Comments made by a Scarborough Council officer have been greeted with outrage from sea defence campaigners - who claim they imply half of all Scarborians are ‘illiterate’.
The controversial comments were reportedly made by Scarborough Borough Council’s Principal Coastal Officer, Stewart Rowe, at a public information session on Wednesday May 24 at The Spa.
The public meeting was held for council officers to present highly divisive proposals on the multi-million pound rock armour coastal defence scheme, which has been backed by the authority.
Several of the approximate 150 people in attendance contacted The Scarborough News following the packed meeting, reacting furiously to reported comments by Mr Rowe that ‘half the people in Scarborough can’t read’ - claiming that he has ‘insulted the people of Scarborough’.
Mandy Harrow, of Burniston, was one of those who took exception towards Mr Rowe’s conduct, saying: “Stuart Rowe was very dismissive and almost sarcastic in his manner towards people.
“At one point one of the ladies asked him why people in Scarborough asked him hadn’t been sent a letter outlining the plans.
He said he couldn’t possible write to all the people in Scarborough and anyway half the people in Scarborough can’t read. He absolutely said that.”
Despite the wave of criticism, Scarborough Council has leapt to the defence of the officer, vehemently defending his comments.
The authority insist that his comments have been taken “completely out of context” - and insist the statement referred to residents with “poor eyesight” or those who experience “language barriers”.
But her disgust has been echoed by several others, including surf tutor and environmental campaigner Steve Crawford.
He has took objection to other comments in which Mr Rowe reportedly told surfers, who claim the rock armour could cause deaths in the water, to ‘get on a flight to Honolulu’ if they wish to ride the waves.
“He was very blasé, and not concerned about what we had to say at all - it seemed to me the meeting was just one massive council box ticking exercise,” said Mr Crawford.
“What he said was totally indefensible, and it shows that he has a very small opinion of the people Scarborough Council represent.”
Defending Mr Rowe, A council spokesperson said: “The council says comments have been taken completely out of context.”
“If we were to send a letter to every household in the borough, not everyone would choose to read it and some people may not be able to due to poor eyesight or language barriers.”
It added: “The council uses many different methods of communicating with the public about its projects as all methods have their flaws. We therefore use a wide range of different methods to try and reach as many people as possible.
“Not everyone listens to radio news, not everyone buys and reads a local newspaper, not everyone can attend public meetings, not everyone pays attention to posters or will refer to a website.
“If residents would like to suggest alternative ways of consultation, the council will be happy to add them to the range that we already use.”
At the meeting, an informal vote showed that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance opposed the £16.6 million rock armour installation, which is part of planned sea defences on South Cliff.
The authority plumped for the rock armour ahead of the more costly steeped concrete revetment and wave wall - despite ongoing concerns from environmental campaigners and surfers regarding safety.
A petition has now been launched by campaigners to try and force the council into a rethink on their decision to move ahead with the rock armour plans.