On Friday 13 January I watched the storm surge pounding and overtopping Whitby’s beleaguered piers and extensions, before yet again flooding areas of the town.
Later that evening, as I thumbed through the Gazette, I was astonished to learn that Scarborough Borough Council had the brass-neck to ask the impoverished Whitby Town Council to make a financial contribution towards the repair of the Grade II listed piers.
What comes next?
The tombola, the raffle, the jumble sale or perhaps even the rattling donation bucket?
Engineers’ reports from 2002, followed by the results of further investigations in 2009, made Scarborough Borough Council fully aware that the piers and extensions are at risk of failure and possible collapse in the very short term.
They have been advised that such a failure/collapse, coupled with the increased flooding and wave erosion, would pose a grave risk to human life, property, livelihoods, navigation, the lifeboat service, businesses, the marina facility, heritage sites, tourism and the environment. Incidentally, without the West Pier and its extension to act as groynes, the sands of Whitby and Upgang beaches would eventually migrate into the harbour.
Despite all of this, it was May 2014 before Scarborough Borough Council voted to ‘Approve acceptance of £4.812m Coast and Flood Protection Grant in aid from the Environment Agency as a contribution towards the £8.522m Whitby Harbour Piers Coastal Protection Scheme Phase 1.
Cabinet should note that the scheme will only progress to full delivery if contributions of £3.710m from third parties are identified.’
How can the borough council justify such a stance? It is the Harbour Authority and has a duty of care for both the safety of the townspeople and their property.
To date the borough council has not announced that they have secured any additional funding for the Phase 1 scheme. Furthermore, they have made no commitment whatsoever to provide funds from their own resources. However, they are prepared to commit around £4.0m to towards the demolition of the Futurist theatre and the associated works.
The irony is that had Scarborough Borough Council conformed with Acts of Parliament relating to Whitby Harbour, there would not be a problem with funding. All surplus income generated on harbour land, particularly the car park monies, should have been ring-fenced for harbour maintenance and improvements.
The scope of the work within Phase 1 is probably the minimum that needs be carried out in order to have any chance of avoiding the dire consequences detailed above.
It is worthy of note that Phase 1 does not include any work to the two extensions or to decrease/eradicate overtopping to the East and West piers by raising their height or by installing a rock revetment.
It is now 15 years since Scarborough Borough Council was alerted to the demise of the Whitby piers; so where exactly are we now?
Scarborough Borough Council issued a document entitled Whitby Piers Refurbishment Update December 2016.
This was followed by a Whitby Gazette article on 16 December with the headline ‘Rusting, Crumbling Piers: Action in 2018’. From two these sources a picture emerges:
• The contractor, Balfour Beatty, is to carry out further site investigation works. Namely a hydro sonic survey, and maybe trial pits, to determine underwater defects such as scouring under the structures. There may also be the need for a marine sediment survey. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that they are not satisfied that they fully understand at least some aspects of the piers’ problems.
• We are advised that, hopefully, the construction works will commence within the first quarter of 2018.
The Gazette quotes the portfolio holder for harbours as saying “The full extent of the necessary works and firm costings cannot be known until investigations are complete.” I fully understand and agree with that statement. However it leaves us with a whole series of other unanswered questions.
• What happens if the Balfour Beatty final costing, calculated within a pre-agreed framework, exceeds the Scarborough Borough Council £8.522 budget?
• What happens if borough council fails to secure the current shortfall in funding of £3.710m? The recent pathetic approach to Whitby Town Council is hardly an encouraging omen.
• Until the full extent of the works is determined we remain uncertain as to the likely contract period for Phase 1. So how many more winters will the damaged piers have to endure before the Phase 1 works are complete?
• We are advised that the two pier extensions will have to wait another 20 years before they receive attention. Does anybody really believe that they will survive for another 20 years?
Currently we are in La La Land.
Whitby deserves far better than this sorry state of affairs.