Opinion column with Howard Croft

The staff at East Riding Leisure, Bridlington were very helpful.
The staff at East Riding Leisure, Bridlington were very helpful.

Two features of the Bridlington area that remind me of my childhood impressions are the preponderance of static caravans and the abundance of bungalows.

I remember my Auntie Hilda, who was concerned that her granddaughter should settle down as early as possible, expressing her approval of her new boyfriend, as follows: “He’s a well set up young man. He has a good job at the dog food factory and” – this was the clincher – “he’s got his own caravan”.

Howard Croft.

Howard Croft.

The height of social aspiration among the upwardly mobile was the static caravan. As I can still manage stairs I do not yearn for a bungalow, but I can see the attractions for those who cannot – or fear that stairs may one day be a problem.

Round our way bungalows are as rare as hens’ teeth and it is a real problem for those who wish to downsize to more convenient accommodation.

I have never really understood the affordable housing condition imposed upon house builders; I do understand that the intention is to assist first-time buyers, although I am not convinced that it works. I think that it may well constipate the process of house building, which clearly needs a boost, but what do I know?

What about the last-time buyers for whom a nice little bungalow would be just the ticket and increased availability would supply the market with an injection of family homes? Perhaps the condition imposed upon housing developers should include a proportion of bungalows, which would in the nature of things be affordable to those downsizing.

Bungalows of the two-bed variety do, of course, have the additional advantage of controlling the influx of noisy grandchildren demanding accommodation.

There is much interesting development going on in Bridlington, but currently the jewel in the crown is the leisure centre, which opened in July this year. I visited this establishment for the first time in early October in the company of two of my grandchildren. It is outstanding – and very busy.

Full marks to East Yorkshire County Council, I say. It is a fine example of just what local councils can achieve when they set their minds to it. During my visit, having exhausted myself by swimming a single length of the pool, I left my grandchildren to their suicidal antics in the “splash zone”, warily side-stepped the sinister-sounding “tone zone” (I am not one for physical jerks) and spoke to several members of staff, all of whom judging by their livery are employees of the county council.

My experience of local authority employees is that they are, on the whole, at the junior level, rather sullen and resentful with little appetite for giving out information and being helpful.

At the senior level I have found them to be arrogant, defensive and thin-skinned – with a top dressing of bureaucratic complacency.

Perhaps I have just been unlucky.

Not so in Bridlington, however. The staff at the leisure centre were without exception friendly, open, helpful and obviously happy in their work. They answered all my questions and, even when I let it slip that I intended to write about their new facility for this newspaper, they did not refer me to a press office in Beverley, but continued to be helpful. It crossed my mind that such a set-up might fit rather neatly on Wentworth Street car park.

Up the road in Scarborough we find politicians and officials of a very different stripe.

The council there has decided not to permit any new food takeaway joints in the town in the interests of combating obesity, climate change and the plague of feral gulls. Shortly thereafter, the council applied to itself for planning permission for change of use for one its own properties (the former Tourist Information Centre) to include a food takeaway business.

The planning officer advised the planning committee that the earlier decision was not a policy decision as it had not yet been subject to a public consultation, that there is no planning reason to refuse, and a refusal might be overturned on appeal.

Of course, the planning applicant (the council itself) would not be obliged to mount an appeal (against itself). Equally, it could amend its application (to itself) to exclude fast food, which it refused to do.

The council therefore gave itself permission to do something that by its own vote it had earlier in principle come out against.

That’s democracy for you.