War veterans quit Scarborough after 22 years

The Veterans Parde line up at St Martins Church for their final parade.Picture Richard Ponter 123655
The Veterans Parde line up at St Martins Church for their final parade.Picture Richard Ponter 123655

Royal Navy veterans who have paraded along Scarborough’s seafront for the past 22 years have quit the town after being hit by soaring costs.

The 8th Destroyers Squadron will now hold its annual reunion in Bridlington as a result of members not being able to afford a £1,000 levy to use the Spa.

Scarborough has always welcomed the parade, with the public lining the streets to applaud 200 veterans as they march by, with some members booking the same guesthouses year after year.

But a question mark has been hanging over the three-day event since organisers were told they would have to pay the Spa fee from 2013.

As a result they have this week signed a new four-year deal with the Bridlington Spa – for free.

Peter Lee-Hale, squadron association chairman, said his men had protected the nation at times of war and added: “It would have meant this levy being passed on to those attending the reunion.” Last visit – page 37

“For 22 years Royal Navy men whose 18 destroyers protected British interests in the Far East from 1945-1963, have gathered in Scarborough for their annual reunion. Now, however, they are forced to seek a new anchorage.

“No more will residents and holiday makers be able to throng the promenade to watch the veterans march past the current mayor and their president with their medals glistening, awarded for conflicts during and post World War Two.”

Mr Lee-Hale said the £1,000 fee would increase each year for the use of the Spa facilities and association funds were too sparse to foot the bill.

“It would have meant this levy being passed on to those attending the reunion,” he said.

It it not the first time event organisers have been forced to look elsewhere as a result of the charges, according to Bridlington Spa’s events and conference manager, Paul Roggeman.

Mr Roggeman said: “As part of economic development, everything which brings business into the town we offer free room hire and staffing. When you’re in a recession you have to look at everything.

“When I heard about the 8th Destroyers we offered our services and they took us up on it straight away. It’s bad news for Scarborough but at least it is staying in the same area.

“Other people have enquired with us because of prices going up at the Spa and we are still in negotiations. I can’t reveal who as it is a confidential process.”

Scarborough Council, which is running the Spa until private operators take over next month, said the levy was fair.

Brian Bennett, head of tourism and culture, said: “We have a responsibility to strike a balance between the cost paid by the users of the facility and the subsidy of the venue that is funded by our council tax payers.

“There are many factors to consider ranging from the wider economic benefit to the borough and the costs being charged by competitors. In this case we felt the proposed charge for next year was appropriate but I understand that they have been offered a very competitive deal elsewhere.

“We do have discounted rates for non-profit making organisations, but with a subsidised venue it would not be appropriate to reduce costs to the level required to secure the use on this occasion.”

Mr Bennett thanked the veterans for their business and wished them “every success” for next year’s event.

“We are sorry to lose this conference but we hope that the overall benefits offered by Scarborough will entice them back,” he said.

Mr Lee-Hale said: “I think the people that are most upset about it are the hoteliers and guest houses. In some cases our guys have been staying in the same places for 22 years and it has become a friendship.

“I think it’s very short-sighted of the management at Scarborough Spa, who are very much motivated by profit. They forget the amount of money which the veterans bring to Scarborough.”

Scarborough taxi driver Phil McDonald described it as a “backward step for Scarborough” as the event brought vital trade into the town.

He said: “It’s very bad for Scarborough. As a seaside town you need all the tourism you can get. It’s a step backwards and the council should think again. Many traders look forward to this time of year when these people arrive because it’s extra business. Who is going to replace them?”

However, Scarborough Hospitality Association, which represents a number of the town’s hotels and guest houses, has backed the council’s stance.

Secretary Allison Barnes said: “While we are sad that the veterans parade will not be held in Scarborough next year, it is understandable that they want to try somewhere new, especially if the facilities for this conference are being offered to them free.

“The charge of £1,000 by the Scarborough Spa for 200 delegates over a three-day period still only works out at £5 a head, which is extremely good value for money considering the excellent facilities provided by Scarborough Spa.

“We hope that regular visitors to the town will still choose to stay in Scarborough during next year’s conference and who knows? Sometimes it isn’t always about costs, if Scarborough is the right venue for them we may see the veterans return in future years.”

In a further twist of the knife, North Yorkshire Police told the organisation it could no longer provide traffic management for the parade, which it continued to do as a mark of respect despite pulling the plug on event traffic control several years ago.

Speaking to the Scarborough News in November, when news of the parade being under threat first broke, a police spokesman said: “We have and will continue to support the event by providing information to the organisers of this parade to assist them in allowing it to continue.”

However, it has not been enough to save the event and last weekend was a sad one for many of the visiting navy men.

Mr Lee-Hale said: “The veterans said ‘goodbye’ and not ‘see you next year’ to the many mine hosts who became their friends during these 22 years.”