Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council, writes for the Torbay Weekly

For far too long Tory-led Torbay Council failed to listen to its local residents.

The partnership of Liberal Democrats and Independents that now runs Torbay Council made a promise to change this culture and to start a conversation with individuals and organisations in the Bay.

Just 12 months ago we held our first community conference and we heard that you wanted the council to act differently.

Despite the disruption of the pandemic, we are now making the changes needed to help us engage with and empower our local communities.

We want to keep up the momentum and I hope you were able to attend our community conference last night. As we were unable to hold an event in a venue this year due to the Covid-19 restrictions, it was held virtually on Zoom.

During Covid-19 there has been some outstanding work carried out across Torbay.

It’s been heartening to see how many people have stepped forward to help individuals in need in their communities and how organisations have drawn closer together to provide valuable support to residents who have required it.

During lockdown we set up the Torbay Shielding Hub with the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and the local voluntary sector. It helped 6,868 vulnerable residents, called them 18,417 times and delivered 831 food parcels.

The Torbay Food Alliance also provided almost 250,000 meals to people during lockdown to make sure no-one in the Bay went hungry and continues to help around 400 people a week.

Torbay Community Coronavirus Helpline – a partnership of local organisations - has taken more than 12,500 calls and reached out to 4,000 people during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Paignton, the Friends of Oldway, with our support, have now taken over management of the Tea Rooms at the historic Oldway Mansion. Last year, more than 100 volunteer gardeners came forward when an appeal was put out for help with maintaining the grounds.

These are all great examples of what can be achieved if we all work together. We want to build on these successes and discover new ways to help Torbay thrive.

I hope that the power of partnerships will help Watcombe beach in Torquay. It’s a very special part of our coastline, where I played as a child. My usual way of accessing it is by sea kayak.

Just beyond Watcombe there is a coastal playground with Bell rock, a natural arch that you can swim or kayak through at the right height of tide.

In addition there is a T-shaped cave and headland that you can paddle through and in which I have had a seal nibbling the end of my kayak.

Sadly, the bottom section of the roadway to Watcombe beach is suffering from slippage, partly because of the way the stream was originally channelled, coastal erosion and probably climate change.

I am keen to continue public access to this beach but would like to see a more sustainable approach compared with what we have at present.

We don’t want this beach to go the same way as Redgate beach did, now closed off and dangerous to access.

So last week, although delayed from spring by the pandemic, I visited Watcombe beach with officers from Torbay Council, the Environment Agency, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, TDA, Community Payback and fellow councillors.

This was a site visit so that we can consider how the area could be managed in the long term to keep access to the beach, improve biodiversity and give the opportunity for the community to influence the future of the site and support the long-term sustainability of this hidden gem for future generations.

While we were down at the beach, a seal popped up to see us. I wonder if it was the same curious one that was nibbling my kayak a couple of years ago.