Steve Darling: Why Torbay needs to be ‘a responsible resort for responsible visitors’

Babbacombe beach - Torbay and other seaside resorts are dependent on the hospitality sector. Photo:

Babbacombe beach - Torbay and other seaside resorts are dependent on the hospitality sector. Photo: English Riviera BID Company - Credit: Archant

The original meaning of 'hospitality' was the duty of helping strangers and travellers, so it ironic that the coronavirus crisis is making us wary of strangers.

Cllr Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council

Cllr Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council - Credit: Archant

Our hospitality industry in Torbay is a significant sector of our economy and has been so for many years.

I, myself, grew up in a guest house on Lymington Road in Torquay where, as a pre-school child, my idea of hospitality was to sit and eat with the guests, so my parents would often haul me out of the dining room.

On one occasion, the guests insisted that my presence was not a problem, only for my father to hoist me from the table, whereupon my sandal fell into the tomato soup showering everybody with a red spray.

The Lymington Road guest houses are long closed and we have the clear aim of modernising and up-marketing our tourism offer in Torbay.

This can only be speeded up by the pandemic, which will cause massive changes in our society.

Whether it is working from home, a reduction in travel thanks to zoom conferencing, or driving the green agenda, all of these are will probably be accelerated by the current crisis.

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The real challenge Torbay faces is the three winters of economic down-turn likely to follow.

In the light of this, I wrote last week to the Chancellor of the Exchequer highlighting the need for areas such as Torbay to have their local economies put in 'intensive care'.

While other parts of the country are set to be weaned off the furlough scheme by the autumn, Torbay and other seaside resorts dependent on the hospitality sector, need such schemes to nurse them through to next spring.

In a previous column, I spoke of our plans to join Co-operative Councils which is a network of local authorities that seek to work with their communities to encourage them to shape the services and type of communities they live in by helping people to help themselves.

This was a powerful message from our first Council Community Conference last September.

Community Wealth Building is another opportunity for us to enhance our communities in Torbay.

Community Wealth Building emerged in response to the 2008 financial crisis, to try and keep money circulating in a local economy rather than being extracted by national or international shareholders.

Community Wealth Building recognises that the financial, physical and social assets of institutions can be used for community benefit.

Local 'anchor' institutions such as the local council, health service and colleges along with larger private companies can play an important role in supporting the local supply chain, procuring from nearby suppliers, and ensuring that as many benefits as possible result, such as local employment and developing skills via apprenticeships.

The pandemic is likely to up the pace of change in our town centres.

It is to be welcomed that we have Future High Streets funding for Paignton and Town Deal for Torquay.

Again, one of the points in my letter to the Chancellor was that we needed this funding this summer so that we can see regeneration in our towns as soon as possible rather than waiting months.

Our decision to buy the Debenhams building in Torquay was a clear commitment to our town, stopping the property going to a speculator without the best interests of the area at heart.

With retail decline likely to increase we need to ensure our town centres are somewhere to visit for leisure as well as shopping, and places people want to live in.

Torbay continues to be very fortunate with its low levels of infection by the virus.

Torbay Hospital has very few cases that they are caring for and at present there are no confirmed cases in care homes.

We cannot be complacent and, as we move towards a very limited summer season for our hospitality industry, I believe the mantra must be a 'responsible resort for responsible visitors'.