait. Prepare for shock-horror!

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The Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District Limited Company (YCBID) came into existence in July 2019. It’s Articles of Association (AoA) set out the composition of its Board of Directors. The AoA stated that the Board should be composed of a Chairman, who is currently Clive RoweEvans, and 18 others. The 18 others were to be to be drawn from local businesses, representatives of national chains and the public sector.

Throughout its first two years of existence, the YCBID Board saw many changes of Board Members with over half of the original Board Members departing for one reason or another. Although a full Board membership should have been 19 members, the YCBID management team has struggled to reach anywhere near this number, with Board membership averaging around 10 members.

However, around mid-2021 although Board membership numbers did not improve, Board membership did begin to stabilise. Consistently present at Board meetings were four core members:

Benjamin Thomas Gilligan;

John David Harding;

Jayne Nendick;

. . . plus, of course, the Chairman, Clive RoweEvans, and evidence would suggest that these four have emerged as the dominant force driving YCBID policy decisions.

POLICY DECISION: ROUTE YC 

In regard to policy decisions, it appears that, at some point (possibly as early as 2019), Clive RoweEvans had decided to bring into existence a project that would see the establishment of a series of coastal routes, all within the YCBID area. Whether any YCBID Board members were informed about what Clive RoweEvans had in mind is unclear. Indeed, how much some Board members understand about the coastal route is even now equally unclear.

Nonetheless, regardless of who knew what Clive RoweEvans was planning, the Route YC scheme quickly progressed to an established proposal. On 21st June 2021, Clive RoweEvans established a new company with himself as the sole director which he named the ROUTE YC Ltd. Although, as far as can be ascertained, not sanctioned by the YCBID Board, or indeed as evidenced by the YCBID Board minutes, even discussed by Board members, it seems that as far as Clive RoweEvans was concerned, the ROUTE YC and the YCBID were to be closely linked.

The link between ROUTE YC and the YCBID was emphatically confirmed when, on 18th August 2021, Clive RoweEvans  was joined on the board of ROUTE YC Ltd by three new Board members – all existing YCBID board members, Benjamin Thomas Gilligan, John David Harding and Jayne Nendick. The appointment of these ROUTE YC Board members was quickly followed by an announcement, by the YCBID management team, setting out their support for the ROUTE YC and outlining what the objectives of the ROUTE YC would be.

SO WHAT IS THE ROUTE YC?

Having established a Board for ROUTE YC Ltd, the YCBID management team quickly posted on their website a description of what the ROUTE YC would be and how it would be developed. In this regard, the YCBID team firstly sought to reassure readers, and possibly Board members, that Yorkshire Coastal Route was not a road building programme:

We are not planning to build any new roads!”

What YCBID and the ROUTE YC were planning, according to the official website, was a series of six driving/cycling/walking routes, each

“Based around a different location – Bridlington, Filey, Hornsea, Scarborough, Whitby and Withernsea.” “Your Route YC experience will take you from Yorkshire’s very own Lands’ End in the south through to smuggler coves and quaint fishing villages in the north, with abbeys, water sports, and seafood delights in abundance along the way.”

This was followed by an explanation of what they actually intended to do:

“One of our core objectives is to promote the entire BID geographical area and rather than investing in traditional advertising mediums such as TV, we decided to create an activity-based experience that could create more of a hook to entice people to visit and stay for longer than a day. The route product can be travelled by car, bike, on foot connected to public transport, supporting our ambition for it to be as green as possible with EV charging points and bike repair stations.”

THE HARD SELL 

On 10th September 2021, Alexandra Wood, reporting for the Yorkshire Post, published the following article giving more detail on the proposed ROUTE YC under the title:

Yorkshire’s own North Coast 500? Six new driving, walking and cycling routes for visitors to be launched” 

A series of driving, walking and cycling routes along Yorkshire’s coast will bring “significant economic benefits” to the area, according to the Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District. Inspired by the success of the North Coast 500 and the Coig routes in Scotland, the six routes, due to be launched in October, (2021) will combine “town and village destinations” with three, five and seven-day itineraries designed “to inspire visitors to stay longer and return.”  

“The BID said the North Coast 500 had “delivered great success for the area in Scotland with an increase in visitors and increased overnight stays from one to five nights. “We see significant economic benefits from the route launch for the entire coastal area, which will in turn benefit our members.”  

Chairman of the BID Clive Rowe-Evans insisted they want to promote the route in “the greenest possible way” and they are not aiming to bring people specifically into towns. He admitted most people would “inevitably” arrive by car, but said they’d be directed to a car park from where they could cycle on short routes. People could also set out for a walk, and there would also be electric vehicle charging points and bike repair stations on the routes.

As can be seen, notwithstanding the fact that ROUTE YC was in its infancy, having only been incorporated in the June, just three months before this series of detailed announcements were made, a clear route had already been established.

PROBLEMS 

Nonetheless, even at this early stage, some foresaw problems with creating a scheme which would, at its most fundamental level, necessitate, if it were successful, a potentially huge increase in the number of cars, and of course people, in the rural areas and into already congested seaside towns such as Whitby.

Prominent among those who had concerns was Scarborough MP Robert Goodwill who said:

“It isn’t what I call cutting edge innovation. If it’s a free resource online and you can download the route, I’m sure people will use it. But if I was a business person I might be thinking is that it? Is that what I’m paying for?” 

Note the assumption made by Mr Goodwill that local businesses – i.e. YCBID Levy-payers – would be paying for the ROUTE YC.

Mr Goodwill also noted that there was:

“A dearth of electric charging points in Scarborough – with two at the Lidl on Seamer Road and another one rumoured to be at a local hotel.

“If you come to the coast on a holiday with an electric car don’t expect to find it easy to charge up.”

MORE PROBLEMS 

Nor was Sir Robert the only one to have doubts about the wisdom of promoting a car-based scheme to increase visitor numbers. John Freeman, chairman of the Whitby and District Tourism Association, which has 50 members, said news of the initiative came as “quite a surprise”. He said:

“We are very much in the dark. We’ve had no consultation whatsoever about this. It’s like dealing with Scarborough Borough Council, you don’t get consultation; you simply get a package – that’s it.”  

Mr Freeman also said:

“I wasn’t sure whether a package would attract more people or that the necessary infrastructure was there.”

He said:

“There’s a total of one (electric car charging point) in Whitby. I can’t think of any others.”

It should also be noted that the North Coast 500 scheme, a similar scheme to ROUTE YC, introduced in Scotland, has not been universally popular. Indeed, as Alexandra Wood further reported:

The North Coast 500 has brought its own problems – including, reportedly, putting a strain on roads maintenance and campers leaving a trail of human waste and litter behind.” 

I think it would be fair to say that the launch of the ROUTE YC had not gone as swimmingly as Clive Rowe-Evans and the YCBID management team thought it might. This was principally because of two fundamental problems with establishing the ROUTE YC, which it seems Clive Rowe-Evans had not foreseen. Firstly, there was the lack of EV charging points in the YCBID area, which, when you are trying to promote a scheme based on a green agenda, is to say the least problematical. Secondly, there was the negative environmental impact that such a car-based scheme would have on the rural areas.

AN UNEXPECTED CHANGE OF MANAGEMENT

This lukewarm reception for the ROUTE YC scheme and, of course, the unforeseen environmental problems, might, therefore, explain what happened next.

As mentioned, Clive Rowe-Evans had been joined on the ROUTE YC Board, in June 2021, by three YCBID Board members. Suddenly, however, on 29th September 2021, Clive Rowe-Evans announced that he would be resigning from the ROUTE YC Board, leaving, it seems, the three YCBID Board members to face the growing criticism of the ROUTE YC alone.

The ROUTE YC had become something of a poisoned challice and it seems Clive Rowe-Evans did not want to take a drink. The dearth of infrastructure in the YCBID area, needed to support what was being sold as an environmentally friendly project, such as the ROUTE YC, was a problem.

The almost inevitable negative impact on the rural areas of introducing a scheme such as the ROUTE YC was another.

Nevertheless, the ROUTE YC had been launched and someone had to pay to get it established.

SO HOW IS THE ROUTE YC TO BE FUNDED? 

We now enter a very important, but rather grey area – funding.

Although the objectives of the ROUTE YC had been lavishly explained, what had most certainly not been explained was who would be paying for the ROUTE YC?

At no point in any of the announcements that were made at the time of the launch or in the previous minutes of the YCBID Board, or indeed, of the ongoing published minutes of the YCBID Board, is there any mention of how the ROUTE YC would be financed. Who actually paid for the setup of the ROUTE YC is, it has to be said, shrouded in mystery.

However, it seems fair to assume, as there is such a close connection between the YCBID and the ROUTE YC that a primary source of ROUTE YC funding must come from the YCBID.

Indeed, talking to someone intimately associated with the YCBID, there is a strong suspicion that huge amounts of Levy-payers’ money is being syphoned off from YCBID into the (inaccessible to the public) ROUTE YC bank account.

In short, the ROUTE YC is being principally funded by YCBID Levy-payers.

MUCH WANTS MORE

As might be expected, however, the income-stream provided by YCBID is not the only income-stream available to the ROUTE YC Board members. Early in the set-up of ROUTE YC Ltd, Clive Rowe-Evans made reference to the fact that “there will be a website and an app for businesses who wanted to be promoted”. What Clive Rowe-Evans had in mind was a scheme which would see businesses located within the YCBID area, paying the ROUTE YC to have their businesses featured – i.e. promoted/publicised – by ROUTE YC.

Any YCBID Levy-payer was, of course, welcome to join the scheme and pay ROUTE YC to have their business promoted – the more, in fact, the merrier. However, as the ROUTE YC management team realised, hard -pressed YCBID businesses might be somewhat reluctant to pay ROUTE YC to promote their businesses on what was for the most part just an unsupported promise of additional business. What was needed, the ROUTE YC management board realised, was some high-profile promotion.

Of course, the small problem was that high-profile promotion costs a lot of money. However, as the ROUTE YC was being bank rolled by the YCBID Levy-payers, what’s the problem!!!

THE CHARM OFFESIVE OPENS 

Although not admitted by the YCBID Board, it seems most likely that the YCBID Board had already funded what can only be described as a ‘Rolls Royce’ website for ROUTE YC. So it would hardly be surprising that they would now stump up more Levy-payers money to encourage YCBID businesses to sign up to the ROUTE YC promotion scheme.

The ROUTE YC charm offensive opened in October 2021 with an article from be-lavie.com entitled:

The Ultimate North Yorkshire Coast Road Trip: “Exploring the Jurassic Coastline along the North Yorkshire Coast, comprising of 10 traditional seaside towns and postcard worthy picturesque villages. A short introduction to each including things to do and points of interest in the surroundings. Along with where you can base yourself for the entire coastal trip.”

Interestingly, in this article, in the section dedicated to Ravenscar, The Raven Hall Hotel is given a very interesting and informative review. Clive Rowe-Evans was a former Director of The Raven Hall Hotel.

Be-lavie, very aptly named me thinks, is an online blog which specialises, for a fee, in promoting holiday and travel projects. Nothing to see here, mate!!! 

Next up, on 7th November 2021, was a Sunday Times review. Will Hide and his photographer Simon Dewhurst were, I am reliably informed, given an all-expenses paid invitation to come and sample all the ROUTE YC had to offer. Hide enthused:

I’m here to sample the new Route YC (as in Yorkshire Coast), a sequence of scenic coastal loops that could loosely be described as the county’s answer to Scotland’s North Coast 500.

However, rather than simply increase tourist numbers with no additional infrastructure or involvement from local councils — charges levelled at its Caledonian cousin — those behind Route YC say that its aim is to encourage more off-season visits to the areas around Whitby, Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington.  

Lesser-visited parts of the region that feature include the towns of Hornsea and Withernsea. So what does this route — which, it is hoped, will inject £23 million a year into the pandemic-emptied local coffers — comprise?”

Hide and Dewhurst were treated to a lavish stay in the YCBID area. They dined at Café Fish in Scarborough, where Hide devoured a whole lobster with thermidor sauce and salad. They travelled to Thornwick Bay, where they met father-and-daughter team Paul and Matilda Tomlinson who run Scarborough Surf School. Nothing to see here, mate!!!

Next up was Living North, who, in their December ‘Places to Go feature, recommended the ROUTE YC; telling their readers that the Route YC:

is a brand-new route along the Yorkshire Coast, where adventure seekers map-in their own itineraries taking them around any of the six routes” 

Interestingly, of the twelve Yorkshire Coast destinations reviewed, two are listed as Withernsea which is, of course, the YCBID area represented by Jayne Nendick.

Also of note is the fact that Bridlington, with a strong Anti-Bid community gets no direct mention; Flamborough Head, Bridlington being the only mention Brid businesses get. This could, of course, be because Martyn Coltman, the YCBID representative for Bridlington, is not a Board member of the ROUTE YC.

Who paid for this feature is unknown, but it seems highly unlikely that this publication would run such a lavish and extensive feature for free. Nothing to see her, mate!!!

Finally, we could not leave this review of the ROUTE YC’s charm offensive without referencing the House of COCO article published on 2nd September 2022. This article, supposedly written by Laura Bartlett (pictured above), follows the usual pattern established by its predecessors. However, the degree of largesse lavished on our Laura by the ROUTE YC is truly breathtaking.

Not only did the ROUTE YC treat Laura to a four night stay in various hotels along the ROUTE YC, the Raven Hall Hotel, surprise surprise, being one of them, for which one assumes, the Raven Hall Hotel got a glowing review, ROUTE YC also arranged for Laura to have the use of a brand new Bentley convertible. Nothing to see here mate!!!

Although since its launch in October 2021, there have been lots of reviews of the ROUTE YC, it is felt that the four articles referenced above more than adequately demonstrate clearly how extensively the ROUTE YC has utilised the available media to publicize the ROUTE YC.

How much this publicity blitz has cost, is of course, impossible to quantify. The ROUTE YC, like the YCBID, release very little financial information. However, experts in the field whom I have consulted reckon this amount of publicity could not have been gained for much less than £100,000, and probably much more.

YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE 

Although only speculation at present, it is strongly supposed that one reason the impending Court cases against YCBID Levy-payers, scheduled for 3rd November, will almost certainly be postponed until April 2023, is because the SBC leadership knows that once the YCBID accounts are revealed, a move forced on them by the Courts, the draining of YCBID funds into the ROUTE YC account will be exposed.

My guess is that when the YCBID is finally wound up, probably after the court cases in April, that their bank account will be totally empty.

Not, I suspect, that those involved with the ROUTE YC – or, indeed, the YCBID – will be too worried by the revelations. By April 2023, of course, all the Senior Officers at SBC will be gone, and one can speculate that the YCBID Board members, whether they were privy to the ROUTE YC scam or not, will also, if they know what’s good for them, have long departed.

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