Civic Society objects to Borough Council plans for Hunstanton's TIC
30 June 2020
Hunstanton and District Civic Society has written to the King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council over its plans to close the TIC and operate an unmanned facility in the Coal Shed Gallery.
A letter dated 29th June addressed to Councillor Brian Long; Councillor Elizabeth Nockolds Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk (BCKLWN) and Councillor Tony Bishopp; Councillor Adrian Winnington Hunstanton Town Council (HTC), reads as follows:
Hunstanton & District Civic Society recognises that local government is currently under severe pressure due to the ongoing global pandemic and is supportive of any initiative designed to promote the financial and emotional wellbeing of the local community.
However, on this occasion the Committee must express its formal objection to the decision to close the Hunstanton Tourist Information Centre (TIC) situated on the ground floor of the Town Hall complex, overlooking the Green.
The grounds for the decision have not been made clear and the reason for closure given by the Chair of HTC that “In discussions with KLWNBC it was agreed that the Tourist Information Centre simply did not allow for social distancing to be maintained as it is currently laid out” does not make any sense (nor can we find any record of a meeting at which any such decision was taken). In our opinion, there is no logical reason why suitable measures could not have been put in place to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, as is the case for other small businesses within the town.
The Committee’s objection to the decision is made in full knowledge of the fact that BCKLWN intends to replace the current service with an ‘un-manned’ location for the display of leaflets in the Coal Shed Gallery behind the Boldero Camping Shop on Le Strange Terrace. Whilst the Civic Society is delighted that the Coal Shed Gallery is being put to good use, having worked with BCKLWN on its refurbishment some years ago the Committee would have appreciated some indication of this unforeseen development.
The decision has been an unexpected shock to local residents and businesses, many of them having enjoyed a close working relationship with the TIC over the years (including charitable organisations such as HDCS and RNLI who have supplied stocks of cards and books for sale).
There has not yet been any announcement as to exactly when this relocation will happen and who will be responsible for stock control, maintenance, security and cleaning of the facility to ensure a suitable environment that is Covid secure.
With the further relaxation of lockdown measures on 4 July the town can expect a huge influx of visitors, many of whom will be expecting to find a reliable source of information about local attractions and facilities.
The pandemic is not yet over in the UK and Covid-19 remains a real threat to us all. Local flare-ups have occurred, most recently in Leicester, and more are to be expected according to Public Health England. HM Government (Matt Hancock) stated on 27th June 2020 that: (sic) Future "flare-ups" of coronavirus infections could lead to localised lockdown measures, and stricter social distancing measures could be introduced in certain areas in future as part of the NHS "test and trace" system for continuing to suppress the spread of Covid-19.
Under these circumstances we would question the advisability of requiring visitors to pick up information from a small, unstaffed facility such as the Coal Shed Gallery without any control of numbers entering the room at any one time, nor any supervision of the use of hand sanitisers, etc. If BCKLWN and HTC agreed that the existing Tourist Information Centre “simply did not allow for social distancing to be maintained” could you please explain how this will be achieved in the smaller space of the Coal Shed Gallery without supervision?
HTC has stated that it believes BCKLWN intends to locate the TIC in the new Library, if and when this development proceeds - but this is not indicated on the current planning application (20/00817/FM) for the new Library. If it is indeed the intention, the Committee would question why the TIC has not been relocated within the current Library, even in a reduced format, to ensure a seamless transition and avoid unnecessary expenditure and disruption to services – especially as it seems that the new Library will not be completed for another couple of years.
In addition, the Committee considers the sudden and unexpected closure of the TIC to be contrary to the regeneration of Hunstanton post Covid-19 for the following reasons:
A. One of the stated benefits of the One Public Estate – Hunstanton Regeneration initiative is the opportunity to “co-locate” public services, thereby reducing their cost. The decision in relation to the TIC does not take advantage of this opportunity.
B. In its Annual Report 2019/2020, Hunstanton Town Council indicated that popular services provided by the TIC included “ticket sales for local attractions, often at reduced prices” and highlighted the fact that “The excellent and knowledgeable staff ensure that local businesses are promoted by holding sample menus from local restaurants, arranging accommodation bookings for providers registered with Visit West Norfolk.”
Whilst the Committee fully understands that such promotion may be achieved (perhaps more efficiently) by other means such as digital services, it is clear that this will not happen without significant investment; as far as we are aware, no such project proposal has been agreed and communicated as part of the overall commercial strategy for the town and in the interim it equates to a loss of service for both residents and visitors alike.
C. Hunstanton is considered as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for North West Norfolk (one of 16 Heritage Routes included in “West Norfolk’s Coastal Treasures” produced by NCC in 2019) and is a tourist magnet for a very wide area that includes Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and the Midlands.
Proof of the widespread origin of visitors to the town can be demonstrated by the findings of the Hunstanton Visitor Survey prepared for BCKLWN in February 2017 (Norfolk 22%, Cambridgeshire 22%, Northamptonshire 17%, Lincolnshire 7%, Leicestershire 5%, etc.) as well as the thousands of responses to the petitions for reinstatement of both the pier and the railway.
D. The town lacks reliable telephone and Internet services and does not boast a dedicated bookshop, which means that residents and visitors rely on the TIC to provide information on local facilities - as well as a trusted location to purchase maps and booklets on Hunstanton, its heritage and its surroundings in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
E. We understand that some directional signage is being ordered for the new location, but would query whether the requisite Health and Safety constraints (including the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)) have been fully considered. Disabled access to the Coal Shed Gallery is not feasible from the car park where there are concrete steps, while the ‘so-called’ level access from Le Strange Terrace (following the path round beside the Boldero Camping shop) is rough, slopes dangerously down to the kerb and could topple a wheelchair or cause a fall by someone with limited mobility.
F. If lockdown has taught the nation anything, it is the need for human contact. There is no interaction in an unmanned space with a limited number of leaflets available free of charge. A warm welcome, informed advice on local amenities and the facility to obtain reduced-price tickets for local attractions are resources that will be sorely missed and this will undoubtedly chip away at the town’s reputation as being a traditional and friendly seaside resort.
The Committee fully understands the pressure that you are under at this time but would ask you to reconsider your decision in relation to the TIC, based on the points outlined above – and would urge you either to reinstate this valuable service in its previous location within the HTC complex (preferred option) or to locate it in the Library.
As the only local body set up to represent the cultural and heritage interests of Hunstanton, HDCS would have appreciated being consulted over this matter since it has serious implications for visitors and residents alike. We recently came across a Press Release from 2004 in which the then BCKLWN Tourism Operations Manager reflected that “bodies like the Civic Society have a vital role to play in making sure that peoples’ voices are heard” and we firmly believe that this remains the case today – hopefully you agree.
Given the depth of local interest, we would appreciate an early response to our concerns that reflect the widespread feeling of our members.
Signed on behalf of the Hunstanton & District Civic Society
Cc. MP for North West Norfolk, James Wild; NCC: Councillor Andrew Jamieson; BCKLWN: Councillor Graham Middleton; Councillor Carol Bower; Councillor Paul Beal; Members of Hunstanton & District Civic Society (HDCS)