SBC Cabinet: West Pier Stand-Off
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering a considered opinion on the outrageous behaviour of SBC Leader, Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.], in his capacity as Chair of the Cabinet Meeting held on Tuesday 14th February 2023 – the “Valentine’s Day Massacre (of Democracy)”, as it is sure to be remembered. This is the story of how a Council ran away.
I must preface my remarks with an ‘apology for absence’; I was unable to attend the Cabinet Meeting due to indisposition. Thus, I am reliant upon multiple reports from attendees, video evidence (as displayed on the SBC YouTube Channel) and through the good auspices of members of the public exercising their right to video the proceedings from the Public Gallery and share their opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority.
It required less than 11 minutes to establish that all pretence of democratic representation is now nothing more than a historical curiosity in the Borough of Scarborough, for it was at that point in proceedings that the Chair, Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.], Leader of the Council, ordered the Public Gallery cleared and the Meeting suspended. The public ignored the Leader who, with his Cabinet Portfolio Holders and Paid Service puppeteers, left the Chamber. (I resist the temptation to say “flounced”).
Why? Cowardice, perhaps? Pusillanimity? We shall see . . .
Non-Cabinet member Opposition Councillors remained in the Chamber and interacted freely with the public – all credit to them.
The Public Gallery was well-populated, having attracted a large number of Scarborough business people, entrepreneurs, representatives of special interest groups, yacht owners and fishermen, who attended because of grave concerns surrounding Councillor SIDDONS’ pet vanity project – the so-called ‘regeneration’ of the West Pier, more aptly described as the metamorphosis of a commercial harbour facility of great historical importance into a misbegotten tourism plaza (with ill-gotten grant funding intended for the Town Centre, about a kilometer away to the west, as the seagull flies, where the Council acquired Pavilion House (and the former Comet building) at an inflated price, as a derelict memorial to four years of rank stupidity).
[Photo (from the floor of the Chamber) courtesy of an Opposition Councillor]
As can be seen from the ‘official’ video, the initial bone of contention arose at Agenda Item 3 – Public Questions.
There were two Public Questions, both relating to Agenda Item 6 – Scarborough Harbour West Pier regeneration. The Chair, Councillor SIDDONS, unsuccessfully attempted to defer Public Questions until immediately preceding Item 6.
Mr James CORRIGAN, who needs no introduction, insisted:
“I note from the report that there has been a reference to a legal risk in para 6.4, with a specific reference in relation to local legislation.
Please confirm whether the income generated from the proposed development will be considered as harbour revenue, whether in the form of rents, licence fees or other charges, to be ring-fenced and applied as set out in Article 20 of the Scarborough Harbour Order 1918.”
Mr CORRIGAN added, “It’s a Yes or No question. Oops, sorry. That’s from my notes.”
The background to this very astute Public Question is of special interest. It has become widely-known that there has been a validated formal Objection lodged with External Auditor MAZARS LLP, regarding SBC’s Annual Accounts from the Fight4Whitby Group, dating all the way back to the 2015/16 financial year, concerning allegedly ‘siphoned-off’ revenue from Whitby Harbour. Settlement of this long-running dispute is finally approaching.
The ‘legal risk’ to which Mr CORRIGAN refers concerns a fundamentally parallel formal Objection to the 2021/22 Annual Accounts, regarding allegedly ‘siphoned-off’ revenue from Scarborough Harbour.
And why would the Council ‘siphon off’ revenue away from the two Harbours and into the General Fund? A desperate attempt to balance the books, so I am told.
Mr Bob ROBERTS then asked:
“I note from the report that there are a number of highlighted risks identified. Please confirm what would happen to the funding for the project if any of these risks (or any other potential risk) were to prevent the project from proceeding.”
To both Questions, Councillor SIDDONS offered much the same non-information response which he read out from a document no doubt prepared by one or another of the Senior Officers – who, between them, know a thing or two about dissimulation. I will not bore readers with a rehearsal of past articles.
Predictably, the great and the good in the Public Gallery were not to be placated with such ‘bullspit’ (as my colleague, NYE Harbours correspondent Allan ROBERTS tactfully euphemises).
Readers may recognise Mr John SENIOR, Mr Fred NORMANDALE, members of the AYCKBOURN family, Mr Peter WILKINSON, members of the FISHBURN family, Mr Ronnie FORD and family members, Ms Becky SHAW, the brothers ROBERTS and various luminaries of the Scarborough Yacht Club.
When the Leader and his band of anti-democratic sycophants condescended to return to their duties, the Public Gallery greeted them with justifiable derision and ironical salutes. I am so sorry I could not attend; I would have been keen to contribute.
One man accused the Leader of telling lies. The Leader thereupon denied telling lies. Ha! “You’re telling lies now!”, was the response. There is no answer to that.
The following videos, provided by members of the public, require no additional commentary.
. . . and:
Then, at 11:39am on Friday 17th February 2023, the following email went out from the Town Hall to all elected members:
Subject: Cancellation of Council meetings – 24 February and 31 March 2023
To: Members of the Council
Following a meeting and consultation with group leaders earlier this week, it has been agreed to cancel the Council meetings scheduled for 24 February and 31 March. These meetings had been scheduled provisionally to deal with any items which might have required sign off by full Council for transition to the new unitary authority. There will be no such items.
In the meantime, I remind you of the full Council meeting scheduled for 20 March to honour our aldermen and alderwomen and deal with other ceremonial matters as the Borough Council nears its dissolution.
St John Harris, Democratic Services Manager, Democratic and Legal Services
Scarborough Borough Council, Town Hall, St Nicholas St, Scarborough, YO11 2HG
Tel: 01723 383556. Mob: 07517 132090
I am told, by a highly-placed source at County Hall, that the real reason behind this Houdini act is Machiavellian in the extreme.
The next meeting of Full Council, originally scheduled for Friday 24th February 2023, happens to coincide with a meeting of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) – with the alarming consequence (for Councillor SIDDONS, that is) that several of his main supporters would be obliged to send apologies for absence while they trooped off to County Hall – in separate cars, no doubt, to milk the Allowances.
Thus, a spontaneous Vote of No Confidence in the Leader, raised by members from the floor of the SBC Chamber, would have enjoyed an excellent prospect of success. If true – and I have no reason to doubt it – this is the most despicable act of political cowardice I have ever encountered.
Certainly, there is a yellow streak running through the upper echelons of the Town Hall – “The Leader who ran away”, too gutless to face the people he purports to represent. Perhaps a member of the Harbour community will remind me again what rhymes with “anchor”.
The fact is that, contrary to the Leader’s assertions, those who know the Bottom End inside out have been left out of the loop. They feel they have never been properly consulted.
Now for the ‘facts’.
On 8th June 2022, I submitted the following Freedom of Information request to SBC, via the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website:
It should be remembered that I have been designated “vexatious” by Senior SBC Officers – upon which entirely spurious grounds, my correspondence is invariably ignored. However, on this occasion, such was the urgency to propagate Councillor SIDDONS’ ‘bullspit’ that I received the following response – on the very same day, no less – set out in such detail as to suggest that my request must have been warily anticipated:
For those unwilling to trawl through 6 pages of over-dressed fantasy, the matter of the gross costs of these so-called ‘consultations’ (i.e. Officer-time, advertising, promotion, external advice, etc) was completely ignored. Amidst acres of repetition, the short answer comes down to this:
Response Cllr Siddons was referring to the 29 consultation and information activities carried out by the council and their agents since June 2021 and in relation to the development of proposals for Scarborough Harbour West Pier. To date this stands at 33 activities made up of
- 9 consultation and information events with involving multiple tenants, users and stakeholders
- 7 consultations with stakeholder organisations
- 17 individual meetings undertaken with harbour tenants and users
Having interacted with many of the key stakeholders and tenants, I have been reliably informed that it was never made clear to the few who were approached that they were participating in a formal public consultation; rather, a casual conversation – a chat – about a suggestion, a theory, a pipe-dream. Nevertheless, opposition was widely expressed from the get-go – not that the conept of opposition of any sort figures in Councillor SIDDONS’ favourite ‘Build a Better Borough’ fantasy game.
There was one exception to the voice of opposition – the young man they call “The Bumsnorkeler” – whose cosy relationship with the administration extended to being given the grand tour of the work already underway to construct the prefabricated kiosks for the West Pier tourism plaza.
This explains why the Public Gallery was packed with the very people Councillor SIDDONS’ claims to have ‘consulted’. Everyone of them feels as though they have not been ‘consulted’ at all – they are ‘victims’ of having been rail-roaded.
As an aside, I read with interest that a former Local Government Ombudsman, Mrs Anne SEEX, has criticised York City Council (YCC) and North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) over their pathetic excuse for a ‘public consultation’ over the proposal to combine the two authorities under an elected Mayor. The Councils have claimed “widespread support” for the devolution deal. But Mrs SEEX commented that the consultation amounted to just 0.3% of the electorate, which she described as a “pitifully small” sample. Anyone see a pattern here? Perhaps I should write to Anne SEEX – directing her to a greater injustice?
One of the ‘victims’ of the non-cunsultations was Mr John SENIOR MBE TD VR, whose email to Councillor SIDDONS shortly after the meeting is reproduced below:
Dear Cllr SiddonsI was in the Council Chamber visitors gallery for todays cabinet meeting at which the first phase of West Pier funding was voted through and if I may suggest, the reason why the many gathered, became so disgusted and vocal was that you denounced them as being, not representative… and that has been the very problem from the very start.Today your visitor’s gallery was choc full of fisherman including Fred Normandale, (who expressed his disgust to the cabinet as he left), Bob Roberts, Paul Fishburn and many others who are all to be effected by the possible fallout of the scheme. Also present were a significant number of large and small business owners (and therefore rate payers) from Foreshore Rd and Sandside, who genuinely feel that they have not been properly consulted and are all extremely cross and frustrated that there views are continuously ignored and the scheme, which is apparently “in their name” just moves inexorably forward.To not accept questions from your own voted members and then to suggest that those gathered in the gallery were not representative of the South Bay and harbour area were disappointing acts to say the least. Furthermore, whilst I accept that the Council Chamber in session may not be the right place for public debate, the question we are all asking is, if this is not the place… then where the hell is the place??Finally, the view of the many sensible folk gathered in that chamber this morning, was that this whole affair is an affront to democracy and SBC should be ashamed of themselves for not dailling back and listening to views, concerns and aspirations of the Old town and harbour community.Yours SincerelyJohn W Senior MBE TD VR
Mr SENIOR sums up, in his customary reasonable and eloquent terms, the almost unanimous conviction of the ‘key stakeholders’.
Personally, I would summarise the stand-off in fewer words.
- The ‘key stakeholders’ (the Bottom Enders – who do not pursue their lives and businesses in the real Town Centre) see the Harbour as a livelihood and a refuge.
- The Councils (SBC and NYC) see the Harbour as a revenue stream.
- Councillor SIDDONS sees the tourism plaza as a legacy – his legacy.
But there is also a sub-text. If the 2020/21 Annual Accounts Objection is upheld, the revenue will stay in the Harbour alright – ring-fenced, but not for the maintenance and improvement of Harbour functions; rather for further ‘development’ (or ‘gentrification’, as Mr Allan ROBERTS describes it).
From a Planning Consent perspective, a change in the status of the Harbour from ‘Commercial’ to ‘Mixed Use’ represents the thin end of an extremely insidious wedge.
New-builds that start life as warehouses will presently command the potential for higher rents as cafés, piano bars, sushi restaurants, luxury appartments, etc. Revenue streams.
The cultural heritage of the West Pier will be trashed. It is already happening on Vincent Pier. ‘Mixed Use’ always tend to the same direction – the direction of the Councils’ coffers.
This appetite for higher revenues trumps local livelihoods and the historic character of the town every single time.
Make no mistake, the fight for the West Pier is the fight for Scarborough – the fight for democracy.
Readers should be aware that, although I am always grateful for information received, I will not be a party to the publication of FALSE or UNSUBSTANTIATED ALLEGATIONS seeking to impugn the fitness for public office of Public Servants, paid or elected, with tales of adultery, drug abuse, alcoholism and the like.