Friday, October 12, 2007

Torbay - The Vision.

I first became involved in bay politics in 2002, and I came here from a similar tourism and visitor hot-spot, Windsor.

The most notable difference between Windsor and Torbay was that Windsor had a very clear idea of where it was going as a visitor centre - it's authority knew who was going there and why.

They had developed a clear strategy fro the future that underpinned decisions affecting everything from parking charges to planning that matched the needs of residents with the needs of the towns economic lifeblood -tourists. This made Windsor both a pleasant place to live in and a convenient and easy place to visit; which in turn created a virtuous circle of rising prosperity, increased wealth and more money coming into council coffers so that they could continue to improve public facilities.

Torbay on the other hand was in the middle of an identity crisis. Bucket and spade holidays were coming to an end and the town authorities took the view that Torbays future was one of controlled decline - the only hope was ever larger Government or EU hand-outs; and pumping millions into ill fated attempts to encourage new manufacturing industry.

But the inconvenient truth was that visitor numbers to Devon had been rising for years, neighbouring areas like Exeter and Plymouth were thriving whilst we dithered over what we wanted Torbay to be.

What was needed was a long term vision for what Torbay could be - a business plan for the town not over the usual five years, but a blueprint for the next twenty. Not just mapping out the short term but starting a journey with a clear destination.

Throughout 2002 and 2003 I held a series of 'think tank' lunches with leading business leaders, council officers, journalists and local politicians and historians to discuss what Torbay should be like and could be like for residents and visitors by the year 2020.

Over time a consensus has emerged that Torbay does have a future - a bright future- as a world-class destination both in it's own right but also as the 'dormitory' for South Devon.

One of the problems that emerged quite quickly in those early workshops was a lack of clear, decisive, civic leadership. One of the main drivers for the campaign to adopt the directly elected mayoral system was the need to correct this problem, and it has worked.

Now we have that leadership and I am delighted to see that our mayor Nick Bye has now launched the clear vision for our future that we have been crying out for.

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