Agenda item

Public Question Time

Public questions of which due notice has been given and which are relevant to the business of the Cabinet.

Minutes:

Members were advised that a number of questions had been received in respect of (i) the proposed amalgamation of Eskdale School and Caedmon College, and (ii) the future of tourist information provision in Whitby.  Details are set out below.

 

(i)            Proposed amalgamation of Eskdale School and Caedmon College

 

Dr Jon Brown – Question - I am sure some of the Cabinet are aware of the proposal, put forward by the Children’s and Young Persons Department of North Yorkshire County Council, to amalgamate the two secondary schools in Whitby, namely Eskdale School and Caedmon College.  This proposal is being forced on the parents of pupils of Eskdale School, and has provoked much public opposition.  Although the Schools Service is not the responsibility of Scarborough Borough Council, the effect of the closure of Eskdale School on the people of Whitby should be of concern to the Borough Council.  The County Council’s proposal document fails to mention any consideration of the community use of Eskdale School and the effect of the loss of Eskdale School. If Eskdale School closes there will be much larger impact on the local community than just the children having to go to another school.

 

Currently, there are a number of community and sport groups which use the Eskdale School site:

  • ABRSM music exams
  • Fishburn Park Football Club 1st& 2nd teams
  • Fishburn Park kids football (3 teams)
  • Football Clubs – Fylingdales, Lealholm and Whitby RC (various times during year)
  • Fylingdales netball - various times through the year
  • Methodist Church group (various times per year)
  • Motorhome rallies (2 per year)
  • Onomy - Young church group
  • Orchestra/Music club
  • Tennis Club
  • Ultimate Soccer
  • Volleyball Club
  • Whitby Christian Fellowship
  • Whitby Ladies football
  • Whitby Company of Archers
  • Whitby Rugby Club
  • Young Farmers Basketball

 

The most notable loss for the consideration of Scarborough Borough Council would be both the loss of football and tennis facilities.

 

Eskdale School has 3 junior (11v11) and 2 mini (7v7) pitches. An additional pitch is adjacent to Eskdale School, Broomfield Park, which uses Eskdale School to access their site.  According to Scarborough Borough Council’s Scarborough Playing Pitch Strategy 2013, ‘Currently Eskdale School site isoverused by +1 match equivalent session.” Further demand has been placed on the site since the removal of a pitch at Whitby Rugby Club.  Eskdale School was also identified as a possible site for a 4G pitch.  If Eskdale School is closed and the site is sold by NORTH YORKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL where are all these teams going to play/train?  Further is the effect on the Tennis Courts. According to the Scarborough Playing Pitch Strategy 2013, there were 11 tennis courts in Whitby; however since then I believe the two tennis courts at the Leisure Centre have been removed. Which leaves 9 in Whitby in total and 4 of those are at Eskdale School. The club has an average of 100 members, making it consistently, the second largest in the Borough of Scarborough. It is the only club in Whitby providing club play and coaching for young people aged 6 to 16 years.

 

I would like to ask Scarborough Borough Council to engage with North Yorkshire County Council about the community use of the Eskdale School, inform North Yorkshire County Council of the vital importance of Eskdale School to the local community. Demand that North Yorkshire County Council rethink the sale of Eskdale School site, the sale of which would be a huge loss to the local community. If the site closed, who would finance the cost of replacing the facilities elsewhere and where are they going to be moved to?  I would ask Scarborough Borough Council to respond to the North Yorkshire County Council consultation and state in the strongest possible manner that the proposal to amalgamate Eskdale School and Caedmon College is ill conceived,  has been poorly thought out and the wider consequences have not been considered.

 

Ms Gillian Teanby – Question – Further to Dr Brown’s points, we wish to raise three other issues in particular which will affect the welfare and safety of young people in Whitby, if these proposals go ahead: traffic congestion, distance to alternative schools, and lack of choice.  There is already a significant increase in traffic and pedestrians at the start and end of the school day in Whitby.  School transport coaches cannot access the main site of the old Whitby Community College, so have to park on nearby Mayfield Road causing chaos.  This situation will only get worse with the reduction of three sites to two.  If the amalgamation takes place, there will be no alternative choice to Caedmon College for parents and children unless they wish to undertake a 40 mile round trip to Guisborough, Pickering or Scarborough, across the moor road which can be inaccessible in winter.  Other small market towns such as Malton may only have one secondary school, but alternative schools are much closer. 

 

Chairman’s response – Thank you for taking the time to raise your concerns about the proposed merger with Members of this Council.  Although this Council is not an education authority, the provision of outstanding fit for purpose education facilities for our young people is of utmost importance for us.  I can assure you that the Borough Council will respond to the consultation, in particular in respect of leisure and sports provision and takes on board your concerns.  With regard to your other points, we will ensure that they are shared with the County Council.  I would particularly ask that, where appropriate, the dual hatted members of the Cabinet and Council take due note of the concerns expressed by their constituents including Ms Teanby and Dr Brown, and ensure that these are taken into account by the County Council in their decision making process.  Personally I support all the comments that have been made regarding the facilities on this site.  What in my mind is most important is that a child should be settled and happy when receiving their education, and this is well proven at Eskdale School. 

 

County Councillor and Borough Councillor Cabinet Member, Councillor Plant also voiced his support for the retention of Eskdale School. For clarity, he declared that his wife worked at Whitby Community College (a disclosable pecuniary interest) but he had been granted a dispensation by the County Council to represent the views of his constituents.  He noted in particular that Eskdale School was located in Streonshalh ward, among the 20% most deprived areas in the country, and that without Eskdale School, there would be no educational provision of this kind on Whitby’s East Side.  He also referred to the economic opportunities for Whitby presented by the potash and windfarm industries which were expected to increase the town’s population and demand for school places.  The Chairman endorsed these comments.

 

(ii)          Future of tourist information provision in Whitby

 

Ms Deryn Gray – Question - The Council proposes that technology can replace the face to face services provided by the Tourist Information Centre.   I would dispute this.

 

Do you agree with me that technology provides an excellent tool for research but has not reached the point where it can interact on a personal basis with the user?  Technology provides a COMPLEMENTARY service not a stand alone service.

 

Visitors may well have done some research before arriving but will often want to find out more from somebody with personal knowledge of an area regarding the suitability of venues according to their personal circumstances.  Often the devil is in the detail and it is the detail that face to face interaction provides, allowing visitors to get the most out of their visits to Whitby and come back again.

 

Chairman’s response - The Council does not suggest that technology can replace the face to face service but highlights that the demand in the use of technology both for planning ahead and accessing information in the destinations is growing exponentially.  The Council in this report is recommending that in order to ensure that it is equipped to deal with the technological advances  that resources are made available to ensure that the Council can develop systems and processes to deal with this.  Digital information provision is just one of the marketing mix that this report suggests the Council looks to provide.  The Council and its partners will continue to provide information through a range of media including face to face, telephone, print, PR and digital whilst at the same time ensuring that it can achieve the necessary savings required.

 

Ms Gray then put the supplementary question of why an e-petition she requested through the Council’s website on Friday still had not gone live, nor had she received any response as to why it had not yet been activated.  The Director, Mrs Dixon replied that she was aware of the request, and would ensure it was actioned as quickly as possible.  Ms Gray commented that in the lieu of the e-petition, another one had been started requesting that tourist information provision be retained in the current site in Whitby.  This had already attracted 1,796 signatures. 

Councillor Heather Coughlan, Town Mayor of Whitby – Question - Whitby Town Council wrote to both the Cabinet member for Tourism and the Director with that responsibility, in July 2015 and again in November 2015. They asked for participation in the TIC review; queried whether consultation had taken place with other organisations in the town; and asked for an update on progress of the review and the plans being considered for the future use of the Whitby TIC building.  The one and only meeting with Whitby Town representatives of Whitby Town Council and representatives of two other tourism organisations in the town, did not take place until 16th January 2016 – four weeks after the Cabinet decision on the future of the TIC had been scheduled to be take place.

Does the Leader consider that process constituted “full and proper consultation” with a town whose TIC has a footfall approaching half a million visitors per year?

Chairman’s response - Although there was not a full public consultation process, the Council engaged in discussions with the key stakeholders across the three resort towns: Yorkshire Coast Tourism Advisory Board, Scarborough Hospitality Association, South Bay Traders, Confotel Groups, North Yorkshire County Council, Filey Town Council, Filey Tourism Association, Whitby Town Council, and Whitby and District Tourism Association.  Further, we believe that the Cabinet’s decision takes into account local stakeholders’ views.

 

Mr Charles Forgan – Question - There is no agreement between the industry and the Council on the statistics of footfall and enquiry type, and more work needs to be done.    The availability of the expert knowledge of the tourism industry has not been fully utilised.  Does the Cabinet accept that until the basic figures have been thrashed through and agreed, there can be no meaningful consultation with industry and professional bodies?

Chairman’s response - The statistics contained within the report are as accurate a representation as is available to the Council and whilst is it accepted that statistics fluctuate year on year since 2006 there has been a steady decline in visitors to the Whitby TIC and without the introduction of new services such as Customer First and the recent Parking initiative the decline would have been far greater. The size of the building also lends itself to attracting large numbers of visitors who browse or take shelter and have not necessarily visited the site specifically to seek the Tourist Information or a Customer First service.  The continuation of a face to face facility either within, adjacent to or in the Harbour Office, introduction of Tourist Information Points, installation of maps and key contact numbers, installation of 24 hour self-help touch screen kiosk in Whitby will all support the visitor in accessing Tourist Information once within the destination.

 

Mr Forgan then put the following supplementary question: the report to the Cabinet 18 months ago which authorised the review of tourist information provision, described the collapse in Whitby TIC footfall from 970,000 to 425,000 in three years, but for the 970k, officers forgot to divide beam activations by two to arrive at footfall.  This was a blunder which must have affected the Cabinet’s whole approach to TICs.  Are all Cabinet Members now aware of this error and its negative effect on their perceptions of the TICs?

 

The Cabinet Member for Leisure, Tourism and Culture, Councillor Backhouse replied that this error had been addressed in the most recent report to the Cabinet of 16 February, which had recalculated the footfall figures, and also disaggregated them by type of enquiry.     

 

Ms Joyce Stangoe – Question - What has been the contribution of the retail sales to the operating costs of Whitby TIC over the last 3 years?

 

Chairman’s response – The total net income from retail sales at Whitby TIC over the last three years had been £251,573 made up of £96,308 in 2012/13, £71,557 in 2013/14, and £83,708 in 2014/15.

 

Ms Stangoe then put the following supplementary question: Councillor Backhouse described Whitby TIC as a key retail site.  Why then isn’t the Council making a much larger surplus from retail sales on that site?  Shouldn’t this be explored first before disposing of this key retail site?

 

In reply, Councillor Backhouse confirmed that he did recognise the site of Whitby TIC as a key retail site in Whitby, and further, that a TIC in that area of Whitby was essential.  This was reflected in the Cabinet report.

 

Mr Niall Carson on behalf of Mr John Freeman, Chair of Whitby and District Tourism Association – Questions – (i) Why is there such a rush to put this through and why is it so imperative that all due and proper procedures have been totally abandoned? (ii) Why have you not explored the shared use of the building i.e. the TIC plus another or community use?  It was obvious at the Spa meeting that Mr Watson had not factored in this option for discussion (not that there was any meaningful discussion that evening)  (iii) The practicality of the site options put forward, and the lack of costings involved indicate the ultimate abandonment of a TIC presence as either option rapidly proves to be impractical.

Chairman’s response – (i) The Council has carried out its duties in line with policy, it has consulted with key bodies and the review of the service across the Borough’s TICs has been undertaken with officer recommendations made to the Cabinet. (ii) The potential for shared use of the building is being explored under item 1 which looks to approve the marketing of a leasehold interest for either exclusive use or for uses incorporating part of the site for use as a small Tourist Information Centre and a North York Moors National Park interpretation area.  (iii) Costings for re-location to the Harbour Office have been undertaken and are contained within the report.  Costings are also being looked at for the relocation of the service into the adjacent storage facility to the side of the current TIC facility.

 

Mr Carson then put the following supplementary question: how can you justify the Borough Council talking at half a dozen Whitby people for two hours in January 2016, six months after the request for consultation by Whitby Town Council, and one month after the Cabinet report was deferred, as meaningful consultation?

 

In reply, the Director, Mr Watson commented that the Borough Council’s consultation with Whitby Town Council and local stakeholders had been both appropriate and proportionate, and the views expressed at that meeting had been taken into account in the Cabinet report’s recommendations.  Councillor Backhouse added that he was disappointed by Mr Freeman’s comment that there had been no meaningful discussion at the meeting, since, as Mr Watson, he believed the Cabinet report had reflected local stakeholders’ views, including that a manned TIC should remain in Whitby, either in or near the current site. 

 

Ms Sue Boyce – Question - The wording of the motion approved by the Cabinet at their meeting on 16th February was to: “Approve the marketing of a leasehold interest in the existing TIC/Customer First site in Whitby for a term of less than 25 years..."  What is the justification for including the qualifying clause "less than 25 years", other than to exclude the disposal of the premises from the provisions of the Communities Act 2011?

 

Chairman’s response - It is intended that expressions of interest be sought for leases not exceeding 25 years in duration.  By limiting the duration of the lease this retains reasonable control of the future use of the buildings by the Council and ensures flexibility for the future regeneration potential of the harbour areas.

 

Ms Boyce then put the following supplementary question: in that case, since it appears there was no intention to avoid the provisions of the Communities Act, and that was an unfortunate and unintended consequence of your actions, would you please assure us that this will be corrected by the removal of the clause ‘less than 25 years’ before that decision is ratified?

 

The Director, Mrs Dixon responded that the matter of whether the Cabinet wished to amend its original decision in light of the scrutiny committee’s recommendations, was for Item 5 on this meeting’s agenda, Progress of scrutiny of executive decisions.