Planning chiefs reject Town Hall proposals

Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street
Scarborough Town Hall, St Nicholas Street

The retired quintet, who masterminded improvements in Scarborough for more than four decades, said the move felt like the council was “giving up on the town centre.”

The men, who are all former chartered town planners, are Jonathan Allison, David Green, Gordon Somerville, David Williams and Tony Wilson.

They have written an open letter against the Town Hall proposals.

The letter said: “We, five former senior planning officers employed by the Borough Council, strongly believe that the Council’s preferred strategy of relocation of all or most of its functions to the Skipton Building Society office as an out of town location, was misguided from the start.

“The strategy is wrong, and shows a complete failure to understand the character of the town.

“The Council, its civic functions and its administration, should be in the town centre, where it is a physical expression of the cohesion of the community and its leadership.

“It should not, under any circumstances, be decanted to the periphery of the town and to the edge of an industrial estate.

“At no point should this first principle be influenced by the promise of £3 million.

“Nor should it be influenced by an idea of some attendant redevelopment; this is even more the case where the attendant redevelopment is highly speculative if not plain flakey.

“The proposed move would also fly in the face of sustainability objectives, which are now at the very core of modern planning policy, particularly with regard to the protection and enhancement of the vitality and viability of town centres.

“How can the Council seek to promote such sound land use principles to others if it fails to demonstrate its own commitment to them, or to the town centre?

If the Council moves all or part of its functions out, there is a serious threat to the future of the town centre.

“There will be increased pressure for shops, offices, and cinemas to move out, a further increase in vacant premises, greater lack of investment in building maintenance, and a spiral of economic and environmental decline.

“In the past forty years the Council has worked hard to promote the economic prosperity of the town centre, improve and modernize the built environment, almost always in very difficult local economic circumstances.

“This relocation proposal is, in effect, a reversal of this policy, almost as though the Council is giving up on the town centre.

“Furthermore, aside from the strategic issue about the proper location of Council functions, we regard the proposals as extremely hazardous, a paper exercise with little understanding of the practical difficulties of getting development, especially attractive development to Scarborough, unless of course it is very heavily subsidized from public funds.

“At present both the Skipton Building Society and Scarborough Council have property liabilities needing repair and which they are unable to sell or rent.

“Scarborough Council intends to take the Skipton liability off its books for £2.2 million, plus £1.5 million for repair and adaptation.

“At the end of this complex transaction the Skipton will have no liabilities in Scarborough on its books and will be well pleased.

“However, Scarborough Council will have taken on even more liabilities, and will have done so in the most risky of economic and local circumstances.

“Why should a developer take on the redevelopment of the Futurist, King Street, and the Town Hall with all its difficulties, when the returns on investment will be so much greater elsewhere, and the risks less.

“The Council will no doubt ‘test the market’ and receive soothing advice, lulled by which it will imagine that redevelopment is just round the corner given a fair wind, huge public subsidy, and a sudden boom in economic fortunes nationwide.

“The truth is that Scarborough is a difficult market at the best of times for serious property development, and for very good reasons associated with relative isolation and a small catchment area.

“If the Councillors were determined to proceed with this relocation, and also wished to avoid years of empty buildings and increased dilapidation, it would be essential to have first attractive redevelopment proposals agreed, with a timescale, and a developer with sufficient guaranteed financial resources to complete the scheme.

“It seems unlikely, indeed laughable to imagine, that any bank would guarantee the loan on such a project.

“Without a guaranteed scheme in advance, the Council enormously increases the risks.

“We believe the risks, uncertainties, and unknowns built into this proposal, to be formidable.

“Consequently while we accept that there are problems with the existing buildings that need addressing, all the resources of professional skill should be put into working out solutions within the town centre, and looking at innovative solutions and partners within this framework.

“We would be happy to contribute to this.

“We agree with and associate ourselves with the excellent contributions and analysis of this issue by Cllr Roxanne Murphy, and by Jean Greenan.

“The town centre is the proper location from which the Council should lead, conduct its business, and support, in terms of morale, financial and economic weight, the future of the town.

“One cannot imagine York, Harrogate, Hull, Beverley, or Leeds contemplating so unsuitable a proposal.

“In York the entirely sensible decision was taken to keep the Council functions in the town centre.

“In the case of Scarborough the physical and social character of the town, and the fragility of the economy, make the rejection of the notion of relocation to the periphery even more important.

“We want a vibrant town centre with shops, offices, cinema and restaurants, not a ghost town with pubs.

“Yet how do you expect developers to invest in the town centre if the Council itself is seen as deserting a sinking ship.”