As some of you may be aware I was asked a while ago to sit on the Spurn Liaison Group. This is a group of people selected to represent various interest groups (mine being wildlife photography) and the local community at Spurn in light of Planning Permission being granted for the New Visitor centre currently under construction at Kilnsea.
It was recognised by the East riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) that relations between the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) and visitor groups/local community had become frayed over a period of time and that something should be done to repair relations. It was widely acknowledged that some form of liaison group should have been set up years ago so that everybody with an interest at Spurn could at least have a say and be kept informed of what was planned.
So much so that ERYC imposed a planning condition (planning Condition 21) calling for the submission and approval of a protocols document with some objectives. An extract from the document is below. It can be viewed in full on the ERYC Planning website.
‘The purpose of the liaison group is to repair and maintain good relations between YWT and the local community, businesses and key partners keeping them informed as the approved development of the Spurn Visitor Centre progresses.
The trust recognises that it is a major landowner in the community, and has a long term responsibility to manage Spurn National Nature Reserve, and other land effectively with the involvement of its tenants and the community.
The liaison group has the full support of the executive and Trustees of the YWT and ERYC. The group is expected to produce ideas, challenges recommendations and proposals that will contribute directly to the management and successful development of the Spurn NNR.
‘..the views of the group will carry a significant weight based upon the breadth and experience of its members’
‘.. we are much more likely to achieve this through open and honest discussion’
ERYC Ward councillors may attend each meeting their support has been instrumental in getting the group off the ground , and their leadership, contacts and influence within the community will be of great help in the future.
It is intended that the group will have a long term existence, in helping the Trust to manage such an important site and helping to resolve many of the perceptions and issues that have emerged over recent years, in particular in relation to formal public consultation on the visitor centre planning application.
Draw up notes of each meeting and circulate in reasonable time
Consider the views of others via the liaison group, and take reasonable steps to answer or address concerns which may arise.
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS AN OPEN ADMISSION THAT RELATIONS NEED TO BE REPAIRED AND WAS SUBMITTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH PLANNING CONDITION 21 IN MY VIEW THEREFORE ALL OF THE ABOVE NEEDS TO BE REASONABLY COMPLIED WITH TO ALLOW PLANNING CONDITION 21 TO BE DISCHARGED.
Up until now and out of respect for the Spurn Liaison Group (SLG) I have chosen not to comment publicly on what has been discussed The meetings have been generally benign with a lot of talk, lots of questions being asked, lots of suggestions but very little in the way of positive action and crucially no significant actions worthy of me communicating to the wider world.
Meeting minutes were taken (albeit inaccurately) and posted on YWT website, despite many members protesting that the minutes were inaccurate, YWT still posted them anyway. To anyone reading the minutes without actually being there they paint a different picture to what was actually discussed.
As you can imagine with such a sensitive site, there were lots of concerns over the sequence of works at the start of the site. YWT informed the group after works had started on the site strip and erection of water vole and newt fences. There were concerns that the contractors were not working within strict accordance (planning condition 7) with the Construction & Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) we were told they were working within acceptable tolerances (not sure how strict and tolerance go together?)
Was the archaeology being properly protected? (planning condition 20). I asked for the report from the Archaeologists to be circulated within the group to ally any concerns but it was never forthcoming. In my opinion if a report had been submitted giving the building work the all clear, it would not have been unreasonable to share that with the group (why wouldn’t you want to share it if you have made such a commitment to keep people informed?).
There was some early concerns over car parking arrangements and the extent of double yellow lines down Spurn Road. We were informed that double yellow lines would not be placed immediately but the area would be checked periodically to assess the impact of traffic on the verges and a decision made at a later date. I asked in February if a member of the team from ERYC Highways department could attend and explain the detail to the group. I was informed and it was minuted that the engineer would attend a later meeting. Its now August and that engineer has not addressed the group as promised.
It was suggested that the Contractor carrying out the works registered with The Considerate Constructors scheme https://www.ccscheme.org.uk/
with an aspiration to achieving a gold award. We were informed that they would and the contractor was asked to attend a future meeting which he did. The group asked about the aspiration for attaining a Gold Standard and he knew nothing of that aspiration (that should have been passed on by YWT). I asked if they would besending out a letter informing residents of start dates, major vehicle movements contact details etc (which is standard practice for Considerate Constructors) I was told by the contractor ‘we only do that on big jobs’ my response ‘to everybody sat around this table, this is a big job’.
The works commenced an no letter was sent out. There are only 37 residents in Kilnsea for goodness sake! Discussing this at a subsequent meeting I pressed YWT on the point of the letter, Would they send out a retrospective letter to local residents apologising for not sending one informing them of the commencement of the work but still providing key dates and contact information? YWT response-I’ll go away and think about it…
I asked how the contractors were doing regarding Considerate Constructors and if they looked like gaining an award. I was told and it was minuted that ‘it was difficult and only an aspiration anyway’. How patronising is that? I asked if the audit from the CC inspector could be shared with the group. I was told it could but as yet it has not been circulated.
Access to Spurn peninsula was discussed. Will the car park be locked? What will be the opening times (can it be 24 hours similar to Bempton [after all a public footpath runs through the site]). What will access arrangements be for disabled sea anglers- all reasonable questions that all remain unanswered.
Discussions took place (YWT invited suggestions) on wider enhancements for the Spurn visitor experience. A map was drawn up by group members with suggestions for extra hides, footpaths water level management and access for sea anglers and presented at one of the meetings. The first thing YWT wanted to do was rationalise the list, then they offered any number of excuses as to why some of the things couldn’t happen (one being cost and I’ll come to that later).
At the last meeting I asked YWT if they could share their own vision for Spurn with the SLG (keep us informed) to provide a copy of the Spurn master plan and share it with the SLG. It would not be unreasonable to think that YWT as owners and custodians of the site had a master plan and some if not all of the suggestions were already taken into account. I was assured at the last meeting (after some debate and clarification of the meaning of master plan!) that this plan would be shared with the SLG ( a good way of keeping people informed you might think?). As yet the master plan has not been issued and it is my personal belief that such a master plan does not exist and that YWT have no intention of ‘off setting’ or mitigating against the loss of habitat by the erection of the visitor centre and certainly have no coherent plan of improving the visitor experience because if they did surely they would have kept us all informed by sharing it by now?
It became apparent earlier this year that YWT had been awarded a £1.1 million grant from the Coastal Communities fund https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/ccf
(this announcement was made on Look North and it was not divulged by YWT at the SLG meetings. Look North suggested that the money had been allocated to Spurn).
One important thing in these discussions kept arising. Money. It was always suggested that YWT had no fund to pay for the suggested enhancements. I thought that was puzzling-here is a long list of possibilities to enhance the visitor experience (and so attract and retain more visitors?) YWT have been awarded a £1.1 million pound Coastal Communities grant (with the purpose of attracting and retaining visitors?) yet the default response is there’s no money. Strange.
This prompted me to ask for a breakdown of how the £1.1 million would be spent-a line by line itemised account of the split. Surely it would be in the interests of the community members of the SLG to be made aware of how £1.1 million of what is effectively public money would be spent on their doorstep? That was 3 meetings ago and we have not seen anything yet.
What we were told by YWT however is that part of the £1.1 million Coastal Communities money will be spent at North Cave. Last time I checked North Cave was about 35 miles inland so how that constitutes coastal communities I will never know.
The other thing YWT advised is that the visitor centre is way over budget. The final cost will be nearer £1.4 million against the widely and continued reported cost of £900k. We were also told that the shortfall for the visitor centre will be paid for……. By the coastal communities fund.
There are some other points that I won’t into detail right now but just bring you completely up to speed, the last meeting was held on Thursday 20th July. It ended pretty much by most of the people around the table agreeing that the SLG had been a complete waste of time. Nothing tangible has been agreed there has been no improvements in relations between the community and crucially the group and the wider community have not been adequately informed on a number of points (namely those listed above).
If you go back to the points I made at the outset regarding the protocols document, I am of the opinion that Planning Condition 21 has not been adequately complied with and therefore fail to see how it can be discharged.
Just so you are aware the minutes of that meeting held on 20th July have not yet been issued.
In light of all of the above I have written formally to ERYC voicing my concerns and it is my understanding that they met with YWT on Thursday of this week
I have asked for a summary of their discussion.
I summary I can only offer words of disappointment. I have accepted the decision for the Visitor Centre to go ahead but will always maintain that it is in the wrong place. I saw the Spurn Liaison Group as an opportunity to make the best of the situation and I hoped that the way this (post planning submission) was handled could be used as an exemplar to be used on similar schemes elsewhere. When I read the protocols document it filled me with hope that there was a real commitment to re-build relations and make Spurn a great place to visit. Instead I feel that the members of the Spurn Liaison Group and the local community have been led up the garden path. We'll put all of these nice words together, we'll attend a few meetings and kick as many of the issues as far down the football pitch as we can. I feel let down by ERYCC-they have just sat back and allowed it to happen, I cannot recall one instance where YWT have been urged to respond on any of the pressing matters.
Quite simply YWT have ridden roughshod over this whole process, they have ticked their relevant boxes and ERYC have just sat back and allowed them to do it. It feels as if no-one in authority cares. If YWT had been honest from the outset they could have told us on day one that we were wasting our time and it would have saved us the trouble.
The points that I have made are my own interpretation of the facts and I will happily share any further information (should it be forthcoming) to provide any more clarity. Thank you for reading.