I have known Susie Colley for more years than I care to remember.
She has never been one to, let’s say, hold back with her opinions and comments.
As the current chairman of the Torquay Chamber of Commerce, she holds a position of responsibility and is the voice of her membership.
But has she gone a tad too far this time in her crusade to highlight some of the issues facing Torquay town centre? Has she let that plain speaking do more harm than good?
According to Roger Walters, chairman of the Torquay Town Centre Partnership, the answer is guilty on both counts.
Susie’s concerns about drunks, troublemakers, drug addicts and the general state of the town has been making national and TV headlines.
It has been reported a group of 50 traders in the town have even formed a ‘Torquay Traders Versus Crime’.
‘On the brink of collapse’ is how the town is being described in some quarters.
Susie has been quoted as saying: “We have people who are trying to earn a living – but how can they with all of this going on?”
She has been reported as saying that that when she tries to raise issues she is labelled a troublemaker who is ‘bringing the town into disrepute’.
And evidently she has written to all Torbay councillors to air her concerns.
“I think this town lives thanks to tourism, I love Torquay and I would love to keep taking business here but every year it gets more difficult,” she has said.
But now Mr Walters has penned an open letter himself.
He writes: “As chairman of the Torquay Town Centre Partnership, I have been asked to respond on behalf of our members to the recent adverse publicity for our town that has been in the press by Ms Colley.
“We all know that there are problems in Torquay and the Bay but we are not unique in that most towns of our size have problems, particularly seaside towns.
“We can agree with most of the problems that Ms Colley says the town has, but we obviously disagree with how the problems are being addressed.
“Such negative press can only serve to discourage tourism and investment.
“Chambers of Commerce are committed to help grow trade and investment, but Torquay Chamber of Commerce represented by their chairman seems to relish talking to the press about what is not good in Torbay, without any balance of the good.
“Certainly, the Bay is a lovely place to live and work.”
He added: “I live directly above the inner harbour, so I have direct experience of the night-time economy and the town centre. Torquay is a vibrant area to live, noisy at times, but people are spending money and enjoying the town.
“I witness problems but no different to any other seaside town.
“The Torquay Town Centre Partnership run the town market to bring shoppers into the town, which works for the benefit of all the town retailers.
“The profit from the market is shared with the council and we use our total share to fund the Christmas lights and other small projects, such as flowers in the raised beds at the top of the town.
“The TTCP was set up to reduce begging, vagrancy, and antisocial behaviour and over the last few years we have made progress by working behind the scenes with the police and council.”
Market manager Steve Holdup adds: “When the story in the press came up, I asked the market traders how they felt. Overwhelmingly they felt there had been lots of improvement within the town – after all they are the eyes and ears from 7am to 5pm, three to four days a week, 12 months of the year, a very much more accurate judgement that the portrayal given by Ms Colley!
“Operation 100, the police presence, walk the town every day and this scheme has been working well.
“Additionally, the street begging / homeless problems of earlier in the year have quietened down considerably.
“OK, it’s not 100 per cent perfect. However, if those, spreading negativity got out more often, they could see things improving.
“We, in our Town Centre Partnership, have been fierce critics of the ‘system’. However, working slowly behind the scenes does pay dividends, no matter how slow, in the end.”
Some councillors came in for a bashing as well with Mr Walters adding: “Unfortunately, we find that some of our elected councillors inactive and have no interest in working to improve the town.
“Having been a district and county councillor myself in Essex for many years, I know what can be achieved for the good as an active councillor.
“We have, however, been able to work with the leader of the council and Cabinet members to solve some problems, such as reducing the number of rough sleepers, particularly on the Strand.
“We, as an organisation, have found that the local police are working as hard as they can with the powers, to address drug and youth nuisance problems, but despite extra funding, are still very under resourced. Also, recently with some of the local police powers under the PSPO being removed, it is now not possible for them to remove alcohol from beggars sat drinking alcohol in the streets.
“However, by working behind the scenes, we are addressing some of the problems and they certainly support and listen to our organisation.
“Torquay is a good place that is why so many people want to come on holiday and why we are getting investment in new businesses and hotels
“People are also choosing Torquay as a place to live, so ‘washing our dirty laundry in public’ is not what we need, nor do we want a press that encourages such negative unbalanced publicity.”
He believes: “Finally, we need to be ‘talking up’ the good in the Bay and having balanced publicity. We cannot just expect the council and the police to cure all our ills, we must all play our part improving our town.
“What must visitors think who have chosen to come to Torquay for their holidays to read that the town is full of drugs, vagrants and lawlessness. A real kick in the teeth for people who have spent their hard-earned cash to come to Torquay.
“Fortunately, a walk along the front and up the town will show what a lovely place Torquay is to visit.”
I’ve asked Susie Colley for a response. She has drafted one and was waiting for it to be signed off by her directors. Watch this space next week for her response.
Torbay has its challenges just like any other town or seaside resort. But we are getting there, albeit a lot slower than we would have all liked.
There is a balance to be had between absolutely not sweeping these issues under the carpet but tackling them in a way that causes the least damage.
Torbay, and Torquay in particular, has just been awarded more than £1million by the government to address crime especially in the town centre. This will finance all kinds of new measures and achieve tangible results.
We have come a long way by sticking together and I still maintain we are on the brink of a new beginning. Let’s not ruin it now…
Over to you Susie.
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