The writing may have been on the wall for Living Coasts long before Covid-19 - now we have to find a solution quickly
Harsh though it may seem, but I think the writing was on the wall for Living Coasts long before this dreadful virus came along and finally sounded the death knell for the well-known Torquay tourist attraction.
Visitor numbers haven’t been great in the past couple of years and the attraction was becoming an increasing burden to bear for the Wild Planet Trust and its purse strings.
It is also a sad reminder to those now lamenting its closure that if you ‘don’t use it you could lose it.’
Living Coasts, on Torbay Council-owned land and linked to the natural ocean and sat overlooking the natural beauty of Beacon Cove, is located in an iconic position. But iconic doesn’t necessarily mean successful.
The great Coral Island leisure complex, which came before with gaming machines, pools and nightclub, didn’t work. So penguins and seals were always going to be a tougher ask.
Torbay Council leader Steve Darling said: “We had conversations with them in the autumn. I am not saying that we are not surprised. Like a lot of change in Torbay Covid-19 is driving that change much quicker. This has brought this to a head perhaps a little sooner than we had hoped for.”
He said the location may appear to be iconic, but the last two ventures there had now failed.
But out of adversity there may still be some hope. Fingers crossed, Torquay is in line for a £25 million grant from the government to help rejuvenate the heart of the town as part of a Town Deal funding. A board has been set up to help push through the cash bid and drive regeneration initiatives and improvement projects to rejuvenate the area.
Cllr Darling sees the future of sites like Living Coast forming part of the wider Town Deal board agenda and not just as a £25 million pot of cash.
“It is about driving a better future for Torquay as a whole,” he says.
It is a message he says will go down well in the corridors of power in Westminster. “They are more likely to fund us because we are a ‘can do’ local authority rather than a moaning minnie,” he says.
He adds: “We clearly have to work together in partnership with others. We have to work with the community and see what the options are. We do want to be positive on this for the area, but when Coral Island left it was empty for years. The most important thing is that the site is not left derelict for the next five years.”
Torbay MP Kevin Foster said: “The news is a blow for our Bay and my thoughts are with the staff affected.
“Over recent weeks I have been in touch regularly with the Wild Planet Trust given the challenges they were facing. This included talking to them specifically about Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts, plus what support could keep them going.
“Sadly, the response I got was Living Coasts had been struggling for some time.
“Visitor numbers have not been strong enough and despite trying a range of measures to broaden its role, including using its location as a venue for events, not enough income was being generated to support its long term future.
“Covid 19 was sadly the final blow for it.”
He added: “The focus now sadly needs to be on ensuring the site does not join the list of long term derelict properties like the Pavilion opposite and the animals are found new homes.”
Coincidentally, I took a trip to Oldway Mansion in Paignton just 24 hours before this announcement was made. It is a crying shame that such gems as Oldway and the Pavilion should now stand as they are – a testament to an unwilling to change and move forward. I really fear the same fate may befall the Living Coasts location if we are not careful.