Living Coasts future reaches crucial stage - somebody even mentioned a new supermarket!

Torbay Weekly

Spring is in the air and thank goodness for that – and so say all of us.

The English Riviera takes on a whole new feel, a whole kind of new smell and ambiance at this time of the year.

Nights and mornings become lighter, the daffs adorn our seafront gardens and hotels, guest houses, restaurants and pubs wake up to a new dawn as the leisure, tourism and hospitality industry prepares for the busy main summer season ahead.

Fingers crossed it will be a decent main holiday season for all concerned and we can put the tough challenges of the pandemic firmly behind us – I say that as a I touch wood and keep everything crossed by the way.

But what of one of the most prime and iconic sites in the Bay and one of our former attractions?

Living Coasts. The netting and signs are still up but the birds, penguins and people have long gone. Another sad season looms and Living Coasts won’t be joining the post-hibernation party.

But there is some movement in the right direction …

The World Planet Trust (Paignton Zoo) pulled the plug on the venture early in the pandemic. It was always a challenge to sustain with or without Covid and was a constant drain on its finances.

The Trust, who lease the landmark location from owners Torbay Council, asked commercial agents Bettesworths to market the site almost a year ago.

The deadline for expressions of interest passed a few months later. Then for a variety of reasons – not least the pandemic – it all seemed to go very quiet.

But behind the scenes there has been lots of activity. No doubt, the Trust is keen to hand over the lease to a new user – they are still having to pay for overheads like security and maintenance -  and the council will want to see the site brought back to life but with the right and proper use taking into account the sensitivity of the area and with the community engaged and on board.

It would appear that the whole process is about to reach a crucial stage. Three shortlisted 'bidders' are due to meet with the Trust, council and TDA to put their proposals firmly on the table next week.

Not a lot is being given away but l gather the schemes include a hotel group project, a restaurant and foodie-type development and a maritime centre/tourism-related proposal.

Don’t expect to see a major redevelopment of the area - you won’t be getting a 14-storey hotel, exclusive beach resort, wind turbines or a nuclear power station. Any new use and tenant will have to have the community on board. Mind you, I gather one proposal was for a supermarket!

Swithin Long, the councillor in charge of regeneration and tourism, says: “We have a meeting with the zoo next week and the three bidders will be there. The list of expressions of interest has been whittled down by the zoo and these are the final three. There is going to be presentations.

“I gather there have been a wide variety of uses suggested.”

Paul Bettesworth, of Bettesworths, added: “We are working with the zoo, council to secure the best future for that site and for the Bay. I believe the expressions of interest list has been reduced and there are some exciting projects – mainly tourism and leisure business related but not for instance a corporate branded hotel.”

I gather the fact that the lease is still held by the zoo will avoid lengthy, council procurement processes and things could start to move quite swiftly.

Great news – can’t wait for my new Lidl-on-the-hill!