Ex-mayor raises concern over social inequality in Torquay

Former mayor Nick Bye

Former mayor Nick Bye - Credit: Torbay Council

Former Torbay mayor Nick Bye has spoken of his concern about inequality in Torquay.

He said in part of the town mansions were being 'gold-plated' while nearby people were in poverty.

Cllr Bye said: “If there was a town of inequality, Torquay is it,  and we know there is absolutely no growth at the moment.”

His comments came as Torbay Council’s overview and scrutiny board was given an update on the progress of Government-backed regeneration plans for Torquay and Paignton worth an estimated £180million to the local economy.

The Torquay Town Deal has been allocated £22million funding for eight major projects including a new railway station at Edginswell, near Torbay Hospital.

The schemes are mostly focussed on the harbour area of the town centre including to regenerate the Debenhams building, improve public spaces and restore the disused Pavilion.

Three extra projects have been carried out after £750,000 of extra funding was allocated to improve Upton Park, Princess Gardens and lighting on the seafront.

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In Paignton, a series of seven regeneration projects were awarded a total of £13.4million from the Future High Streets Fund.

They are the redevelopment of Crossways shopping centre, creating more homes, new flood defences, restoring Paignton Picture House, upgrading Station Square and Torbay Road, and a residential development at the Victoria Centre. 

Cllr Bye said he was concerned there was apparently no population growth or significant housebuilding in Torquay, compared to Paignton and Brixham which had more positive prospects.

The Conservative councillor for Wellswood, who was Torbay’s first elected mayor in 2005, said there were 'startling inequalities' in Torquay.

He said: “Mansions are being gold-plated in some parts of my ward and the wealth is extraordinary, and then not very far away the poverty and the decay and the decline is so very obvious.”

He said there did not appear to be a vision to tackle deep underlying issues of social inequality.

Cabinet member for economic regeneration Swithin Long, a Liberal Democrat, said the administration was focussed on increasing affordable housing and ensuring economic development projects improved education and skills.

Alan Denby, director of economic strategy at TDA, the council’s economic development company, said the Town Deal for Torquay was one part of the puzzle.

He said there were opportunities to develop tourism and the high-tech electronics industry, and to work with Torbay Hospital on a higher value health and social care sector.

There was a need for the public and private sectors to work together to retain growing businesses, attract new enterprises and improve skills.

Deputy leader of the council Darren Cowell, an Independent, said there was no 'silver bullet' solution to inequality and deprivation.

It needed a partnership approach with a network of measures on issues such as health and housing and to strengthen the economy.

He said where the council had the power to act it was moving as quickly as possible, such as regenerating the Debenhams store and restoring the Pavilion in Torquay.

The board backed a proposal from Cllr Andrew Barrand to ask the council’s Cabinet to require developers and contractors to use local labour where possible and offer apprenticeships and training to help improve workforce skills.

Councillors also backed a proposal from Cllr Bye for the Cabinet to explore opportunities for economic growth in Torquay in the business plans for the Torquay Town Deal and where possible tackle deprivation.

Torbay Council has been run by a partnership of Liberal Democrats and Independents since local elections in 2019, leaving the Conservatives in opposition.