wildlife cameraman Simon King has opened a £1.3m visitor centre at Spurn - saying it will act as a “stepping stone” into nature for people who “feel insecure about wild spaces.”
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s centre has aroused huge opposition, but the former Springwatch presenter believes in time the majority will see its positive impact “on the broader vision of engagement with the natural world.”
Planning permission was finally granted last year, despite 1,900 people signing an online petition and 720 writing letters of objection, amid concerns about flooding and damage to the environment.
Many felt it should not have been built on wildlife habitat, when buildings in the village of Kilnsea could have been used instead. A year on and signs in the village show how strongly some people still feel, one declaring: “YWT members shame on you.”
Martin Standley, who was on the Spurn Liaison Group, which was set up as a planning condition, but ended in January, said YWT had a “golden opportunity” to build bridges, but had ended up by “almost alienating every group who goes down there.”
Delays had meant people working at the site overwinter when birds were back from the Arctic, and in one unfortunate episode, the car park was brilliantly lit at night “creating a whacking bit of bad publicity.”
He said: “Their audit report strapline was ‘be more local’. At Spurn they have got nowhere near to being more local. Have they done anything to improve relationships? Absolutely not - it’s bad if not worse.”
Ward councillor Lyn Healing added: “YWT has let down residents. There hasn’t been enough communication - they could have invited lots of groups and invited them on board for proper discussions. They certainly should have listened to local residents.”
However Mr King, who is president of the Wildlife Trusts, said the centre would act as a gateway to Spurn: “a nationally and internationally important place for the natural world.”
He said: “Until now it has been something of a national secret and many people who would otherwise have not enjoyed it, will now feel it is a gateway from which they can comfortably go out into the natural world and enjoy the intrinsic values, that are so beautifully interpreted by the visitor centre.”
Objectors are also unhappy that YWT has not yet achieved its promise of up to 19 jobs and apprenticeships, especially as funding came in part from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund, which pumps money into deprived areas to promote growth and create jobs.
Centre manager Jon Easby said there were six paid staff, five trainees and around 30 volunteers. Two locals had been taken on to work in the cafe, and a third would be doing cleaning.
He added: “We are absolutely targeting people who live locally and also trying to target locally-sourced products. I am totally focussed on making sure we get the most out of the area.”
Chief executive of YWT, Rob Stoneman believes fears will be allayed when objectors see “it is a modest building with a modest footprint.” But he said it would be difficult to convince a “small hard core” of its benefits. The centre had to be seen its context in the growing £15m regional ‘nature tourism’ market, with extra visitors driving jobs and business growth.