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