Council gets into puff of steam over visitor attraction row

Elizabeth the Steam Bus'w141416'Picture by Kathryn Bulmer
Elizabeth the Steam Bus'w141416'Picture by Kathryn Bulmer

The council has defended its part in the row which has led to Whitby’s 83 year-old steam bus announcing its departure from the town by saying “we are not mindreaders”.

In the statement it says council officers had attempted to contact Elizabeth’s owners, Vern and Viv Smith by email but received no reply.

The council spokesperson said: “Council officers are not mind readers and without two way dialogue they cannot be expected to know what solution will work best.”

The Smiths have also been accused by the council of “stirring up a media frenzy” rather than choosing to communicate with council officers instead and for leaving the issue to the last minute to sort out.

This is the latest in a series of disputes between the owners and the council.

It comes after the Smiths asked the council for help last Friday in finding an alternative location within town where they could fill Elizabeth up with water so she can operate.

They need a water van to do this and Elizabeth has to be re-filled just once a day in what is just a five minute process.

The procedure is usually carried out in the car park at the football ground but there are going to be 12 occasions during the football season where this is not possible due to Whitby Town being at home.

In the statement the council said: “One of our parking officers contacted the owners by email on Friday indicating that parking would be possible at a number of our car parks. She received no reply to her email. On Tuesday of this week, the same officer sent another email offering a car parking space on a pay and display basis at a total cost of £78, which considering the owners’ offer to pay, is not an unreasonable amount to quote for an annual arrangement.

“The officer’s email also sought clarification as to whether the owners would alternatively be interested in a location they had used in the past on the slipway next to the marina users car park. Again, she received no reply to her email from the owners despite her attempts to work with them to find an affordable solution.

“In this case, crucial information about the dimensions of the steam bus, had it been provided, would have helped the officer narrow down suitable options.

“We are also disappointed that rather than communicate with our officer, the owners have chosen to stir up an unnecessary frenzy in the press and on social media, which has led to many incorrect conclusions being made.

“Our staff at Whitby Tourist Information centre have been accused of saying they do not know anything about Elizabeth when visitors make enquiries about her. Again, we strongly refute this accusation. If asked, all our staff will tell customers where Elizabeth operates from and give people directions to the pick-up point if they are unsure of the way.

“Welcome to Yorkshire has worked closely with Elizabeth’s owners for a number of years to try and assist them, which included helping to fund Elizabeth’s participation in two Lord Mayor’s Parades in London. Several meetings to arrange membership of Welcome to Yorkshire have also been held with the owners, with a discounted rate offered due to the size of their business, however, the owners felt they should not have to pay anything to be promoted. As a result, Welcome to Yorkshire exhausted all ways in which it could help.

“In conclusion, we feel that the willingness of the council and Welcome to Yorkshire in recent years to support the steam bus has unfortunately not been met with realistic cooperation from its owners and we will not accept that our actions have forced the owners to take the decision to stop operating in Whitby.”