Jim Parker: We are living under the dark cloud of the virus but these are still game-changing times for Torbay

What the new main entrance to the Imperial Hotel could look like

What the new main entrance to the Imperial Hotel could look like - Credit: Archant

Thinking about the good things in life at the moment is not easy. In fact, there is even a feeling of guilt if for just one moment you dare to focus on anything but the dreadful virus that is changing our lives for ever.

Covid is what everybody is talking about and there is no getting away from that.

But we shouldn’t let the daily totally depressing headlines on the new numbers of clusters, cases and hugely sadly deaths totally overshadow what is quickly becoming one of the biggest, game-changing periods in the history of Torbay.

You all know how passionate I am about our beautiful Bay and making it fit for the 21st century and home of hope and prosperity for my children and their children.

That is happening even under the dark cloud of Coronavirus.

I make no apologies for once again going over the vast array of regeneration projects and other schemes that are turning the corner for Torbay.

I guess it all began with the coming of the South Devon Link Road, South Devon Highway or Kingskerswell bypass (please take your pick) after a 60-year campaign. Developments like the Abbey Sands on Torquay seafront, coupled with the superb mix of local restaurants, gave the town its first ‘eating quarter’.

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Then the big hotel giants started coming. The Travelodge, Premier Inn. Investment in other hotel chains from overseas investors. A start after more than a decade of the THAT Group’s £32million transformation of the Torwood Street area of Torquay which will include a 130-bed Hilton/Hampton Hotel.

Then came the biggest prize of all. ‘Mr James’ (Koah), the Singapore-based billionaire boss of the Fragrance Group, was taken for a cup of tea at the Corbyn Head Hotel by then Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver and former chief executive Steve Parrock as well as a visit to the then Palace Hote in Babbacombe with well-known and leading hotels specialist and top chartered surveyor Martin Rogers. Mr James liked what he saw and decided to send the Bay’s way £140million to build four top branded hotels.

Then the government began to chip in with big chips! Just a couple of weeks ago, Torbay Council and TDA were handed £21.9million in a Town Deal initiative to totally transform the dying heart of and other areas of the town.

Paignton has bid for another £19million in Future High Street funding hoping to do likewise over there. The signs are positive with an announcement expected shortly.

And now we have Andrew Brownsword, multi-millionaire owner of the Imperial Hotel, revealing a massive refurbishment programme for the once mighty landmark to restore it to its former five-star glory.

It was rumoured from the moment Mr Brownsword bought the hotel that he was planning to spend millions on a much-needed facelift.

It all went quiet and then, bang, came news of the investment.

The plan is to transform the Imperial into a luxury hotel and destination spa. Back to the future.

Propoals include remodelling the sea facing façade of the hotel and consolidating the accommodation within the historic core of the building, with 111 new guest rooms, a new restaurant, Beach Club terrace, Champagne Bar and a new single level accessible spa to include an indoor pool overlooking the Bay and an outdoor pool.

Swithin Long, the councillor in charge of regeneration, says the reason for the massive vote of confidence in so many ways for the English Riviera, is simple: “Torbay is a wonderful place.”

He adds: “I think people will be absolutely supportive of the Imperial plan. It is providing a greater variety of hotel accommodation for people. They are also a family-owned business and very keen on using local employment.

“There has been a lot of pre-work to get to where we are now in the Bay. All that is beginning to pay off and the council has shown it is keen to regenerate the Bay. It is the old adage – success breeds success.

And, of course, there’s a couple of mine – Only in Torbay and Now Is the Time!