The people of Whitby have reacted furiously to the news that the town’s top attraction may be lost forever due to ‘health and safety’.
Not content with fencing off the promenade and Spion Kop, council chiefs have now told the operators of Elizabeth the Steam Bus they can’t park up in their traditional spot beside the Bandstand.
Instead the bus must be parked further along the road, by the side of the lifeboat museum – a move which owner Vernon Smith said would kill his business. He said: “If they say we have to go there, we are gone. We are either going to find a suitable venue elsewhere or we are going to sell up, we have no choice.”
The move from the bandstand would see the steam bus taken away from the public spotlight, and with it costing £50,000 a year to keep on the road, Vernon said they “cannot afford to lose the sight of the public”, adding “everything we do is visual”.
The steam bus is ranked as Whitby’s top attraction on www.tripadvisor.co.uk.
A relocation would also cause logistical problems, potentially increasing the danger to the public. The county council’s reasoning is that passengers must currently alight the bus to the left, onto the road. However, no recorded incidents have ever occurred, which has left Vernon baffled. “None of the buses will be able to make that turn, it’s a right angle,” he explained. “It’s not physically impossible, but it’s extremely difficult from a health and safety point of view. If we have to reverse at least once is that not more hazardous for the public?”
A layby where the steam bus could park would have solved this problem. There used to be one but it was removed by the county council’s highways department.
Vernon believes this latest move is part of a conscious decision by the regional tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire (WTY) to drive the steam bus out of town. A dispute stems from his decision not to accept sponsorship from WTY when Elizabeth took part in the Lord Mayor’s Parade in 2011, instead favouring local businesses. Vernon added: “We are feeling absolutely gutted. We are being forced out of town and have no choice.”
However, Janet Deacon, from Welcome to Yorkshire, said they were disappointed it was felt they hadn’t supported the venture as they were huge fans and thought it was a “terrific tourism asset” for the town.
Whitby’s MP Robert Goodwill, himself a steam enthusiast, called the decision “bizarre”. He added: “It has become an iconic part of Whitby. One of the most majestic sights one can see in Whitby is Elizabeth steaming up Khyber Pass with a full compliment on board. I hope they think again, it’s not like it’s the M62 down there.”
Whitby residents have expressed their outrage at the decision, with a petition immediately set up. By Thursday morning over 220 people had already signed the petition, which can be found at www.change.org
UPDATE: North Yorkshire County Council’s highways department contacted Vernon on Thursday afternoon to inform him that due to overwhelming public support, they have decided to suspend the proposal. He explained: “Highways have said that they don’t want to spoil the business, so we will just have to see what, if anything, is on offer”
NYCC’s highways department contacted the Gazette on Thursday afternoon, after we had gone to print, to explain the basis of the proposals. They said it followed concerns about public safety at locations where passengers alight or board vehicles actually in the roadway, where they might be at risk from other passing traffic.
“We have no desire to intefere with people’s enjoyment of services such as the Whitby steam bus, but the safety of passengers has to be considered as a priority,” said a spokesman.
“We are inviting operators who use the Pier Road area to discuss the situation with us, with a view to arriving at a mutually satisfactory arrangement.”
Vernon also thanked everyone who got in touch to give messages of support, adding: “Facebook just went wild. We had something like 90 new friends in one night and one petition has been signed over 200 times.”