Dear Jim: 3 ‘mini’ essays.
Of everything which has been written in the comment book at Torquay Pavilion ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ seems the strangest remark.
Just how much worse do things have to become before folk realise there is a need to welcome investment and regeneration to a part of town which should be our show case, but is now partly fenced off and in need of ￡10 million plus restoration?
The Pavilion itself is in desperate need of repair and a new lease of life. The Princess Gardens are sinking (all this was reclaimed land). The Promenade and Banjo are in a poor state and I am not sure of the wisdom of repairing the latter ‘as is’, even if we had the funds, as the lower deck was a magnet for anti-social behaviour.
The Princess Theatre, with one of the largest auditoriums in the land (more seats than the Theatre Royal, Plymouth) could be improved to host major musicals. And does everybody really think it is an intelligent land use to locate the Marina Car Park on such a prime waterfront site?
Of course, I appreciate this is a sensitive location. I would not wish to spoil the essential charm of the place. The original Princess Gardens are listed in any case and even the most ambitious proposals for development do not envisage them being ‘concreted over’ as some folk would have you believe. Also, there is no question of knocking down the Pavilion (many commentators seem to think this is all part of the plan).
However, this area is essentially a man-made environment, which has changed enormously over the years. It is a part of town where successive generations have created spaces and places for recreation. But we are now at the point when existing structures are past their sell by date, both in terms of needing substantial repair and no longer meeting contemporary needs.
It is no secret that colleagues in the Torbay Development Agency are working with a prospective developer so that the amount of development to fund all the things we would like to see there (but cannot afford out of public funds) is reduced from the original proposals.
The reality, however, is some development will be necessary and if there is strong demand for a top notch hotel, some more restaurants, possibly shops and apartments on a part of the waterfront (but not the original gardens) to bring this area back to life, then, surely, that is better than a fenced off Promenade, crumbling concrete and under used buildings?
One way in which the world has changed for the better in the last twenty or thirty years is society’s attitude to people with the most severe physical and learning disabilities.
Not so long ago such people were placed in institutions, out of sight and out of mind.
Now far more people are likely to be cared for by their own families, with appropriate support, or provided with individual accommodation to meet their own needs, again with appropriate support, when they become adult. In a nutshell, even those with the greatest need of help and support are now treated with respect and as individual human beings and given the opportunity to lead lives just like everybody else.
However, changing existing arrangements is always bound to be fraught with difficulty and the current controversy over the future needs of the remaining residents at Occombe House has become a very emotive issue.
On the one hand you have professional advisors, including the Chairman and Chief Executive of our Care Trust, the project manager and even some staff, saying something much better could and should be provided for the remaining residents. They will also say, as far as it is possible to determine these things, the residents are inhibited by the nature of the accommodation from doing things they would enjoy. There is limited personal space, shared bathroom arrangements and no lift access to the first floor for example. The public spaces are inevitably like an institution and, being an old building, some of the windows are quite high, so somebody in a wheelchair cannot see what is happening outside.
By contrast, the families of the residents are content with these arrangements and are unhappy with the Care Trust’s proposals to procure alternative, independent, supported accommodation.
In a case like this you need a degree in moral philosophy to come to a judgement. For once, it is not a cost cutting exercise and I must do what I believe is right.
By saying ‘yes’ to the Care Trust’s proposals (although now subject to a debate at a future Council meeting) I hoped this would give encouragement to work with the families and come up with a more detailed scheme of alternative accommodation.
I see this as the start of a process, not the end. But I do want to see the end of institutional settings, where the needs of the individual are always compromised by the needs of the group.
Finally, another hot potato and one where, frankly, I really do have an open mind as to the best way forward: the review of primary school places in Brixham.
Due to an ageing population and very little house building in recent years, Brixham is now experiencing an over supply of primary school places. This is very different to the remainder of Torbay where there has been a very substantial recovery in the birth rate.
As Government funds each school pupil it becomes very difficult to plan budgets within schools and with so many empty places (270 plus in Brixham at the last count) there is huge instability within the system.
The empty places are not evenly balanced and for whatever reason, one school becomes less popular then another, uncertainty arises and the situation becomes even more difficult for teachers and governing bodies.
For the last few weeks there has been a consultation underway with parents from Chestnut School and St. Margaret Clitherow’s, considering various options including the suggestion Chestnut School closes and St. Margaret Clitherow’s moves ‘up the hill’ to the Chestnut site.
This suggestion emerged after discussion with all the Brixham primary schools.
However, I am mindful some parents of St Margaret Clitherow do not exactly relish the inconvenience of their school moving, as well as wondering if the school is biting off more than it can chew if it takes over Chestnut School.
Chestnut parents are unhappy at the suggestion their school will be closed and are full of praise for its ethos and standards achieved, especially by pupils with special needs.
In this job I am used to the saying ‘you cannot please all the people all the time’.
However, there are times when you fear you are going to upset everybody, even if a compromise is suggested in good faith.
I await the results of the consultation with interest. I really do want to know the strength of feeling against moving St Margaret Clitherow (and if it is possible to overcome parents’ fears) as well as the pitfalls of sustaining a very small school, perhaps with no more than 30 or 40 pupils, on quite a large site at Chestnut, if the ‘village school’ idea is given further consideration.
The angry emails I have received claiming it is all a ‘done deal’ could not be further from the truth.
For once I am at a loss as to the best way forward
Mayor of Torbay