Robin Hood's Bay residents furious at National Trust plans to compete with local businesses by turning visitor centre into a cafe
The National Trust has been accused of overlooking its purpose and jeopardising the livelihoods of residents of a historic fishing village as the conservation charity seeks to weather the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dozens of residents of Robin Hood’s Bay and the surrounding area have objected to the Trust’s revenue-generating plan to transform its beach-side visitor centre into a 'grab and go' cafe at The Old Coastguard Station.
The Trust has applied to the North York Moors National Park Authority for planning permission to change the use of the property it bought in the late 1990s with money from campaigns and bequests to educate schoolchildren and other visitors about the bay’s unique natural history and heritage.
A spokesman for the Trust, which announced it would cut 1,300 jobs in October, said the loss of income during the pandemic had left “serious financial impacts across the organisation”. He said during a review the Old Coastguard Station had been identified as at risk of closure which would result in loss of jobs there.
He said: “We feel that this solution will support the viability of the property, keep it open for public benefit and allow conservation work on the coastline to continue. Any income raised will be wholly retained within the National Trust Yorkshire Coast portfolio.”
The Trust said the property would be reconfigured to allow it to continue to provide important information on safeguarding our oceans and coastal conservation matters and that the first floor education area would remain unaltered.
The proposal comes almost three years after plans to open a food outlet on the nearby Quarterdeck was passed despite vociferous objections that it would put other cafes at risk.
Objecting to the latest cafe plan, residents said the Trust had originally been given planning permission on the grounds that it used the prominent premises to provide a valuable educational resource for schools and visitors.
Jenny Bartlet, of Ravenscar, said: “As the bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it should be afforded protection through the information, interpretation and advice that the National Trust is in a unique position to provide.
This was their justification for acquiring and setting up the building originally. It is disappointing that they seem to have abandoned these excellent intentions.”
Neil Purves, of Fylingthorpe, added the Trust had sold its original plan for the Old Coastguard Station as an asset that would help support local businesses. He said it now appeared the trust was “changing the building into a commercial franchise using grant money and members contributions to compete against locally-owned businesses - the life source of any village”.
Other objectors said crating another café when there were 13 food outlets within 0.3 miles would not add anything of value or aims of the charity.
Ahead of the plan being considered by the authority on Thursday, planning officers have recommended it be approved, saying competition between businesses was not a valid reason to reject a proposal and an “adequate level of public information and education provision” would be offered from the premises.