Order into Chaos

Last Wednesday morning the complex adaptive system that is Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast was running like clockwork. The swing bridge opened to let the replica Endeavour sail splendidly out of the marina and disaster struck, the ‘gear box sheared’  and the bridge was stuck in an open position separating the two halves of the town.

Whitby Bridge stuck open

Judith Gibbon, of Beech Grove, Whitby, said to the Yorkshire Post “It’s horrendous and very inconvenient …this has caused chaos”.

An early lack of communication, tourists and residents trapped either side of the town and everyone suddenly realising this was a serious financial situation developing. Over the coming days the West side with its smoked kippers, jet jewellery and pub/restaurants was suddenly plunged into a trade deficit more usual for a cold wet January than a peak season, warm family holiday period.

Eventually in a situation of ‘chaos’ someone must take action so Scarborough Borough Council laid on free shuttle buses, ordered replacement parts from Italy and posted their latest information.

Moving the situation into the complex domain left the space open for the resilient entrepreneur and the sea trips quickly became ferries at £1 a person attracted by the easy takings. The first invadors into a new niche have all the advantage and quickly bright new signs were printed and dispersed around town making the ‘yellow boats’ much harder to dislodge with competitors looking on in extreme jealousy. Demand was so high that anyone with a boat was attracted to the landings and the queues. Anecdotal evidence from a friend of a friend on Sunday suggested that £5000 takings a day was not unusual for a small cobble.

The bridge is planned to be fixed by Friday. Yesterday, when we were there the situation seemed calm and ordered, the crowds in the town temporarily imbalanced to the East side so a lot of losers but a few big, opportunist, winners (boat owners and sign writers). An almost literal Dunkirk spirit prevailed.

Competition on the West side with fewer resources (tourists) is causing competition and cut-rate meal deals to attract the few.

Will the system change as a result? My guess is that the traders will be a stronger force in decision making in the future. ‘Best practice’ plans and emergency procedures will be put in place for exactly the same happening again (a second gear part is being ordered in case the other one fails in the future). Boat owners will imagine the benefits of late night sabotage to the bridge.  My guess is that the rich owners of yachts and boats in the marina posed a bigger threat to the Council which is why the bridge lies open not closed or that the ‘back-up’ footbridge was not brought immediately into play. The system must become more resilient in the future.

If the Council fail to fix the bridge by Friday they will have an emergent BP situation as the already circling compensation lawyers will descend like seagulls for discarded chips.

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1 Comment

  1. And true to their word the bridge was repaired and re-opened on Friday morning at 10:30. As the Yorkshire Post reported this momentous occasion, one typically ironic yorkshireman (codename Villagenumpty) left a message on their website:

    “Says it all about this country 😦 a bridge built in 1908 by engineers Heenan and Froude of Manchester (whose most iconic structure is Blackpool Tower) now has to be repaired with parts imported from Italy”

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