After a historic and turbulent week at Westminster it is time for my latest update.
I do not use these updates to score party political points or replicate the type of arguments which are all too common in the national media. Yet this week has been the most unique since my first election in May 2015.
A major debate, the largest defeat for a Government Policy in decades and then a Motion of No Confidence which would have resulted in a change of Government if passed, with one of the best speeches I have heard in Parliament made just before it was voted on. The atmosphere around the historic palace has been electric as corridors filled with journalists, politicians, campaigners and those who just wanted to be present for a moment in parliamentary history.
I do not intend to provide more coverage of Brexit in this week’s update, but you can read online the detailed piece I have written explaining my views on Tuesday’s vote. This piece includes my thoughts on some of the other options which have been suggested. Just click here to be taken to the relevant post on my Facebook Page.
My week started with a visit to Crossways Shopping Centre to discuss the current condition of it and what could be done to finally deal with this eyesore. This followed some press reports concerning a potential development deal, which were featured in this week’s Herald Express. Yet there was a little more to it than met the eye…….more below.
After this meeting I headed to Preston Baptist Church for my weekly advice surgery, with a range of issues raised by residents. One of the most common is families who are not on the streets, but who cannot find suitable affordable accommodation. In some cases a family is placed in a small flat whilst awaiting a larger house to become available. These experiences explain the need to ensure more of this type of housing is made available.
Following my surgery I walked over to Preston Conservative Club which was celebrating its 90th Birthday with an afternoon tea dance. The Club’s prominent site makes it a local landmark and my predecessor as MP Charles Williams, for the then Torquay Constituency, attended the opening ceremony in 1929. There were plenty of cakes on offer, which did little for my new year diet!!!
Later in the evening I headed over to the Little Theatre for the evening’s performance of “Nobody’s Perfect”, a hilarious production from TOADS Theatre Company. It is a wonderful story of a male writer who submits a manuscript under a female name to a feminist publishing house. There is still chance to catch it tomorrow night and just click here to book tickets on the Theatre’s website.
Sunday afternoon saw me head back to London for a packed week of debates in parliament.
Yesterday it was great to see our bay coming into view as my train came thorough Dawlish. A real tonic after the fairly-grim weather in London. I did not quite make it back in time for a meeting to discuss the 65 Bus Service (Bottom right) but was represented at it. More on this below.
Today I held meetings about Torquay Magistrates Court and another Advice Surgery, this time at the Windmill Centre.
This week’s update is below and includes: Crossways, Town Councils Consultation, Bus Update, Castle Circus CCTV Upgrade, Police Consultation Continues, Seal in Plastic Bag, Torbay Lottery Small Grants, Torquay Magistrates and finally……Is it A Bird? Is It A Plane? or Perhaps It’s the Next James Bond?
Paignton’s Crossways Shopping Centre is one of our bay’s biggest eyesores, so news it might be redeveloped would be welcomed across the town.
The announcement this week in a press piece it was about to be purchased by a major property investor was therefore of great interest. Yet a problem quickly emerged, the man in contact with the Press and Council was an imposter. This was discovered by Torbay Council and the TDA when conducting their usual due diligence checks into the background of someone looking to acquire property.
In a performance worthy of the greatest actors of the silver screen a person who regularly impersonates the developer had made out he was going to invest in it and another local eyesore. You can read the full story on Devon Live by clicking here.
Sadly the grim reality remains, but this latest story does highlight again the need for Torbay Council to take firm action to move things forward, including the potential use of Compulsory Purchase powers to deal with an owner who has done little to maintain or improve it.
Town Councils Consultation,
A consultation on a “Community Governance Review” has been launched, which includes the potential to set up new town or parish councils.
Any new town or parish councils would not replace Torbay Council but would exist alongside it, just like Brixham Town Council does now. The amount they will charge through an additional Council Tax payment (precept) would depend on decision made by those elected to it, but it has been suggested this could be as high as £200 extra for each Band D Property in their area.
The initial suggestion is that two new town councils could be set up to represent Torquay and Paignton respectively. However, alternative options are possible, for example, there could be a larger number of small town or parish councils representing individual areas, parts of Torbay could remain unparished, or our bay could simply retain the status quo. You can find the Council’s consultation by clicking here.
Whilst a new Town Council may sound good, much of the money raised in tax by it would need to be spent maintaining the structure of the Town Council itself. I also meet few people in the bay who think the ideal solution to local problems would be to employ some more Councillors.
Other counties, including neighbouring Dorset, are switching away from the two-tier system of local government and at some point Devon may do the same. At that point it would make sense for Torbay to be part of these discussions and Town Councils could well sit under a Unitary Council covering a much wider area than the current Torbay Unitary Council.
A genuine community demand for Town Councils would be one worth listening to, yet the current proposals strike me as little more than an expensive and inefficient way to raise additional tax revenue.
Options continue to be looked at to re-instate the 65 bus route which ceased operating in December.
Residents and bus users from the defunct bus route attended a meeting on Thursday along with Cllr Anne Brooks and Hazel Foster (I was detained in London) to hear options and give their views and suggestions on what changes to the route would be needed to make it viable to return.
Suggestions included: smaller buses as more economical to maintain and to run, a service every hour to provide a better regular service, a shorter amended route was suggested as very few passengers use the bus to go to Torbay Hospital. It was also made clear a new service must be reliable as problems with the previous vehicles and service had seen passengers find themselves stuck at a Bus stop when it failed to turn up.
To make it more financially viable regular passengers could be invited to pay an additional monthly contribution towards the costs.
The Torbay Community Development Trust hope to bring back a suggested proposal with the next few weeks. I will include any further news in a future update.
Castle Circus CCTV Upgrade,
Problems with anti-social behaviour have sadly been too common in Castle Circus over recent years, yet the new management at the Castle Pub is determined to help put an end to them.
After quickly barring 40 people causing problems in the pub (You can read more on Devon Live by clicking here.) and refurbishment work outside to remove hidden alcoves which too often became place to do drugs, they have now unveiled a new CCTV system. The system covers not just the area outside the Pub, but the junction nearby, with detailed footage of any crimes available to the Police. You can see a sample photo by clicking here.
It is good to see this investment helping turn-round a part of our town which needed some attention, especially when combined with the work of our local Policing Team.
Police Consultation Continues,
As mentioned in last week’s update our local Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, is asking residents if they would be prepared to pay around 40p a week more to fund improvements to policing, including 85 more officers.
A rise of 41p a week for a Band C property (most households in the force area are Band C or below) would allow the force to recruit 85 officers by the end of 2020, taking the force strength to 3,100 officers.
You can read more and take part in a poll on Alison’s website by clicking here.
Seal in Plastic Bag,
There was a sad reminder of the impact plastic pollution can have on wildlife this week when a Grey Seal was filmed in our bay with a plastic bag around its head.
This was not the only piece of junk affecting the Seal Colony near Brixham Harbour with other discarded items, including an Umbrella and a Jumper floating near their home. You can see the sad pictures by clicking here.
The public’s support of the single-use plastic bag charge, more than 15.6 billion fewer plastic bags have been used since the charge was introduced. As well as this, an 86 per cent fall in the sales of these bags in major supermarkets since the charge was introduced in 2015 demonstrates it has been a success.
Currently there is an exemption for small and medium-sized businesses, but the Government has already announced, subject to consultation later this year, the charge will be extended to all retailers. The consultation will also explore the possibility of increasing the 5p minimum charge to encourage further behaviour change, potentially doubling it to at least 10p.
The scenes in our bay this week show why this change is needed.
Torbay Lottery Small Grants,
Torbay Lottery Small Grants Fund is now open for applications.
People who have supported the central Torbay Lottery have raised around £15,300 to date for 2018/2019 and the council is now inviting local charity, voluntary and community sector organisations to apply for a bid towards the costs of a specific activity or for the purchase of small items of equipment up to £2,000.
Applicants may apply between 14th January and 4th March 2018. The panel will meet on 19th March 2019 to determine who will benefit from this grant, with successful applicants being notified within six weeks of the closing date for applications.
You do not need to be a current Torbay Lottery good cause to apply but must meet the requirements set out in the relevant policy. You can find this and all the details you need to apply on the Lottery Website by clicking here.
The former Torquay Magistrate’s Court building has lain empty since the court closed two years ago.
Just before Christmas I was contacted by St Mary Magdalene Church about a plan for expansion into the building, yet this could be scuppered if it is sold before they can get a community bid organised. The owner of the building, the Ministry of Justice, currently has it up for sale so I asked the Minister if we could meet to discuss it being sold, potentially at a discount, for such a use.
Yesterday I received a letter from the Minister indicating a bid has been received for the building from a prospective buyer, but no decision has been made. I am now hoping to arrange a meeting with MOJ officials to discuss this further.
I will include any further news in a future update.
and finally……Is it A Bird? Is It A Plane? or Perhaps It’s the Next James Bond?
Ending on a lighter note the sight of a Rocket Man shooting through the sky was once something confined to the pages of a comic or an action film.
Yet this week a real-life Rocket Man swooped over Devon as he tried out his skills on the famous Commando Assault Course at Lympstone. The video looks like something from a film but are very real. You can see them on Devon Live by clicking here and compare them to the famous scene from “Thunderball” where James Bond uses one to escape by clicking here.
The skills on display have a serious edge, the man in the film is not an actor, he is a Royal Marine Commando trained to fight our nation’s enemies wherever they may hide. These skills could one day be making the vital difference in real-life combat.
That is all for this week and enjoy your weekend.
Every Tuesday from 0930 till 1230. The Royal British Legion Office, 39 Church Street, Paignton is open. It is where ex members of the armed forces can receive help and advice. Appointments can be made by phoning 01803 555838, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2nd Wednesday of each month at the Quaker Meeting House in Torquay – Torbay Interfaith Forum meet. For more details click here.
Saturday 26th January, 11am – 1pm @ The Acorn Centre, Lummaton Cross, Torquay TQ2 8ET
Friday 1st February, 3pm – 5pm @ AGE U.K. 12 Dendy Road, Paignton TQ4 5DB
Saturday 16th February, 11am – 1pm @ St Peters Church, Queensway, Torquay TQ2 6BP
Friday 22nd February, 3pm – 5pm @ Paignton Baptist Church, 43 Winner Street, Paignton TQ3 3BJ
Saturday 2nd March, 10pm – 12pm @ St Martins Church, Barton Hill Road, Torquay TQ2 8JA
Saturday 9th March, 11am – 1pm @ Preston Baptist Church, Old Torquay Road, TQ3 2RB
Saturday 16th March, 11am – 1pm @ The Acorn Centre, Lummaton Cross, Torquay TQ2 8ET
Saturday 23rd March, 11am – 1pm @ Paignton Library, Great Western Road, Paignton TQ4 5AG
Friday 29th March, 3pm – 5pm @ The Windmill Centre, Pendennis Road, Torquay TQ2 7QB