MAYOR Gordon Oliver has defended Torquay's new palm tree roundabout.
The £7,000 tree —part of a £20,000 'gateway' improvement scheme at Kingskerswell — has provoked a backlash from some local residents and politicians, claiming it sends out the wrong signal at a time when Torbay Council is facing £10million budget cuts.
But Mayor Oliver said the scheme had been agreed by the transport working party last year and was part of a programme of improvements to the gateways leading into the resort.
He said new palms would also be installed along Riviera Way as part of an overall £100,000 project.
He said the roundabout work was to create an attractive scheme which needed minimal maintenance because of the safety aspect of working on the roundabout.
Mayor Oliver said: "They have taken out all the dead shrubs and weeds which have resulted from many years of neglect. It's part of my election promise to improve the gateways into the town.
"For example, Torquay train station has had £45,000 spent on it by Network Rail, and I have been working with them for nine months. There is still a substantial amount of work to be done including landscaping, work to the Grade 2 listed building and painting of the bridge and that will ongoing for about 18 months. Network Rail will pay for that.
"We are looking at the other bridges in the Bay and the work needed on them. That will be done by Network Rail, ourselves and whoever gets the rail franchise. We will also look at Paignton Station and will be meeting Stagecoach about the bus station."
He said work was continuing with South Devon College to look at other roundabouts in the Bay.
He said: "There may be opportunities for other ideas so we continue this improvement programme. If we are to attract inward investment we must portray ourselves as a modern resort as most other resorts are."
The roundabout is scheduled for demolition when the Kingskerswell bypass is finished in three years' time.
Mayor Oliver said: "The palm tree will be transferred to a new site. There will still be need for a junction there. Nothing is wasted.
"We should not leave the Bay looking tatty just for another three years. We need to show the Bay is flourishing and prosperous. We have £450million turnover in tourism and 2.6 million visitors. We have to compete with other resorts which are making investments. The palm has been used for 30 plus years of tourism marketing. It is in the tourism company's promotional material. It's what Torbay is famous for.
"North Devon has a tall naked pregnant lady, the Midlands have the Angel of the North, but Torbay is synonymous with the palm tree.
"I have had a huge number of calls of support and only a minute number of criticism."