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Lack of a vision holding back Bay's potential for development

By Herald Express  |  Posted: June 23, 2012

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YOURS Truly does not get out much these days.

It was a rare treat to attend the first annual meeting of the Torbay Development Agency to get a better understanding of how regeneration is progressing.

The last few years have been remarkable for Torbay and current endeavours should be put in context with what has recently been achieved: the new fish quay at Brixham; the Sea Change projects at Berry Head and Cockington; the relocation/expansion of South Devon College and its university building; the infrastructure for the White Rock business park; the new business centre at Lymington Road and the new business park at Edginswell (there must be 500 plus jobs on site now); the restoration of Torre Abbey and the Palace Theatre, also private sector investment in new hotels (five by my reckoning), retail projects and the Old Market House in Brixham.

Community facilities include Paignton's new Geoplay park, My Place youth facility and the new library.

The confirmation of the funding for the Kingskerswell bypass was the cherry on the top of this impressive cake.

Twelve months ago I would have said things were set fair to deliver the next phase of Torbay's regeneration, with a clear vision for the future, an enthusiastic partner, MacAlpine, to deliver much of the vision and many more projects likely to take shape: Brixham's Northern Arm, further development at White Rock, a new lease of life for Oldway, a major waterfront project for Torquay to complement substantial and much-needed investment in the town centre and at Torwood Street.

Now I believe the future looks much less certain.

Although some of what was being planned may still go ahead, it is unlikely to be on the scale previously envisaged or sufficient to reverse our long term decline.

Additionally, in the apparent absence of a 'vision' we have become a sitting target for the wrong sort of development; five or six new out-of-town supermarkets are bound to have a negative impact.

At the meeting, all the directors, chairman and chief executive spoke intelligently but there appeared to be no common thread.

Nobody ventured to think about what sort of place the Bay might be in 10 or 15 years' time and what its greatest challenges are.

The capital programme is another clue things may have come to a juddering halt.

Totalling £120million, £47million was spent in 2010/11; £43million in 11/12; £21million in the current year and just £8million is planned for 12/13.

We were told at the meeting how difficult the current business environment is.

But it does not seem to be stopping Swindon going ahead with a £60million-plus leisure facility with MacAlpine (recognise the name?), Plymouth's £83million Pavilions revamp with James Brent's Akkeron group (our partners for Oldway) or Bournemouth's £350million LABV project for the town centre, so similar to our former mayoral vision, I shall knock on their Town Hall door and ask for a royalty fee the next time I am in that neck of the woods.

I had hoped to hear a more convincing explanation of the departure of MacAlpine and the collapse of the LABV project.

It is a matter of record the current mayor has always opposed the concept of a LABV, the 'vision' they were intending to deliver, certain projects contained within that vision — in particular those on car park sites (despite the fact the Terrace car park was less than a quarter full at 2.30pm on the Olympic torch procession day and Shedden Hill was barely half full on the evening of the Halford's cycle event) — and has apparently expressed no regret about the departure of MacAlpine or the collapse of the LABV project.

By contrast MacAlpine is still chasing deals around the globe and its partners are progressing with plans for a 'stand alone' project at White Rock.

Other towns and cities are progressing with LABV projects as the best way of delivering regeneration schemes.

You do not need to be Hercule Poirot to work out why MacAlpine might have walked away.

However, a beneficial legacy of the vision is that some of those inspired to come and invest in Torbay are still in town.

Harvard Tisdale is proceeding with the Palm Court, Nicholas James is hopefully proceeding with some sort of scheme by the Pavilion and Deeley Freed (MacAlpine's partner) is up at White Rock.

But doesn't this all rather confirm that most developers and public funders want to be part of some sort of grand plan, so the value of their individual schemes is enhanced by being a part of something greater?

In the apparent absence of any sort of grand plan, or any means of delivering it should such a thing appear, we are left, good citizens, rather like Traddles in David Copperfield, waiting and hoping.

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  • cherrie54  |  June 28 2012, 12:13AM

    I presume from the minus points that nobody likes to read comments on any constuctive critism of the eco park. As said I think the park is a hit and a good addition to paignton. But having said that there are faults that need to be addressed.If these faults are ignored and swept under the carpet then the park can't reach it's full potentual plain simple. Drainage does need sorting out there is some very large muddy wet patches. Yes some of the eqiupment is being used for not it's purpose have witnessed this. Plus parents no matter how good cannot watch their children every second. An excited youngster can run straight out into the road. Yes there is litter being left on site. Noticed no bins even in the picnic bit. It's good that the tor workers are keeping an eye on things 10 out of 10 to them. Otherwise it's great grandkids love it.

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  • cherrie54  |  June 24 2012, 11:30AM

    Against all the odds and my own misgivings must admit the the eco playground is a hit. But as allready said it does have it's faults. Not the least of which is the drainage issue why the hell a sump was not incorperated will never know. Plus the problem which will no doubt surface during the school holidays is the danger of the site not being fenced off. Sooner or later a kid is going to run out into the road. Also saw some of the equipment being used by older teens at night. How long before a dosser uses the wigwams as a druggi shoot up haven or a bed for the night. But for the rest of it a big thumbs up.

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  • nicold  |  June 23 2012, 4:54PM

    Eco Park? lol...It's just a kid's playground that floods!!

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  • realityzone  |  June 23 2012, 4:12PM

    It seems rather odd that the H & E keeps on wheeling out the ex-Mayor to hold forth yet again about is vision and his development plans. He had his years in office to convince the electorate that he was the guy with all the answers. But come election time he lost. He also lost in his ambition to become the MP for Totnes ( coming third in the selection process ) Had he succeeded he would have had to abandon his much vaunted commitment to developments in Torbay, and yet we have to keep hearing about it now. Under his vision he failed to consult properly and ended up costing the electorate compensation over Babbacombe Downs. On his watch the idea of displacing the war memorial to make room for developers was put forward. On his watch Princess Gardens was up for grabs. On his watch our promenade was allowed to fester for years boarded off and growing weeds - what a message for a major resort. On his watch the contract for the balloon was signed and has now resulted in a big legal case to get back the £ 50k My message to the H & E is that I don't want to hear from Mr. Bye again.

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  • themightyflea  |  June 23 2012, 3:17PM

    Welcome back Mr ex-Mayor. Sad that you were stabbed in the back by the blue-rinse brigade of Tory HQ but I expect to see you back on top after people see through the paper-thin coating of Oliver.

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  • Azriel22  |  June 23 2012, 3:09PM

    Give NO CREDIT to Torbay Council for the playpark in Paignton unless you value the paper pushers who did not even envisage the possibility of ground water flooding even after their talking heads went over and over the same ground endlessly. It was mainly, and with much nimby opposition, brought about by local volunteers who had the intelligence to see that a free facility such as this would be well-used, reported far & wide and of far more value to the community than the over-priced Blot landed on Torquay.

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  • Karen362  |  June 23 2012, 2:19PM

    It's perhaps important to finally acknowledge that there have been untold social costs associated with redevelopment in Torbay. I'm also sceptical about the profitability of more grand leisure schemes such as the one you mention at Swindon, particularly at a time when the squeeze on consumer spending is tightening all the time. Come on Nick, how many locals can even afford to visit the zoo these days? At a time when many are having to sell the family car to make ends meet, the last thing they're going to do is blow a third of their expendible income on an outing to a leisure park, even if they could access it by bus or, indeed, afford the fares there and back. I walked along the beach at Goodrington last weekend on the only sunny day we've had during the whole of June. I noticed that it costs £10 to let your child play on one of the floats for half an hour now. So, unsurprisingly, there were no takers that day. The trouble is that some local leisure businesses have priced themselves out of the market in recent years, believing that The Bay was going to export its poor and become some kind of elitist holiday destination for metropolitan yacht owners like Salcombe. The upshot is that they are now paying inflated rates for their pitches to the council while few families can afford to use the facilities here. Thank goodness someone had the foresight to build the eco-park at Paignton. I've never seen Paignton so busy. And why do you think that is? Because there's suddenly a free facility on the seafront that enables families to afford an ice-cream or cup of tea at the seaside without having a bitter row on the way home afterwards about how much it costs to take their children out for the day. There's little point in funding endless redevelopment if people are unable to afford to use these facilities, after all. What's more, visitors who still have some money to spare for holidays are unlikely to feel comfortable averting their eyes to mounting local poverty in English seaside towns. At least when they travel abroad, they feel somehow 'disconnected' from hard-pressed indigenous cultures other than their own. Having said all that, the new flagship library and eco-park at Paignton are a credit to Torbay Council and I would like to see more projects that enhance the lives of local people in future.

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  • DavidPBrooks  |  June 23 2012, 8:07AM

    The problem is that we have replaced a leader with a manager. Torbay desperately needs a leader to move us forward to brighter and better things. A leader does not get everything right. He/She inspires others to get off their backsides and do something. Critics are stirred into action to influence ideas rather than sitting passively moaning. It all leads to a stimulating environment in which things happen. A leader has to accept that you cannot please all of the people all of the time (can you imagine the bland homogenous mess we would have if we needed to).

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