Tuesday 27th February 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Whitby: That ‘Plinth’

Whitby: That ‘Plinth’

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, examining the controversy over the strongly-opposed proposal by the Whitby Town Deal Board (WTDB) to erect a ‘plinth’ (or ‘apron’) in Whitby Market Place, to the west of the Old Town Hall (see the area shaded in pink on the site plan, above).

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If there is one issue at the forefront of people’s attention in Whitby at present it is the WDTB’s proposal to erect a ‘plinth’ or ‘apron’ in the Market Place.

Nobody with whom I have spoken has a positive word to say about the proposal. Everyone, without exception, welcomes the prospect of seeing the Old Town Hall restored – after many, many years of neglect while under the care of Scarborough Borough Council (SBC).

But that ‘plinth’? I have not heard a single voice raised in support.

Given that we are assured that a thoroughgoing ‘consultation’ was carried out, it is difficult to understand how it can be the the WTDB remains determined to plough ahead in the face of such universal opposition.

And yet Planning Consent has been obtained and, according to NYC’s Kerry LEVITT (NYC’s Regeneration Projects Officer), the following works roster is now in train:

Bullet-Point 1 is welcomed by all.

Bullet-Point 2 seems to ignore the obvious obstacle: Access – the only way in and out of the first-floor is via a tightly-wound spiral stone stairway unsuitable for the disabled and incapable of providing an emergency exit facility.

Bullet-Point 3 appears to be a post-Covid anachronism (there are washing facilities in the public conveniences at the west end of the Market Place)

Bullet-Point 4 was promised back in 2017 during the Whitby Market Review. Nothing happened.

Bullet-Point 5 refers to the ‘plinth’ or ‘apron’. (The ‘undercroft’ is the local name given to the ground-floor area of the Town Hall, within the famous pillars).

Bullet-Point 6 was also promised six years ago. Again nothing happened.

Almost all residents and stall-holders regard Bullet-Point 1 as the sole benefit of a £1.5 million windfall, much of which could be better spent in a thousand other ways.

In fact, on the subject of the ‘plinth’, I have yet to receive a coherent response from any Councillor, Officer or member of the public to this simple question:

  • “What is it for? Who will it serve. Who will benefit?”

Nobody knows.

But, alas, it seems that despite the opposition, the WTDB will have its ‘plinth’ – over our dead bodies!

Unsurprisingly, I have been besieged by worried residents who are desperate to prevent the intrusion of the ‘plinth’ into our historic Market Place.

As luck would have it, a chum of mine drew my attention to the Whitby Market Act 1872 – and Article 24 leapt off the page:

How could the highway between the ‘plinth’ and the buildings on the south side of the Market Place possibly be maintained with a “width throughout of twenty-two feet at the least”?

It has always been my understanding that “a highway is a highway is a highway” – barring a so-called ‘Stopping Up Order’; to annul the existence of a highway:

“The Secretary of State for Transport will need either a full planning permission or valid planning application to progress an application and must be satisfied that there is justification for the stopping ups. The applicant should provide: a copy of the approved or proposed site layout plan.”

Was the WTDB intending “stopping up” the highway between Church Street and Sandgate?

So, on 29th October 2023, I emailed NYC’s Corporate Director – Business and Environmental Services. Mr Karl BATTERSBY (for whom I had the good fortune to render a favour, back in July), in the hope that he could explain.

He passed me over to Mr Alex RICHARDS, WTDB Regeneration Officer, who, on 6th November 2023, confirmed that Officers were looking into my concerns and he would endeavour to respond within 10 working days.

As good as his word, Alex responded to me on 16th November 2023, thus:

“Hello, Nigel. We have now had opportunity to consult with the Council’s Legal and Highways teams in respect of your queries relating to the proposed construction of a plinth adjoining the Whitby Town Hall building.  Officers have confirmed that the proposals do not contravene section 24 of the Whitby Market Act 1872 and, that the development is permissible in terms of highway consent and acceptable in relation to ongoing highway operations. Furthermore, it has been confirmed that the granting of planning consent within the highway is a common occurrence and the scheme is not proposing a change to any of the current highway extents.”

I have asked Alex for some examples of his “common occurrence”.

But, on 30th October 2023, I had also made a FOIA request, as follows:

So. No stopping up orders. No repeal or amendment of the Whitby Market Act 1872 which, therefore, still stands.

Yet according to NYC Highways:

It is difficult to see how “routes are protected” against the intrusion of an unwanted ‘plinth’? And it is difficult to see how “new links” can be provided to ensure access to the RNLI Lifeboat Station.

I shall await Alex RICHARDS’ examples of Planning Consent on highways with great interest.

Meanwhile, the burning question remains:

“To ‘plinth’ or not to ‘plinth’; that is the question”

I am hearing that a large group of residents are planning on chaining themselves to the pillars, having firstinvited Look North and Calendar.

Who could blame them?

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