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What have Scarborough Borough Council ever done for us?
Well not nearly as much as the Romans did for the people of Judea, as it happens!
When I first moved to Scarborough in 1991 I found a place that had seen better days, but still had more than enough potential to rise, like a phoenix, from the flames of its own fire.
Having said that, there were some worrying signs and had I picked up on the full implications of those, then I might not have even moved here.
Why, for example, was the town such an architectural hotchpotch and why was there virtually no acknowledgement of the town’s most famous son, Charles Laughton? Why, also, did the town’s restaurants and bars appear to be twenty years behind most of the rest of the country?
The architecture was the thing that stood out. I knew that Scarborough was a town which had risen to great prominence in the Georgian and particularly Victorian eras, but there was scant evidence of that in the town centre, where 60′s and 70′s boxy tack seemed to proliferate; the worst example being Pavilion House and Square, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the middle of Albanian capital Tirana, in terms of its bleakness.
On the sea-front, Scarborough Spa complex was essentially a magnificent structure, but for reasons unknown, some Philistine architect had seen fit to plonk that carbuncle known as The Ocean Room, smack-dab in its middle!
The architectural appearance of a town is very much related to a town council’s attitude to planning and conservation and it quickly became plain that SBC had no coherent policy in this area. Either it was the result of continued incompetence, or there were darker forces at work!
Anyway, as I said earlier, I hadn’t really appreciated at that time just how deep-rooted was SBC’s plan to allow our beautiful town to slide into oblivion, so I carried on regardless, anxious to help re-establish the town as a major tourist destination, in any way I could.
I wrote to the Head of Tourism asking why there wasn’t any notable tribute to Charles Laughton in the town and why there wasn’t a maritime museum, giving particular attention to Scarborough’s former role as the most important port in the UK, possibly the world, for tuna fishing.
I got a very smug reply saying that he didn’t think a statue and a fusty old museum would bring the tourist’s flooding back, failing to identify they were just a couple of suggestions for what should have been a much bigger and coherent campaign.
A friend came to stay and like me, he remembered witnessing naval battles in the Open-Air Theatre when he was a kid, so we went to have a look at what had become of it.
We were confronted by a pretty sorry sight, but again, I felt with a bit of affection it could once again, become a major place of entertainment.
I contacted an old colleague who had a TV production company, specialising in the production of live music broadcasts.
I told him about The Open-Air Theatre and was met with a wave of enthusiasm.
He told me that in conjunction with this country’s major concert promoter, he would love the use of such a venue, as the nearest similar theatre was The Greek in Los Angeles, where they had already made a couple of programmes. Obviously the drawback was the state of The Open-Air Theatre, especially in terms of Health and Safety.
At my own expense, I had a survey done of the theatre and got an estimate of how much it would cost to A) Bring it up to Health and Safety standards and B) How much it would further cost to make the cosmetic and functional improvements, as would be required to make it look good on TV and be functional as a prominent, big-seater venue.
When I got the figures back, I submitted them to aforementioned promoter and he came back offering to pay for all of the work plus any future maintenance, in return for contractually agreed use of the theatre up to a maximum of twelve days per annum, for a period of 25 years.
He was even happy for Scarborough Borough Council to retain the catering and drinks concession for his events, except on the island itself, as he wanted to use that for corporate hospitality, meet and greets etc.
He asked me to broker the deal. The whole enterprise wouldn’t have cost the council tax payers of Scarborough a single penny and they would have got the use of their lovely theatre free of charge, for 353 days a year!
Thinking this was a no-brainer, I submitted a 15 page prospectus, setting out all of the above in detail, to David James, then Head of Tourism. After some time I received a response which made it obvious he hadn’t even bothered to read the document.
The theatre remained derelict and my promoter friend could not believe SBC hadn’t bitten his arm off.
I realise the theatre has been recently re-opened, but this was done in a very amateurish way, handing over the booking of events to a company which has little or no experience in this field.
Needless to say, it all seems to be ending in tears and I expect an imminent announcement that The Open-Air Theatre isn’t viable as a professional enterprise.
It isn’t if you don’t run it professionally and you do dodgy deals with your mates! Professionally run, this theatre could be one of the most important venues in the UK, bringing in £1000′s of tourist revenue to the town.
SBC has consistently turned down offers which would be of great benefit to the town, in favour of accepting schemes which are ill thought-out and of ultimate benefit only to private individuals, as opposed to the people of the town.
Ask yourself why and I’m pretty sure most of us will come up with the same answer; there is no personal profit in schemes which actually benefit the town!
The people of Scarborough are used to all these schemes and developments going arse-up and ultimately costing us all money. SBC trade on the low expectations of the people of Scarborough and unless we all start questioning their ability to run the town properly, on a regular basis, then they will continue to use the town for their own, personal benefit.
This was supposed to be a piece covering twenty years of SBC incompetence/possible corruption, but I find I’m only able to deal with the tip of the iceberg, within the allotted space.
Hopefully the editor will allow me to offer further installments, in due course.