If somebody asked me 'do you like the Flamingo Land Coast proposals?' I could answer in one word. If they asked me 'what do you think of the project?' I would need a lot more information before I could reply.
Some of this information is evident in the drawings submitted by Flamingo Land Coast to the Council in early January (which did not include the 'artist impressions' that hit the press earlier this month). The drawings presented (drawn last August) are rudimentary, giving sufficient information to enable the Council decision to demand an Environmental Impact Assessment to go with any Planning Application.
This Council decision, called a 'Screening Opinion', is well worth reading (all documents are available via the Council Planning web-site). It left me wondering if Flamingo Land Coast are slightly mad. Who would spend a fortune trying to build a spaghetti railway in the middle of town? Perhaps the technology has changed since my day and rides are now silent and so safe that people don’t scream; perhaps they are soundproof capsules that work by magnetic levitation; perhaps I misread the drawings and what I thought was a ride is no more than a sculpture on the hillside. There is no legislation about appearances as such, but there is plenty on noise as nuisance.
Years ago, I shared an office with some architects who worked for housing developers in Camden Town. They had a terrorist approach to getting planning permission, if I can say that: they would produce two schemes for the same site, one being particularly overdeveloped i.e. far too many flats for the site and the other being what they wanted - with a nice cardboard model to boot. Then they would submit them both as a planning application at the same time. They always got what they wanted! Perhaps Flamingo Land Coast want just the glass building - without the tower - without the ride - and without the greenhouse in St Nicholas Gardens.
We will have to wait and see what the Environmental Statement has to say for itself but is not everybody shaking their head in disbelief? The 'commercial leisure facility' as Arup nicely call it in one of the reports, is for visiting families and as we know the word family today means car. What on earth will FLC come up with for that problem? They could park
on the beach at low tide if they could get as far as Valley Road, but I can already see drivers angrily doing a three point turn just after Morrison’s....
What perplexes me is why Flamingo Land Coast is the only contender for the former Futurist site. Surely developers would be lining up with projects for flats or aparthotels over-looking the sea with shops at ground floor level or why doesn’t the council build some flats? Consequently I have been forced to do some homework about the site to try to understand. Please bear in mind that I am not a native of Scarborough (nor a geologist) and stand to be corrected if necessary.
In 2010 the Council had a Sheffield architect prepare some ideas for discussion. Two schemes were drawn as far as I know, one of which retained and renovated the Futurist cinema, the other scheme cleared the site and proposed a new hotel, but it also showed several small buildings higher up the slope. I believe the council was considering demolishing the King Street offices. It was a mixed development, just the kind of thing that makes towns.
By 2014 preparations were underway for demolishing the Futurist. A Geotechnical and Environmental Assessment was undertaken, particularly concerning itself with the land above the Futurist including the southern end of King Street. The findings confirm the analysis done following the landslip which brought the collapse of The Holbeck Hotel in 1993. This showed that the South Cliff is what is called glacial till (a mix of clay and gravel) to a depth of 30 m in places, above unstable rocks.
Prior to the establishment of Scarborough as a spa town the sea had been eroding away the foot of the cliff causing the cliff to become unnaturally steep. Over geological time the slope would have weathered down to be at a natural angle which would make land slips less likely.
What we see behind the Spa Pavilion is an engineering attempt to reduce the likelihood of a landslip there. Even though the geology behind the Futurist site is the same, it is much less steep and now less so, following work there, as a lot of material was removed from the top, below King Street.
The first geotechnical investigation behind the Futurist seems to have been done in 2008, yet another in 2014, a third smaller one in 2015 and of course that relating to the recent work to the slope that began in 2017.
Now, the slope has a series of monitoring devices going right down to the underlying rock measuring any movement and in particular groundwater. It is considered to have been a saturation of the ground that led to the landslide in 1993 and nearer town there are increasingly more drains specifically designed to carry away excess water.
Nevertheless the coastal land in much of Scarborough can still be described as unstable due to the nature of the underlying rock and if a spaghetti railway or anything else is built behind the Futurist my intuition tells me that the engineering solution to support it would be onerous and better avoided. Would anybody insure it?
I didn't intend this, but my thinking has led me to a proposal for any and all development on the site. It is based upon the geological reality (opting for prudence), the proximity to the Conservation Area and a taste for natural continuation of the form of the roadside development further along South Bay. In my view too much attention has been given to the Futurist site on its own (no doubt because it is there that much energy has been expended). For me, development needs to be considered between the Cliff Lift and Bland's Cliff as an entirety.
My proposition is that the steep land of St Nicholas garden is combined with the newly worked slope behind the Futurist site to make a brand-new 21st-century garden. This is the land most vulnerable to slip. The garden would therefore have no structures as such but would have a new layout of paths and steps linking King and St Nicholas Streets to the sea. Some buildings could be up to 5 stories along Foreshore Road and not impede views across the sea from the upper town.
What kind of buildings is not for me to suggest: my proposal is purely what I consider to be an appropriate urban layout for the context and there may be similar ideas out there that I know nothing about. There may be totally different ideas too and now is the time to dust them down and make them public.
What I do suggest is that if anything at all is built in this area it is the town that decides and defines what goes there instead of the town being a victim of speculative development.