Jim Parker: Is former mayor Nick Bye’s vision finally taking shape after a decade?
He was known as the ‘Marmite Mayor’ - you either liked him or you loathed him and that included his ‘vision’.
Some critics would say that if Nick Bye had called it ‘Torbay’s’ Vision rather than his own ‘mayoral’ vision it may have been better received.
One thing I do know is that Nick Bye’s dreams and aspirations – or something extraordinarily similar - are actually taking shape 10 years on.
He had plans to breathe new life into our town centres by attracting investment. It is hoped current bids for £40 million government funding for Torquay and Paignton will do just that.
He wanted to see under-used council-owned sites, including car parks, developed in partnership with the private sector. A new Premier Inn is currently being built on part of the Terrace car park in Torquay.
Just a stone’s throw away, the THAT group are just a couple of months way from completing their £32 million development in Torwood Street which will deliver the Bay’s first Hilton branded hotel, spanking new office space and new food outlets – thanks to a helping financial hand from Torbay Council.
He wanted to see developers invest in the Bay with skyscrapers across the local skyline – Mr James and his Fragrance Group are currently ploughing £140 million into four new hotels in the resort with cranes towering over development sites.
And last but not least Torbay Council have revealed plans to turn two prime loos-with-views sites into restaurants/cafes on the seafront at Corbyn Head and Preston.
Ten years ago, Mr Bye was trying to do the same at Babbacombe Downs with similar plans for a former toilet block and viewing platform which restauranteur Nigel Bloxham wanted to transform inform into a swanky fish restaurant.
Mr Bye bowed to a public backlash and the restaurant bid failed. Some would say that decision may have had something to do with his eventual downfall as Torbay’s first directly-elected Mayor. If he had stuck to his guns and not given into the protesters, he may have had the support of those keen on change but not always willing to shout about it and his reign may have continued.
Gordon Oliver came in and, for whatever reason, quickly pulled the plug on what would have been the giant dollop of icing on the cake for Mr Bye and his quest for a public/private partnership to make the English Riviera fit for the 21st century.
He had all but secured such a deal with world-renowned developers McAlpine where council-owned sites would be developed and the spoils shared. Millions of pounds would have been generated and thousands of jobs created.
But no sooner had Mr Oliver taken over at the Town Hall than McAlpine were walking and the deal collapsed.
Mr Bye says: “I think we walked away from three quarters of a billion pounds of investment with the McAlpine and other projects. Torbay is a place that has some of the poorest people in the UK. It is quite extraordinary that we walked away.”
The current sale plans for the two seafront loos virtually completes the historic circle for Mr Bye who says: “I am just interested that they are going forward with something that came up 10 years ago.”
He adds: “A lot of this goes back to projects that were in the mayoral vision. The new administration now is quite happy to use the word ‘vision’. We have a giggle about it at meetings.”
Going back to those loos, he says: “It is absolutely what people want to do. They want to have a meal or a coffee in a beautiful place with an amazing view.
“They seem to have left Babbacombe Downs off the list, but really pleased to hear this idea has come up again and hopefully developers/operators will come forward. I was clearly ahead of my time.”
We can’t afford to wait another 10 years. Only in Torbay!