JIM PARKER: Road will be way out as well as in
I SEE a VIP Tory has been taking in the delights of the English Riviera. Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps no less was in town to meet 'Team Torbay'. He popped down to the harbour side for a special photo call as part of the flying visit to, and I quote a press release, 'see some of the work being done by the local Conservative Team to boost the Bay's economy and revitalise the town centre'.
Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver and Kevin Foster, the 'Conservative Parliamentary spokesman for Torbay' (I thought he was the Tory's prospective parliamentary candidate, but I may wrong) were among those there to greet him.
The same press release talked of the Riviera looking forward to a 'future development stream of £350million of investment that is expected to create approximately thousands of jobs'.
It also heralded improvement works currently being carried out on the promenade and in Fleet Street.
Tuesday 9th & Wednesday 10th. Carol (with over 16yrs experience) has 10% off - facials. Pedicures. Manicures. Body wraps. Spray tans. Waxing. Tinting. Perming
Terms: For 2 days only. With therapist Carol. Please quote "2 day special offer".
Contact: 01271 440617
Valid until: Thursday, December 12 2013
And it remarked on the recent vote of confidence delivered by harbour side department store Hoopers which is embarking on a £500,000 refurbishment programme.
It made no reference to Hoopers boss Annie Roberts expressing her hopes that Torbay Council will look at ways of supporting footfall into the town centre and her fears that in Torquay we have a resort where there is free out-of-town parking yet 'exhorbitant' fees for in-town parking.
The picture was also taken not far away from an area where harbour cafe and bar owners are currently up in arms over council plans to send their pavement table licence fees soaring through the roof.
But, perhaps, it is a little unkind of me to mention those kind of issues and take the wind out of the sails of Team Torbay.
Don't get me wrong. There is plenty to shout about in the Bay at the moment and the potential is there for a brighter and greater future.
The word 'potential' is quite key here.
A lot of weight is currently being placed on the coming of the new South Devon Link Road and the benefits, jobs and wealth it may bring.
Indeed, Mr Foster was quoted as saying: "As works on the link road progress, developments in the Bay continue and improvements are made to help our children get the skills they need, the Bay can look forward confidently to the future."
But we need to turn potential into actual reality with the Kingskerswell bypass. The promised investment and new jobs aren't going to suddenly appear out of thin air.
Coincidentally, I was talking to deputy mayor Dave Thomas about the road the other day and just how important it is for the future — and how it could have been so useful in the past.
I was prompted by news that furniture giants Ikea are to build a new store just off the M5 on the outskirts of Exeter.
Did they ever come knocking on Torbay's door in pre-bypass days?
Cllr Thomas remembers: "There was a Swedish furniture company interested in Torbay.
"Ikea was never mentioned by name, but it must have been them.
"They were interested in a big piece of land next to the main road.
"The only place that came to mind at the time was the Barton landfill site. It is contaminated land but it was the only piece of land of that size that they were looking at.
"It was a preliminary inquiry about two years ago. Nothing happened. This is a big company and their business plans would have been discussed years ago. They would have been looking at good road connections and a piece of land. They would have wanted their lorries in and out quickly.
"The fact that they had come to the Bay shows they must have been interested."
He said the bypass was not secured at that time and it may have a bearing on what the mystery company eventually decided.
But Cllr Thomas was quick to point out: "It is the kind of business that we are still trying to attract — big names, big companies that are bringing large numbers of jobs to the Bay for 12 months of the year.
"It is a very difficult climate out there but we must grab the bull by the horns."
It must not be overlooked that the new bypass will be a road out of, as well as into, Torbay and beyond.
It is somewhat ironic that, once built, it will make it even easier to get to that new Ikea store.
Something Team Torbay will without doubt be very aware of as it grapples with making the most of what is the biggest opportunity of a lifetime.
And while I have Cllr Thomas... the big annual meeting to decide the next leader of the council's ruling Tory group is looming with speculation still rife that current leader and mayor Oliver may face a challenge.
Where does the deputy mayor stand in all this.
He says: "I will be supporting the mayor. As deputy mayor, I will, of course, be supporting the mayor.
"You would not expect me to do anything else. That's my role as deputy mayor."
He insisted: "There is no split in the group. There is a difference of opinion as to whether the leader and the mayor should be one and the same.
"That's what the discussion is all about. We have an elected mayor, elected by the people of Torbay, to provide direction and make decisions in the Bay.
"The important thing for Torbay is that it is able to move forward especially in these extremely difficult times. As the administration, we need to make sure that whatever happens with the leadership we focus on the bigger picture in Torbay and are allowed to do the work that is required for the Bay and not get bogged down in a conflict of individuals."