Plug pulled on Torquay charity dream
PLANS for a £2.75million community centre at Torquay coach station have been axed.
The Rooute Project had won Lottery grants, European funding and outside investment to help people in need back into employment.
But after three years planning, the charities behind the project in Lymington Road were this week told Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver had refused a request to extend a lease. Now £1.25million of lottery and grant funding heading for Torbay will be lost.
Labour Cllr Darren Cowell (pictured) and community partnership leader Susie Colley have accused the Mayor and deputy Tory leader Robert Excell of ‘bigotry’.
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Chapter 1 and Shekinah had put together the plans for the three-storey Rooute centre to replace the dilapidated café and waiting room.
It would have provided opportunities for homeless people, drug users and ex-offenders.
Cllr Excell said: “The Mayor and I were not prepared to make a decision without the full facts.
“People can say what they like. We are in a democracy, but my job is to protect the community. It’s more important to look after our own.
“We asked them specifically was the facility for locals only? Would they be bringing people in from outside the area? They said if they couldn’t make it sustainable they would bring people from outside because of their investment.
“My concern was that when the project was first mooted we consulted with Shekinah and I was happy with their concept but when Chapter 1 took it over and wanted to extend the lease I had quite a few concerns.
“Where we go with the site now will be up for debate. It’s got to be cleared away. There’s a great future for that site.”
Cllr Darren Cowell said: “I feel this decision is based on pure bigotry. It’s hugely disappointing to find out it’s dead. I don’t think it was unreasonable that they should ask for a 40-year lease when they were making such a huge investment.
“It has been decided behind closed doors within the Tory group and I know some are furious and have emailed the mayor. What the plan B is for that land only Gordon Oliver and Robert Excel know.”
The third ward councillor, Lib Dem Jenny Faulkner, said: “I am absolutely disgusted at this decision and the way it has been handled.
“The loser is going to be the community and people in need of retraining. It has been nearly five years now and we have mucked Shekinah and Chapter 1 around. Goodness knows how much money has been wasted.
“Robert Excell doesn’t seem to realise we have people in the Bay who need this kind of help and retraining. All three ward councillors backed it but Robert has changed his mind and I am absolutely fuming.”
Susie Colley, chairman of the Torre and Upton Community Partnership, who has worked on the Rooute Project for three years, said: “This is the final straw. It appears the mayor doesn’t care about the people in one of the most deprived wards in Torbay.
“What about the money for this project from the lottery grant and the European Development Fund? I want to know what’s happening. Is it being spent on palm trees?
“I feel the mayor and Robert Excell are bigotted, small-minded and not proactive and I am appalled at the way they have behaved.”“As a town we have sullied our relationship with Chapter 1 and Shekinah who do so much good work for the most needy people in the Bay.
In a joint statement, Geoff Hawkins, chief executive of Chapter 1, and John Hamblin, the chief executive of the Shekinah Mission said the plans will not go ahead: “Torbay Council has not granted Chapter 1’s request for a longer lease on the land and, without this agreement, it is no longer a viable investment for us.
“This is a sad day for us. When we unveiled the plans in 2010 we were confident we could deliver an innovative and vibrant community enterprise facility which would have benefited the people of Torbay.
“Chapter 1 was prepared to make a significant investment from its own resources of £1.5million, more than half the estimated total cost of the scheme. In return we asked the council for a longer lease on the site of just 40 years, instead of the 21 years first agreed when we had only been asked to invest £500,000.”
The EuropeanRegional Development Fund had given £500,000 and £750,000 Lottery funding was set.
The statement said the project had been beset by ‘hold-ups and delays’ including changing the site from Temperance Street, with ‘significant aborted costs’ and accused the council of ‘dithering’ over the CCTV control centre.
They also said that in May the council made ‘an unexpected and late decision to withdraw an investment facility of £12million’ which community charities had been told they could access.
This resulted in ‘further aborted costs, and the subsequent increase in the cost of financing the scheme’.
The statement said: “Throughout all of this we remained committed to the project but in the end time ran out. Over the next few weeks we shall be vacating the site in Lymington Road and returning it to the council in accordance with our agreement.”
Mr Oliver was not available to comment.
A Torbay Council spokesman said: “The project has changed significantly since it was first conceived three years ago, and there was concern that the recent proposals do not provide sufficient guarantees that the facility will support local priorities; and in light of budget pressures and future uncertainty, the administration has decided not to grant a forty year lease.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, and the council has given a commitment to work with the voluntary sector to bring forward alternative proposals.”