Making change happen from the ground up

Cllr Steve Darling - Leader of Torbay Council

Nothing says more about a town than its centre. It’s the place that brings people together from across all its communities. The centre is the town’s heart and will be the place that most residents and visitors will know. Rightly or wrongly, it will be the place that determines  many people’s view of the town in its entirety. Put as simply as possible,  Torbay’s town centres matter.

I know that when I speak to people on their doorsteps, their key focus is very often on improving our town centres. We have been successful in securing just under £40M in Future High Streets funding and Town Deal funding for Paignton and Torquay respectively. We have also and have lodged ambitious levelling up plans for Brixham in excess of £10M. Whilst this is a critical part of Torbay’s long-term future, we can’t ignore the social issues that are affecting our town centres.

Towards the end of last month, Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police, and Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner visited Torquay. The visit was focused on what could be done to reduce antisocial behaviour in the heart of Torquay.

Personally, I’ve been appalled to hear and see the extent of some of the antisocial behaviour that occurs in Torbay, particularly the open use of drugs and unacceptable behaviour on and around our high street. This summer I’ve also been visiting hoteliers in Croft Road and Belgrave Road who have shared their experiences about unacceptable behaviour on our streets. When I meet with anyone, I always encourage them to report incidents of anti-social behaviour as they are happening. The walkabout gave the opportunity for local businesses to share their concerns, especially around response times to shoplifters and anti-social behaviour.

I know that the ward councillors for Tormohun, Mandy Darling, Cordelia Law and Nick Pentney recently wrote to all residents in and immediately off Belgrave Road encouraging them to report such behaviour. The fact of the matter is that if this kind of behaviour  is unreported, then it will not show up as an issue for the police to deal with.

It was great to see the ‘can do’ approach that is being taken by local business owners. To tackle anti-social behaviour at Torquay Marina, Sean White from Wesup took the innovative approach of taking over some of the space managed by MDL Marinas. Sean and his team have turned a disused space into a thriving terrace which offers stunning views of the inner harbour. This is a great example of how, despite the ongoing financial challenges of the pandemic, businesses are helping to drive change for Torbay. 

The visit also focused on those who support some of our residents who are most vulnerable. We had a very useful conversation with the manager of the Leonard Stocks hostel and a good conversation with some of the professionals who support well over 1,000 clients who are on drug or alcohol addiction programmes. As we approached the Town Hall for a final wash up meeting, it was sobering to see a 41-year-old woman unconscious at Castle Circus. The police sergeant with us stayed with her and arranged for an ambulance to get her to A&E.

Together, we need to drive forward change. We know that there have been misguided cuts by the previous administration to the supporting people budget and we need to see how we may be able to reverse this. We are developing a clear action plan with key partners with regard to how we can work together to tackle these issues. It cannot be down to one agency, body, or business to make change happen. The changes we all want to see, won’t happen overnight, but as a result of  having a shared vision, understanding and commitment. Together, we can ensure the people of Torbay thrive.  

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