Howard Croft column: Tale of community bid to clear the riverbank

Part of the broken boardwalk that snakes its way through Lady Spring Wood, Malton.
Part of the broken boardwalk that snakes its way through Lady Spring Wood, Malton.

Mrs Croft has for several months been pre-occupied with a “community” project to do with the river Derwent; too pre-occupied in my opinion, which is seldom sought and never welcome. I gather that potential funding bodies look favourably on projects like this – I’ll describe it later – only if the local “community” has demonstrated its interest and enthusiasm by stumping up some of its own cash first. This is where crowd-funding (or it may be cloud funding, I wasn’t really listening) came in. This is a technique useful for begging for contributions.

It is critical to the success of appeals made in this way to have a target sum to be aimed at. Mrs Croft plumped for £6,000, a figure more or less plucked out of the air as far as I could see and I advised a more modest sum, but £6,000 it had to 

To my astonishment £5,560 has been committed by people contributing amounts ranging from £5 to £200 – and actually forked out, not merely pledged – but with only one more day to go (the deadline is today, 5 October) the target may not be reached. Contributions have come predominantly from local people but some have been from distant parts such as the United States and Norton.

The project is intended to clear the river banks so that the river can actually be seen (and accessed for dredging), to replace the boardwalk that snakes through Lady Spring Wood, which is so dilapidated as to be a hazard, together with a little wooden bridge over the culvert which has already been removed. Use of the word “stakeholder” has long been banned in our house, other than ironically, but now I find it in daily use and without a hint of irony. Many “stakeholders” have joined this enterprise: the Inland Drainage Board, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Fitzwilliam Trust Corporation – the list goes on. They have all been jolly helpful.

The cost of doing all this will be considerable and when done will delight dog-walkers, bird fanciers, joggers and even lurkers. It will be a facility that pulls together the Gannock, the wood, orchard field and castle gardens. Eye-watering sums of money have been mentioned, in the region of £90,000 if you can imagine that, although I can claim some credit for lowering the sights from more colossal sums.

I managed to persuade Mrs Croft to set aside an ambition to put in place a new footbridge over the river, something along the lines of the Hammersmith Flyover in West London, by pointing out that its primary, perhaps only function would be to provide Norton residents with a short cut to the Royal Oak in Old Malton. There are plenty of pubs in Norton and the Royal Oak is very busy as it is on pie night (Thursday).

Anyway, with a decent amount raised from the “community”, Mrs Croft and her colleague Sarah Oswald, an expert in such matters, and Rodney Brewis went after the big money and dash my wig if they didn’t pull it off. Yorventure generously donated just under £17,500 and Ryedale District Council a whopping £69,527. Lest this latter makes Ryedale rate-payers’ eyes water I should point out that the money came from Section 106 funds which can be used only for “community” projects. Section 106 funds come not from rate-payers, but from developers who have been granted planning permission to put up housing estates and the like. It is not the case that the Council “sells” planning permission as some ill-informed and ill-disposed critics like to imply – 
that of course would be illegal – it is more complicated than that and I don’t really understand it. Whatever it is, well 
done, Ryedale District Council!

My own role in all this, if a role it has been, has been to accompany Mrs Croft as she strolls about the area explaining herself to assorted big wigs and well-wishers. And to carry the camera.

On one occasion when our MP Kevin Hollinrake, a great supporter of the plan, came for a viewing I was allowed to take a few snaps of him and Mrs Croft taking in the sights.

It is now my earnest wish that work can get started and I can get back to watching Pointless on the telly and stop feeling like someone with a walk-on part in The Wind in the Willows.