Jim Parker: Now is the Time for action after Chief Constable's revealing walkabout

Torbay Weekly

We are all aware of the split identity facing the English Riviera just like any other seaside resort.

One minute you can be stood in glorious sunshine on Torquay seafront as the lavish yachts glisten from the marina. Then just minutes away you can be stood in the middle of bedsit land and all the problems that go with it, including anti-social behaviour, drug taking and dealing, drinking and poverty in some of the officially-recognised, most deprived wards in the country.

The current Liberal Democrat/Independent regime running Torbay Council is determined to make the Bay THE premier resort in the UK and at the same time Turn the Tide on Poverty in a delicately-balanced, double-edged sword policy.

Now is the Time - to coin one of my favourite campaign phrases (there is another one hopefully coming) - to do both. Torbay is at the crossroads with millions of pounds from the public and private sectors being invested in the resort, especially in our weary high street, but all that will be in danger of being lost if we don't sort our social and crime-related issues.

Take, for instance the constant elephant in the room that is Castle Circus. What use a rejuvenated Torquay town centre if it still includes a virtual no-go area - and that is accepting that we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our society here who need help.

Policing and working across partnerships is key. And that is why it was encouraging to see Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer taken on a whistle-stop tour of Torquay last week. It was organised by Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez and the 'party' also included yours truly as the chairman of the Torbay Together strategic partnership and council leader Steve Darling.

The idea was to hear from the grass-roots community about  not only the problems, but also the opportunities facing Torquay,.  Torquay Chamber of Trade chairman Susie Colley was her normal, frank-speaking self as we caught up with her on Torquay seafront after a police briefing at the Carlton Hotel which showed that some of our crime indicies were worse than big city neighbours Plymouth!

Susie and the owner of a refreshment kiosk in Abbey Park talked of teenage gangs causing chaos.

Sean White, from from the hugely successful  and growing We Sup business next to the Pavilion, was like a breath of fresh air talking about his plans for the Bay.

Bosses at Poundland highlighted shoplifting as a major issue as well as police response times. There was similar theme from Richard Randle-Jones up at Union Square. Police visibility was another no-surprise topic, with David Rowe neatly summing up what business life was like in Castle Circus after running a jewellers up there for the past 50 years

The Chief visited the Factory Row hostel as well as the help centre at nearby Shrublands,. Finally, if he was in any doubt about the problems we face here, he had to look no further than the man who was trying to bring round his totally-out-of-it partner as she laid propped up against a wall on the pavement just  around the corner from the Town Hall.

Commissioner Hernandez said: ""The visit was organised to give the Chief Constable a true picture of the policing challenges facing Torbay and especially Torquay. We have an uplift in officer numbers and I want to make sure Torbay gets its fair share.

"The walkabout was to hear from the community what help it needed to resolve some of the issues. We heard about shoplifting, street drinking and drug taking. It was good good for the Chief to get a rounded picture.

"It was the first he had walked the streets of Torquay.  It was felt that Now is the Time to show him what is needed."

She added: "Drug dealing and anti-social behaviour are two of my top priorities this year and we talked about that.

"There were no surprises. I think visibility of the efforts being made to tackle some of these problems is required.

"The public needs to see how we are dealing with it.

"Now is the time to show how we are trying to help people and improve public confidence and the council needs to articulate what it needs."

Some action may now follow, including maintaining officer numbers in the town centre neighbourhood team no matter what the demand may be elsewhere.

Commissioner Hernandez has spent her first term in office tackling issues and coming up with various initiatives across the whole of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

But the former local councillor is a Torbay girl through and through and will want to make sure she looks after her home patch during her second term.

She has already provided funding to help tackle issues at 'hotspots' in Torquay. Now it is up to the powers-that-be locally to make it clear what else is needed - and what they can themselves contribute - to make our beautiful English Riviera an even safer place to live, work and visit.

Regular meetings, updates, briefings between the council and the Chief were agreed as part of the way forward. That can only be a good thing and one of the most important outcomes from the entire day.

Now is the Time to grab the moment.