Towering Incompetence & Neglect

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Towering Incompetence & Neglect

Whitby East Pier Lighthouse - Falling Down ??

Whitby East Pier Lighthouse - Falling Down ??

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,



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,

John Riby

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.

No reply.

I emailed him again on 30th April 2011, reminding him of my offer.

No reply.

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.

No response.

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.

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  1. Paul Tomlinson April 15, 2012 at 12:46 am - Reply

    no better place could you be . take that from a big fan of whitby it beats them all in my eyes .a lovely place end of ….just brill .

  2. F L C April 15, 2012 at 7:41 am - Reply

    What a disgrace!

    To the reporter though, good job.

    The sixty four dollar question I have though is how it is that such fools managed to get into such jobs. Surely you have to have some sort of high end qualifications to carry out these duties(?)

    It starts to look like there is an alternative agenda at play here, albeit one that will benefit the select few, and not the people of Whitby. Why else would these people never answer questions or be honest, etc.? Then, that’s just a ‘theory’.

  3. Jane Swales April 15, 2012 at 8:07 am - Reply

    What beautiful music! And those moronic ingrates were too rude to reply. I despair!

    • Nigel Ward April 15, 2012 at 8:34 am - Reply

      Thank you, Jane. But please do not despair. Change is afoot, and it can only be for the better!

  4. Finn MCcool April 15, 2012 at 10:15 am - Reply

    Don’t worry the Andromeda Council will fix this soon ,Bugger SBC….

  5. Jon Risdon April 15, 2012 at 11:06 am - Reply

    It just beggars belief how [very well] paid local public servants can display such cavalier disregard for obvious evidence of dilapidation, notwithstanding the embarrassment factor involved with the acceptance of the blindingly obvious in the neglect, which is plainly visible to all, but the intransigence displayed consistently [which can only be ascribed to some sort of personal animus against you Nigel, for some indefensible reason] is just breathtaking; the tragedy of it all, but also the overwhelming weight of your case Nigel is that you have so much documentary evidence amassed over a lamentably long period of time with which to back it up. The people of Whitby deserve better.

  6. Danny Pettersen April 15, 2012 at 11:47 am - Reply

    the arrogance of office displayed in this and previous posts is breath taking. Local government representatives whether elected or employed must have accountability to those it theoretically represents. Dumb founded.

  7. Nigel Ward April 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Cockerill again (in the Yorkshire Post):

    “Fears over plans to transform historic harbour”

    “I have heard indirect comments and so far there has been nobody against it but at the moment we specifically haven’t gone out asking people’s opinion. It might be a total non-starter.”

    You need to talk to the Environment Agency, Mike. And the public.

  8. JGHarston April 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    The East Pier is sinking slightly, that is detailed in the Whitby Harbour Stategy document from January 2009. Sinking such as this will be visible in structures on the East Pier tilting from vertical, and can be clearly seen where the footings for the link bridge to the extension have sunk.

  9. ken graham April 16, 2012 at 6:45 am - Reply

    I took my first fishing party out on Tuesday, my first one since Oct 2011. I could not help noticing the increase in the lean to the East of the West Pier Lighthouse. Is any body monitoring this?

  10. ken graham April 16, 2012 at 7:00 am - Reply

    I have heard from a very good source that 2, perhaps maybe 3, WTC are ready to resign because of the very reasons mentioned above. The arrogance and non co-operation of people who are said to be running our Harbour in the interests of everyone!

  11. Richard Ineson April 16, 2012 at 7:15 am - Reply

    “Robert Goodwill has backed the proposals and believes the move will provide a boost for the town’s economy, as visitors from across the globe, choose to moor their boats in the harbour and head onto shore”

    Good news for the local retail economy, who provide seasonal, minimum wage jobs, for local people, who are thrown onto the dole each October, kept fed, housed and watered at the expense of the public purse during the winter months, except for the short bursts at Christmas and good weather weekends, and finally pressed back into service as Easter heralds the commencement of a new season of lining the pockets of a few people who own the businesses.

    No thought for the local residents then? Even more people on the already overcrowded streets, the exorbitant prices charged for everything in Whitby, because prices here, are based on what the visitors are willing to pay; even more people, creating more rubbish, a need for additional policing, wear and tear on the infrastructure,further strain on the already failing sewage system, extra public toilet provision (already a bone of contention)which the Council Tax payer has to fund. Then there is the noise, drunken anti social behaviour, inconvenience and litter, not to mention dog fouling, and, has consideration been given to the NYMPA/Environment Agency initiative to establish fresh water mussels in the Esk, a matter which is considered of such importance that £250,000 has been spent on the project?

    No major objections Mike,(the Environment Agency has ‘significant concerns’ are these similar to ‘major objections’?) the proposal has lot going for it, don’t worry about the local residents and the marine life (no mention of bird life, I suppose that is to be lumped together with residents as being of no importance),just make those 100 people on the waiting list for a yacht berth happy.
    Glad to hear that you ‘haven’t gone out asking people’s opinion’ it might be inconvenient.

    “The next step is to talk to these other bodies (Natural England and NYMPA), that will give us some guidance as to how to take it further and at some stage (you can almost here the sigh of despair at this point)it needs to go out to public consultation”.
    I think that we all know what that means, those old Stakeholder Steering Groups which we all know and love, and which can always be relied upon to produce the right answers.

  12. Nigel Ward October 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    In full:

    “A lucky escape”

    Published on Sunday 28 October 2012 18:21

    I am writing in response to your report “Troubled water for board” and the apparent lack of interest for two vacancies on the Whitby Harbour Board.

    I have not seen any advertisement or notice stating that these vacancies are available other than on the SBC website after I read the article. Why then is the Whitby Harbour Board chairman “surprised by the subdued interest”?

    When the Whitby Harbour Board was set up in 2010 I applied to become a member.

    I felt, as a professional mariner, it would be a worth while cause and that I could put my experience and knowledge to good use in the local area.

    I went through the application process and wrote down why I thought I would be suitable – I spent 12 years in the Merchant Navy, am a Master Mariner, I currently serve as a pilot for busy nearby port, I am a RNLI lifeboat crew member and I have a small fishing boat in Staithes.

    I thought that that pretty much covered every aspect of knowledge and understanding that may be required by a harbour board member. Also, being only 35 years of age at the time I thought it would be good to have a relatively young member on the board.

    After applying I was told that I would almost certainly be chosen as there had been few other applications and that in fact the closing date had been extended.

    So, a few weeks later I was surprised and disappointed to receive a letter from SBC informing me that my application was not successful.

    Apparently I “scored low on commercial finance and leisure industry experience” and that other applicants were more suitable.

    Looking at the original chosen board members (and not many are left) I will let your readers come to their own conclusions about who was most suited.

    Maybe if I had a degree in renewable energy or was the director of an offshore wind farm company then I would have been more likely to be selected as a board member.

    Given the chaos that has surrounded the harbour board since its inception I am extremely pleased that I was not chosen and I feel like I have had a lucky escape.

    I imagine that when the pilot scheme ends in March 2013 the board will be dissolved anyway – I have since heard that it was set up to fail.

    Needless to say I will not be applying to fill one of the vacancies and I doubt anyone else will!

    Lee Jackson, Staithes Lane, Staithes by email

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