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

Cllr Steve DarlingCllr Steve Darling

I firmly believe that it’s important to get out in the community and speak to people in order to truly understand their views as well as any issues or concerns they may have.

However, last week I visited one of the council’s key service providers, Brixham Harbour, which is the largest fishing port by value of catch landed in England and Wales and the fourth largest in the UK.

It plays a huge role in our economy. Figures from the Marine Management Organisation show there were 265 fishing boats registered to Brixham in 2018 employing 561 fishermen.

The value of landings in 2018/19 was £35.8 million from 12,400 tonnes, and it’s estimated that every £1 of fish landed generates £42 Gross Value Added (GVA) to the local economy.

It’s vitally important that we build on strengths like this as they play such a big part in supporting Torbay, and it’s one of the reasons why the council is supporting a letter being sent from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to key officials in the Government outlining significant concerns about how prepared the region’s port infrastructure is ahead of us leaving the EU.

This has implications for confidence in our borders and the ability to continue to export and import essential products.

We believe rapid action is required to prevent the fishing industry from being interrupted after the Brexit transition period ends and are seeking reassurances to support this vital part of our economy.

Brexit could offer a boost to Brixham’s fishing industry.

There is a need to ensure we seek investment to expand the landing opportunities in Brixham and enhance the port by the development of the northern arm breakwater, a project that has been needed for almost as long as the campaign for the Kingskerswell bypass.

We continue to lobby the Government on these aspirations.

I’d like to congratulate Anne-Marie Bond on her appointment as the council’s new interim chief executive.

Reconnecting with our communities and ensuring they are enabled and empowered are big priorities for this administration and Anne-Marie is committed to driving through the changes needed to make this happen.

A programme of work is already under way to shape the council to help us address issues raised at the Community Conference in September last year.

We want to build trusted relationships and improve communications with our communities, we want to empower communities to more easily make the changes they want to make for themselves and we want to raise the profile of Torbay, ensuring our voice is heard regionally and nationally to help improve the area.

This won’t happen overnight but the right building blocks will help us all work together more effectively to help Torbay thrive.

If there is any council service that attracts public interest it is that of planning meetings where dozens of local residents regularly attend.

Since the pandemic, these meetings have had to be managed virtually resulting in public participation being remote.

However, Government reforms of the planning system will see what is developed in our area becoming even more remote. Central Government is effectively making a power grab to cut out local democracy and public influence.

The ministers who are changing these rules just don’t seem to understand that planning rules aren’t ‘red tape’ – they’re the basic standards which help deliver social and affordable homes in decent neighbourhoods that people want to live in.

Unleashing developers to build or convert whatever they like, with only flimsy rules set remotely in Whitehall, will simply mean more small, poor quality and expensive homes – out of reach of the vast majority of people in Torbay.

My other fear is that developers are guilty of land banking and they may be tempted to land bank for the next three years or so awaiting a developers’ profits bonanza when the Government has forced these proposals through.