John Fellows gives a trader's view of Paignton:
How many times have we heard the question 'why does Torquay get all the money?'
Well, now it’s finally Paignton’s turn to be in the funding spotlight and about time, I hear many say.
After much lobbying behind the scenes from Kevin Foster and councillors over the last few years, Paignton is now guaranteed a massive investment of £13.5 million from the Government High Street Funding scheme.
After recently standing in the Clifton with Maidenway by-election, one of the biggest causes of concern on the doorstep was the state of our town centre.
Comments ranged from 'tired and run down' to 'nothing to offer' with few of the big chains you see in every town.
So now we are at the stage where the diggers and demolition teams could soon be moving in, from Crossways' re-development to a new seawall along Paignton Green to help prevent flooding in future years.
It seems most ideas, as usual, are controversial and creating strong debate on how our town is best moved forward.
Where do we start?
One of the best things I see happening is Station Square being revamped.
Imagine taking a long train journey, looking forward to two weeks' holiday and the first thing you are faced with as you excitedly look out of the window, is the decaying former nightclub and a drab and uninspiring outlook.
Hopefully, we will see the area regenerated with a flats conversion of the nightclub, and an outdoor meeting and events space area with added features of flowerbeds and trees.
Just imagine how great it would be to have a public space in the middle of Paignton that could be used for many different things throughout the year?
Who knows, maybe with a bit of wishful thinking, we could add space for a Paignton Christmas tree, certainly a place where you can sit and relax watching the world go by or meet up with friends in a pleasant open-air environment for a catch-up and maybe even coffee.
We can’t say much more without mentioning Crossways.
It looks like demolition may finally happen and not a moment too soon.
Sheltered accommodation and retail shops underneath - that’s got to be good news and maybe more flats built into the old Woolworths building.
Just to finish off the good news in that area, work is progressing well on the Paignton Picture House on Torbay Road.
All this will help turn that first impression round to something much more positive for our holidaymakers.
Next up is Torbay Road.
Torbay Council has now put forward plans for public consultation during July.
These plans include possible pedestrianisation from Queens Road down to Leisure 2000, or taking away parking bays and widening the pavements to make a more pleasant, open environment, while also adding flowerbeds and more trees - the road should become much more welcoming.
While spending millions is going to create huge improvement, we have to remember that little things matter as well if we want to continue to attract people into our town.
Litter bins that aren’t rusting away or overflowing with rubbish, clean streets, working street lamps, street benches re-varnished yearly, hanging baskets, Christmas lights across the whole town, all-year light features in our trees around the town to help improve our night time economy and make the town more welcoming and safer.
We, as traders, have to do our bit by creating and financially supporting events within our town centre to attract shoppers back into town.
Buskers need to be encouraged to come and entertain to help create a vibrant and happy atmosphere.
If we do finally get our outdoor meeting areas then maybe we can start looking to bring in a weekly farmers' or antiques markets.
Town centres are struggling all over the country and I believe Paignton is doing better than most.
We have a strong independent family-owned sector of shops giving more choice over national chains' same old, same old.
We also have fantastic support from groups like Paignton Chamber of Commerce, the new Paignton and District CIC that has been set up to help raise funds for Paignton events and, of course, Torbay Road traders who really work well together to help bring Christmas events we started in 2016.
Our town centres are not just about shopping, they are also the centre of the community - meeting friends and family for coffee or pint and lunch.
They also provide employment and are often a young person’s first experience of work, giving them their first financial independence and more importantly skills and confidence that will last a life time.
It seems the future is looking not just brighter but exciting.
With council plans now being put forward for consultation, let’s hope the community support it.
Because this time it is definitely Paignton’s turn - it’s taken a generation to get this opportunity, let's embrace it and all look forward to a brighter Paignton future!
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