The Valley Bridge Negligence Saga
- a report, by NICK HENDERSON, on the twenty-year saga of the negligence of Scarborough’s iconic gateway – Valley Bridge – and the dearth of information that would provide some accountability for that negligence.
On 24th September 2013, I travelled to County Hall, to meet with David BOWE and Richard FLINTON. Richard is Chief Executive of all of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), whom we have talked about on Real Whitby before. David BOWE is Corporate Director for Business and Environmental Services. This grand title bestows upon David the responsibility for Highways and Transportation, Passenger Transport, Waste Disposal, Countryside Services, Planning, Trading Standards and Economic Development in North Yorkshire. All of this, one might say is a vast amount of responsibility, but David clearly feels he can handle the job. I travelled there to question David and Richard directly about the curious state of affairs surrounding the works now taking place on the Valley Bridge.
As regular readers to Real Whitby will know, Valley Bridge, in Scarborough had been neglected for twenty years, not having had any maintenance carried out.
Curiously, Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) had it on their website that, for several years, they were responsible for the maintenance of the bridge.
Within a couple of days of the story of neglect breaking, and news of SBC being the responsible party, the websites of both SBC and NYCC changed without any explanation. The changes now showed that SBC “owns and maintains 29 bridges within the Borough of Scarborough”, but no longer mentions Valley Bridge. You can view that page here: http://www.scarborough.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=7886
NYCC similarly updated their web-pages detailing what works were to be carried out on road bridges. Originally their “Bridge maintenance information” page showed no such works planned or even underway on Valley Bridge. Shortly after the story broke however, that information changed.
Several requests were placed with both of these organisations for details of who made those changes, at the behest of whom, when, and for what reasons. No answers have been forthcoming. This starts to make one wonder just what is going on.
More videos emerged that were deeply embarrassing to NYCC when Cllr Gareth DADD got rather irate with one caller, who wanted to know just why the bridge had been neglected for such a long time. Cllr DADD is portfolio-holder for Highways and Planning – the man responsible for what the PUBLIC SERVANTS are paid to do. Cllr DADD’s response to being asked to hold the public servants to account? He told the caller that he was “having his evening meal”, and to take his concerns elsewhere. Concerns regarding regular occurrences of falling metal, that could hit vehicles or pedestrians underneath the bridge, and injure or kill someone. Large fragments of metal that are not insignificant in weight.
At this point I became deeply interested and wanted to know for myself what was going on.
I regularly walk beneath Valley Bridge, and on one occasion happened to be getting close to the bridge itself when just ahead of me I heard a loud and ominous clunk. It was unmistakably the sound of metal hitting the ground. Literally just yards from where I was walking. Had I set off a few seconds earlier there was a good chance the metal could have struck me – although, we will never really know for sure.
The Scarborough News covered the story, and although they didn’t clearly state that the piece had fallen as I was walking under the bridge, what caught my attention was this quote from an anonymous NYCC spokeswoman:
- “Our weekly inspections show that nothing is missing from the bridge that has not been previously removed by our own engineers.”
Essentially, NYCC were calling me a liar. As one would imagine, I was not amused by this.
So I contacted NYCC to find out who this mystery “woman” was. No answer was forthcoming. The Scarborough News couldn’t give out the details for “data protection reasons” – somewhat understandable, but given that this individual works for the public, and was acting in such a capacity, the Data Protection Act doesn’t apply… not according to the Scarborough News.
Read the story here:
Another point to note was the “weekly inspections”. Have any of our readers spotted those weekly inspection teams? Please let us know if you have – in the comments below. We have been utterly unable to get NYCC to tell us who those teams were, when they operated, for how long, etc. More secrecy.
Back in April, SBC were obviously embarrassed enough, or ordered by NYCC, to sweep the bridge. Despite requests for who ordered the bridge clean-up, or details of when such work was planned… you guessed it – no answer. More secrecy here:
So, the time came to go to County Hall itself. To go and ask the top dog, Richard FLINTON and his buddy David BOWE.
Both men sat in Richard’s office with myself and Nigel WARD, to discuss this issue – amongst other issues ranging from Councillors’ fraudulent expenses claims to secrecy and cronyism in the Council.
It should be noted that both these men were deeply uncomfortable at being recorded – a standard practice that ensures no one can misrepresent the content of a meeting. Why would they not want a meeting represented and recalled accurately?
David BOWE assured me personally that there were numerous reports for the bridge. Reports that related to maintenance, and planned works (‘planned’, because work hadn’t yet actually started). Reports on costs of maintenance, reasons for why maintenance hadn’t been conducted for twenty years. Reports about the physical condition of the bridge, and how to bring it back to a good level of repair.
I asked David BOWE directly, there and then, for copies of all of those reports. His promise to me was that I would definitely get them. Each report would be forwarded to me at the earliest opportunity, and certainly within a week, so that I could peruse them and see for myself that “NYCC hadn’t been negligent”. These reports are in e-format and can be emailed. Electronic files can be recalled on a computer in seconds, attached to an email in seconds, and sent in less time than it takes to say “these are the facts”.
24th September to today, 7th December, inclusive is 75 days. I’m still waiting.
David BOWE also told me that the whole of Valley Bridge had been sprayed with SmartWater – a substance that, once applied, glows brilliantly under ultraviolet (UV) light. It’s used to deter thieves, or to connect them to crimes of theft upon arrest by the Police. David BOWE’s claim was that the whole bridge had been sprayed with SmartWater, so that NYCC and it’s engineers could “identify which part of the bridge a piece of metal had come from”. He raised this because I’d taken with me a huge box of fragments that had fallen from the bridge. Fragments that were more than large enough to kill someone had they fallen and struck anyone unlucky enough to be in the way.
Richard FLINTON looked somewhat shocked at the number of fragments, but remained silent. David BOWE, however, did not. He leapt at the opportunity to say something and offered that the fragments couldn’t possibly have come from the bridge “because they won’t be sprayed with SmartWater”. He is correct, they weren’t sprayed with SmartWater, but they did come from the bridge. Comparing the paint on the fragments to the paint on the bridge is an easy process, and even simple visual inspection shows this.
Therefore, whilst the absence of SmartWater is true, the suggestion that some of them have not come from the bridge appears to be false.
I purchased a test-lamp that would produce the right sort of light (UV – ultraviolet) to make the SmartWater glow – assuming that there was any sprayed on the bridge. I also asked a friend of mine, who also had a large and portable lamp capable of the same functions, to accompany me one evening so we could make our own inspection. Lo and behold, what did we find?
Just rusted balustrades, broken ironwork and flaky paint. No sign at all of any glowing of SmartWater, under UV light.
SmartWater ‘s manufacturers claim that once applied it will remain attached for years. Their website states:
- “SmartWater is the only forensic coding product to hold PAS 820:2012 Grade A External standard, which is guaranteed to last for a minimum of 5 years even when used outdoors.”
So, if David BOWE asserts that the bridge is sprayed “along its whole length with SmartWater”, but none shows up when subjected to a UV light-source, the conclusions that must be drawn are:
- a) SmartWater ‘s claim that it lasts 5 years is incorrect,
- b) SmartWater sold NYCC a dodgy batch, and should provide a refund,
- c) No SmartWater was applied and someone is telling porkies.
Now it is conceivable that David BOWE thought he was telling me the truth by suggesting that the bridge had been sprayed with SmartWater. He might have been informed by one of his juniors that it had been coated. That junior, or someone beneath them might have been dishonest, having failed to get the job done, or perhaps having misappropriated the SmartWater and sold it on, or having simply failed to order it from SmartWater… It could also be that David was telling me what he thought would suffice to fob me off.
To try to work out which of those options it could be, I’ve asked David BOWE to provide the details of the amount of SmartWater applied, how much it cost, when it was applied to the bridge, in how many sections, and so on. Guess what… You’ve guessed it. No answer. No Smartwater – and no documentation.
So much for the claim, by Richard FLINTON, in the meeting of the 24th September, that there was “nothing to hide”.
Richard FLINTON assured me personally that David BOWE does a great job; that David BOWE and his teams working on issues such as the bridge are professionals, who are highly skilled and “know their stuff”.
If that’s the case, could it be considered professional to make a promise to provide information, and then not actually fulfil that promise?
Could it be considered professional for a paid public servant to imply, in a newspaper, that a member of the community he/she serves is a liar?
I don’t think it is very professional.
Both men in the meeting were smart, friendly and suggested several times that they had “nothing to hide” – implying that they were honest in their capacity as custodians of the public purse.
Here we are though, 75 days on, and still no answers. Still no documentation.
I raised the issue of there being no contact details displayed for the workmen (in fact the CCTV signs attached to the barriers are for London 2012!). There was no progress reported for the work on the site.
I am not being paid in excess of £10,000 per month like Richard FLINTON, and some of his associates. I do, however, know when a job is being done poorly … Shortly after I raised these issues, signs were posted providing contact information for the site foreman, and giving details of the progress of works.
Richard FLINTON has been contacted on a number of occasions now to clear up the issue of me being kept waiting by David BOWE for reports I was promised weeks ago.
Richard, during one email exchange, was informed that I was getting very frustrated and tired at the works being carried out on a twenty-four hour basis. I had discovered that the contractors were being told to work through the night, banging away at the bridge because the section of the bridge over Valley Road, couldn’t be worked on through the day. The reason? According to the men on site, NYCC hadn’t bothered to apply to close the road beneath, so they had to work through the night. Also, that they were behind schedule.
Have a listen for yourself …
On a number of occasions, I walked down to the site, to ask the men to stop their banging and clattering so I could get some sleep. Mr FLINTON claims that the noise wasn’t excessive, and certainly not louder than the buses using the bridge… but at 2am there are no buses. So how can the noise of construction be quieter than the buses? Mr FLINTON also claimed that residents in the area had been notified of the works. I wasn’t notified, I live in the area. The workmen on site, also admitted that they had received “lots of complaints about the noise”, but suggested their was nothing they could do, because they’d received their orders from “on high”.
Have a listen for yourself …
Who is telling the truth?
Richard FLINTON still hasn’t answered my query about when residents were notified of the works taking place through the night. He still hasn’t answered why it is that I, and the other residents of the area, had to suffer lots of sleepless nights, because someone at County Hall didn’t apply to close the road – nor answered whether that the lack of road closure was an oversight – or a deliberate action. Just why it should be acceptable to allow works to affect the residents for a full twenty four hours, for over two weeks, is beyond my understanding, but I can live in hope that one day Richard might answer my questions. Hope – it’s a powerful thing sometimes …
What I would really like to know, however, is why is it acceptable for two men, who are employed by the communities in North Yorkshire, to be so secretive? Why should it be acceptable that one of these men can offer me an untruth and then never explain why he did so? Just who do these men work for, and why are they being paid so much?
So this is my open request to both David BOWE and Richard FLINTON … Where is the openness and transparency you promised? Where are the reports that should exonerate you, and prove once and for all that NYCC is n0t responsible for the negligence of an historic and important structure? Just how much money would have been spent over twenty years on maintenance to prevent such deterioration of a vital road-link like Valley Bridge, and how much are you spending now to ‘put it right’? Which option would have ensured ‘best value for money’?
There are many more questions that still haven’t been answered.
Richard FLINTON and David BOWE are welcome to provide answers to these in the comments below. They are welcome to visit me to discuss these issues. Most of all, they are welcome to offer their resignations, for what I believe to be outright dishonesty, failure to carry out their duties to a level of satisfaction I would expect from a “professional” in the public service, and much more.
Perhaps I’m being too strong with my words, but all of this is merely my opinion. The facts speak for themselves, and my opinion is just an opinion.
Feel free to ask David and Richard why they are so secretive. They can be reached at:
Any responses can be forwarded to us here in the comments below – after all there’s “nothing to hide”, eh, Richard?