In the early noughties,Scarborough was a so called Renaissance Town. With funding from Yorkshire Forward (the then regional development agency) a Town Team was formed, various Action Groups were set up and, with the help of some urban architects from Holland (West 8), plans were drawn up. But, in their conventional moto-centric way, nobody was really looking at how to make things better for people getting around on foot or by bike (which was actually at the core of architect Richard Rogers' ideas about urban renaissance) and so I set up a Walking and Cycling Action Group. We held meetings, talked about stuff, did other committee type things and in particular, decided to set up a Friends Group for the old railway line that ran from the town's centre, through the northern suburbs and thence to Robin Hoods Bay and Whitby.
While I initially wanted us to focus on the urban end in Scarborough, the Action Group decided it should cover the entire line and so we held three founding meetings (in Scarborough, Ravenscar and Whitby) and the Friends of the Old Railway was formed at the end of 2004.
Steps we put in up to Manor Avenue
(The first Renaissance project to make it into reality)
Although money for local authorities was tight, the Borough was able to give us direct support and help us develop a master plan for the Track. Because we were properly constituted it also meant we could apply for funding that wasn't available to the Borough and made a successful bid to the National Lottery Communities Fund. With this, and some from the Borough's own Community Fund, we put in the delightful curved access ramp at Candler Street, the Circle at Woodland Ravine Bridge (a collaborative work of art that gave directions as well as claiming a new public space), created a new access ramp at Cross Lane, put in numerous bins and benches, planted 90 fruit trees (of which at least 30 survive and bear fruit) and commissioned a leaflet for the Track (Where Will it Take You).
The access ramp at Candler Street
After the election in 2010, tightening budgets and changing personnel reduced the level of support and, while we made sure that the ground was prepared for further improvements (e.g by getting the right things written in Planning documents), there only occasionally seemed any real prospect that we'd come up with the hundreds of thousands of pounds that would be needed to make the Track really fit for purpose. (see Smooth enough for buggies and wheelchairs)
As it was then, narrow and bumpy
As it is now, broad and smooth
In Scarborough the old railway was commonly known as the Cinder Track and this eventually became the name used along its entire length. As well as being a local link, it also forms part of Route 1 of the National Cycle Network; overseen by the sustainable transport charity Sustrans. They took the Development Plan and, with some more detailed design work, turned this into a costed shovel ready plan. After a few little local difficulties this plan (or rather a derivative with the Sustrans branding removed because some vociferous local opponents in the Bay area got the false impression that Sustrans (identified in their minds as a body acting for cyclists; the lycra clad hooligans who whizz past without warning) were taking over the entire management of the Track) resulted in a successful bid to the Dept of Transport for enough funding to sort out the urban ends in Whitby and then Scarborough. Ironically, despite being maligned, it was Sustrans who led the bid.
Of course, this still leaves the 15 or so miles in the middle to get sorted but it does mean that the sections used by most people for everyday journeys are now truly fit for purpose.
In 2020 the Borough Council unilaterally decided to abandon the steering group that had been set up to advise on the Track's development. Since this decision was never formally communicated we don't quite no why but, in any case, our existing two tier Authority (with both County and Borough councils) is ending in April 2023 and North Yorkshire County Council is taking over all the Borough's existing responsibilities. Quite how this will turn out we'll just have to wait and see.
As it is, the Friends have reached the stage where our original aims have largely been fulfilled and the inertia that got us going in the first place has now almost completely dissipated and so we, the Secretary, Treasurer and Chair, have decided to call it a day and wind the group up. Since there's still just over a thousand pounds in the bank, and our original purposes not only included developing the Track but also the adjoining public spaces, we've decided to hand this over to the truly excellent Gallows Close Community Centre.
Whether we actually made anything happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise, we'll never know. But we like to imagine that we did.