Jim Parker: Just when you thought we were moving in the right direction. Only in Torbay, I'm afraid!
- Credit: Architects Design Group
Just when you thought it was going so well.
Paignton feared it was going to be left behind when the government Town Deal funders awarded Torquay almost £22million to regenerate its town centre.
But then there was double delight when Paignton landed more than £13 million to do the same thing with its high street under the Future High Streets initiative.
Time at last to look at the heart of the town and get it beating again with regeneration schemes planned for various areas, including Crossways, the former shopping centre in Hyde Road which has stuck out like a sore and ugly thumb for years.
But wait a minute – or very much longer.
It transpires that the owner of Crossways has objected to a compulsory purchase order for the complex, which Torbay Council would demolish and replace with flats. Somehow that was not unexpected.
What was not anticipated was the Royal Mail doing the same thing.
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The council voted in September 2019 to start the CPO process while holding talks with the owner Gaelic Investments, in the hope of securing a voluntary deal.
Councillors were told at a meeting last week that the talks were continuing with the owner, but the company and Royal Mail, which has a delivery office next to the shopping centre, have objected.
That means a public inquiry is likely to be held holding up progress yet again.
Torbay MP Kevin Foster was not amused.
He said: “Whilst the owner's views on the CPO are not unexpected, the intervention by Royal Mail's management can only be described as a selfish and ill-thought-out act which will damage Paignton's attempts to recover, a stark contrast to the way frontline postal staff have worked hard and gone out of their way to support our community during the pandemic.
"Crossways is an absolute eyesore and urgently needs action. If Royal Mail have genuine concerns about their delivery office these could be dealt with much better by working with Torbay Council and the community to find a solution, rather than alienating them by seeking to hold up the desperately needed redevelopment of this site.
“Royal Mail management needs to find the community spirit Paignton's Posties have been showing every day and withdraw this objection immediately."
He will be writing to the Royal Mail's Chief Executive offering him a chance to explain the company's actions.
Royal Mail says it wants to protect its mail delivery operation and is working with the council to find a solution.
A Royal Mail spokesperson has been quoted as saying: “Royal Mail supports the principle of regenerating the Crossways Shopping Centre for mixed-uses.
“As our Paignton Delivery Office is so close to this site, we also want to ensure that any plans for redevelopment do not have an adverse impact on our ability to deliver the mail to local residents.
“We are working closely with Torbay Council to find a mutually beneficial solution.”
Torbay regeneration councillor Swithin Long didn’t see the Royal Mail punch coming.
He was quick to point out: ““People do have a right to object.”
But he added: “To be honest it was a bit of a surprise. The only time I have heard them mentioned in the process was to see if their building was included in the project. It is not.
“I am not quite sure why they are objecting. Their sorting office is close by but I don’t know why they are worried about the work. This project will deliver lots of people next door who will want to use their services.”
The other town centred projects should be able to go ahead as planned. As for Crossways, a public inquiry and a decision? “If the worst comes to the worst you could be talking about this time next year,” says Cllr Long.
Great. First class, Royal Mail.
Only in Torbay!