Jim Parker: ‘Battle of ‘Water-Loos’ rage again but we need common sense’

The office these days is still very much the play room at home with Freddie the rocking horse. But slowly but surely the collar and tie has been going on and some days are spent actually at work or out meeting people just like we all did before the pandemic decided to change all our lives.

Whether at home or in the new Torbay Weekly offices, there is one place I try to head for of a night-time in an attempt to wind down and exercise and that is on the Torquay seafront.

A quickened stroll along the prom when it is not too busy goes some way to replacing the gym to which, hands up, I haven’t yet plucked up enough courage to return or quelling any thoughts of buying a bike which I never thought would happen in a million years.

One thing has been really bugging me down there is a section fairy of fairy lights that haven’t been working for weeks. I assume there is no money to repair them - Torbay Council faces a gaping hole in its finances which will get even deeper by the time Covid-190 has finished with us.

Coincidentally, part of the solution may lie just at the end of the seafront and an ugly block of public loos! They, along with their brother or sister block at Preston, may not appear to be the most attractive of sites, but they command glorious views of the Bay and the Town Hall is hoping somebody will turn them into a restaurant, café or bar and get people spending more than just a penny!

The local authority put the two former toilet blocks up for lease as part of its on-going Public Toilet Investment plan. Only in Torbay could we have a Public Toilet Investment Plan.

Anyway, the aim is to generate income that can be reinvested into local services – things like fairy lights, perhaps?

Swithin Long, cabinet member for housing, regeneration and tourism, said: “This has been one of our most challenging years financially and follows years of austerity– this was the case before COVID-19 struck but even more so now, so we really have to think creatively to both save money and generate investment.

“These particular sites will really complement the range of other exciting regeneration projects that are taking place across the Bay. Together, with partners, we are encouraging investment and regeneration, which will support the local economy now and in future.”

On behalf of the council, commercial agents Bettesworths are inviting initial ‘expressions of interest’ to be submitted by October 9.

Matt Bettesworth said: “We have had a good amount of interest from local operators and regional operators. The challenge will be finding the right tenant for the sites. These are unique sites.”

The potential transition from loos to restaurant won’t be easy. Some of the locals are already unhappy.

Cockington and Chelston ward councillor Andrew Barrand says: “The comments I have received so far have been opposed. It seen as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’. This proposal needs careful consideration and the devil is in the detail of would this proposal include a clause to keep access to public toilet as well as the business potential. The first anybody knew a development was planned for Corbyn Head was when a development notice board was erected.

“The land was previously designated as a ‘local green-space’ in the Torquay Neighbourhood Plan, which was approved last year by a referendum of our residents. Now a little over 12 months, it looks like the coalition running the council wish to ride roughshod over the plan.”

Dare I mention the fish restaurant plans to replace loos and a viewing platform on Babbacombe Downs a few years ago? They were flushed down the pan after protests.

Key to this is making sure there is adequate loos provision in the area. But to have two prime location buildings boarded up when we need those lights on just down the prom doesn’t make sense to me...