It is only ten days since I published an article highlighting the incompetence and neglect that characterizes the performance of the pilot Whitby Harbour Board and its Chair, Councillor Mike Cockerill (SBC and NYCC), from whom I had hoped to learn the circumstances in which the mast of the Scoresby Monument could have reached such an advanced state of decomposition as to come crashing down, narrowly missing a passer-by. Instead of showing me the inspection logs and Risk Assessments, Mike stiff-armed me. Here is his one-liner response: “Sorry Nigel I’m not entering into any more dialogue but I do appreciate you informing me of the incident last evening Cheers“
Curiously enough, Mike was a whole lot more forthcoming in his interview for the Friday 13th April issue of the Yorkshire Post. Of course, on that occasion Mike was talking about something that has not yet come crashing down – Whitby’s East Pier Lighthouse.
Mike Cockerill, said: “There’s a concern that there is a certain amount of lean, which would seem to indicate the foundations aren’t that good.”
“If the piers aren’t considered stable enough to continue to support the weight of the lighthouses, some serious work has to be done to stabilise them before we would look at spending significant amounts of money on the structures. It’s a chicken and egg situation.”
“Ground investigation work needs to be carried out and no decisions will be taken until we know the state of the foundations, which is the internal structure of the piers.”
I have been campaigning about the condition of Whitby’s Lighthouses for three years now. It took a long time to extract from Mr John Riby, the then Head of Technical Services and de facto Harbour Supremo at SBC, the following information (FOIA1199 – 9th September 2010):
- “The East Pier Lighthouse is closed to the public and will remain so. There are no plans at present to undertake refurbishment works either inside or out but any essential maintenance will be carried out as and when necessary. In terms of full restoration of the Lighthouse, there are no current plans but I envisage that the Whitby Harbour Board may wish to consider such going forward and measured against other priorities.”
I suggested to Mr Riby that a local community group was interested in taking on the interior restoration of the Lighthouse. On 26th October 2010, Riby finally had this to say:
- “The Council does not currently have the financial resources available at this time to carry out a full assessment or to implement, other than modest, safety works therefore the onus to take this idea forward would have to be with interested parties and not the Council.
On 14th December 2010, I again approached John Riby, this time enclosing a photograph illustrating the increase in the inclination of the Lighthouse towards the east.
John Riby has never replied to that, either.
Next, I embarked on a lengthy and frustrating correspondence with English Heritage, the body responsible for monitoring the maintenance of Listed buildings (the Lighthouses are Listed – Grade 2), culminating in English Heritage Leader Neil Redfern stating:
- “We agree it is the responsibility of SBC to maintain the Lighthouse and we have picked this up with them. Regarding enforcement action, this power does not lie with English Heritage but with the Secretary of State. In our experience the Secretary of State is only likely to exercise this power in the most significant of cases.”
I was not alone in raising concerns over the structural safety of the Lighthouse to Robert Goodwill MP (Con) for Scarborough & Whitby, who kindly wrote to John Riby to find out if it was really the case that SBC was ignoring the public outcry.
John Riby replied to Mr Goodwill on 1st March 2011:
Dear Mr Goodwill,
EAST PIER LIGHTHOUSE
Thank you for your letter of 25th february regarding the above. I would begin by assuring you and those that[sic] have contacted you that I have no reason to doubt the structural integrity of the Lighthouse at Whitby.Obviously by its location it is in a very hostile environment and this has, over the years, caused the exterior to weather. Nevertheless this does not render it unsafe.The obleisk[sic] is a listed structure and we liaise with English Heritage on this status. We will bear this in mind in terms of prioritising the funding we may have available to address any deterioration. Should it ever become necessary to prevent the public from gaining access near to the Lighthouse, we will of course act in the interest of public safety. However, as stated above we don’t believe that to be necessary. I trust this clarifies the situation.
Assuring you of our best endeavours,Yours sincerely,
No reason to doubt the structural integrity? Assuring you of our best endeavours? I had been showing him photographs for eighteen months! English Heritage were nagging him! The Civic Society were nagging him! And now the MP was nagging him!
And this is were it gets interesting, because John Riby was then in possession of a report dated 7th February 2011 by consultant engineer Mr Martin Lloyd B.Eng. (Hons), C.Eng., M.I.Struct.E., whose conclusion was :
- With regards to the East Pier Extension emergency works carried out between August 2010 and December 2010, risks associated with vibrations caused by the pile installation were identified early in the project and as a safe method of installation was adopted to eliminate the possibility of damaging adjacent structures.
- During the pile installation monitoring equipment recorded the vibration in the East Pier and a limiting reading of 2.5mm/s set. These monitoring records have been reviewed and maximum vibration levels of only 0.525mm/s were noted. The magnitude of the vibrations resulting from the piling activities are deemed insufficient to cause damage to the both the Lighthouse and East Pier structure.
So, at best, John Riby was ignoring the evidence of informed local people, English Heritage, the photographic evidence, the evidence of his own eyes and the intervention of MP Bob Goodwill. At worst, he was lying in his teeth to everyone because he knew the piling had had a deleterious effect.
Undaunted, I emailed Riby with an offer to donate the master-recording and copyright of a symphonic piece of mine, inspired by the Piers and the Abbey, entitled “Whitby In Stone”, and I offered to make a short film about the Lighthouse, underscored by that music, for the Council to market specifically to raise funds for the restoration of the East Pier Lighthouse.
John Riby has never replied to that offer.
But I do not give up so easily. Next, on 29th March 2011, I emailed SBC Leader Councillor Tom Fox, complaining about John Riby’s cavalier attitude, and re-iterating my off to donate “Whitby In Stone” to raise funds for the restoration.
I emailed him again on 30th April 2011, reminding him of my offer.
I mentioned all of this to Councillor Sandra Turner, who as well as being Chair of the East Side Action Plan is also a member of Whitby Harbour Board, when we met at my home on Sunday 18th September 2011. She asked me to copy her in to my email to Tom Fox, and to enclose a link to “Whitby In Stone”, which I did the next day.
Meanwhile, we now have a new Harbour Supremo, Mr Brian Bennett, Head of Tourism and Culture, with zero experience of harbours, working with Chair of the Whitby Harbour Board Councillor Mike Cockerill (SBC & NYCC) who has told the Yorkshire Post:
“There’s a concern that there is a certain amount of lean, which would seem to indicate the foundations aren’t that good.”
No shit, Sherlock!
Now it is very possible that those readers who trouble to give “Whitby In Stone” a listen may conclude that Councillors Fox and Turner and Cockerill are quite right to form a low opinion of my work. I can tell you this, though; I do not give a flying flock about their opinions. (I composed it, arranged it, conducted it, recorded it and mastered it at my own expense and offered to the Council – ie to the people of Whitby. It deserves, at the very least, a polite “thanks, but no thanks”).
What I do give a flying flock about is my opinion that Whitby Harbour is in the hands of arrogant and incompetent fools.
And meanwhile, SBC is allowing the public to wander around our Lighthouses, in the clear knowledge that they may at any moment come crashing down like the Scoresby Monument. On any forthcoming Risk Assessment Matrix, the greatest risk of all must be allowing these people to supervise the Harbour.