BOB CURTIS: Where were the fishermen?
WHEN was the last time you spent really big money? For me, it was on October 11 in Oldway's ballroom.
Together with eight other people on table four, we spent almost 40million quid.
Well, perhaps 'invested' is a better description.
About 80 people from different sections of the community concerned about the future of Torbay's harbours spent the day studying the authority's, 20-year master plan for the three harbours.
Organised by mayor Gordon Oliver, with the chairman of the Harbour Committee, Cllr Vic Ellery, 'stakeholders' — what an awful word — listened, debated and hopefully agreed on ideas regarding future plans for Torquay, Paignton and Brixham harbours.
Being my first experience of a 'consultation conference' and somewhat confused as to the correct procedure, I listened as Mayor Oliver gave a passionate welcoming speech to the gathering.
Then, perhaps because 'other duties' called — or maybe dashing off to raise our £40million — he disappeared from the building.
Apparently, Torbay Council had engaged a company, Royal HaskoningDHV, to organise the event.
I've no idea what it cost for this Exeter-based Dutch company and one can only assume they are experienced in this kind of presentation, but within a few minutes a deep rumble of frustration echoed throughout the room because there were no microphones.
Consequently, apart from those sitting right at the front, we couldn't hear a word.
Assisted by director of marine services, Kevin Mowat, chairman Ellery walked around the room, outlining the agenda and what was expected of us.
The different tables then attempted to 'put the world to rights'… well, as far as the harbours were concerned.
Looking around, I'm convinced many questioned the need for expensive consultants to be engaged.
There were at least ten, maybe 20 people representing both maritime interests and professional harbour users, who could surely have convinced elected members and council officers about a master plan for a positive future for our three harbours.
Noticeably missing was representation from Brixham's most important facility… fishing.
Surely someone from this important part of our industry had been invited?
The morning was spent debating various suggestions for improvements to the harbours.
In truth, our table mainly concentrated on Brixham, possibly because town clerk Ki Barnes was taking notes and kept us focused.
Unanimously, we agreed that if Brixham port was going to prosper, the first criteria was the construction of a Northern Arm, reaching out to protect and shelter the outer harbour from strong north-easterly and easterly blows, and create opportunities for further marine development.
Following lunch and more coffee, it was disappointing that we weren't encouraged to change tables, thereby gaining different views… but what do I know?
Our table flowed with ideas about expanding established attractions such as different sailing events, perhaps in conjunction with Fishstock and Trawler Race Day.
We also agreed that a Festival of Sail, such as some French ports hold, would be a great attraction for both visitors and residents.
Our ideas and dreams didn't exclude Paignton or Torquay; after all both harbours are part of Torbay.
We agreed that Paignton Harbour would benefit from an extension of its existing Eastern Quay, thus providing better shelter for the small craft during bad blows.
At the moment locals remove their craft during the winter or become uninsured.
Another suggestion was perhaps a sill across the harbour entrance.
Regarding Torquay, we felt that while Haldon and Princess Piers urgently require strengthening to prevent future flooding of the inner harbour, any 'Third Harbour' was financially impractical.
It was generally felt that Torquay should remain a small boat haven.
However, re-establishing a cross-channel ferry service to France or the Channel Islands wasn't ruled out.
Just another couple more million added to the plan.
All in all, it was an interesting exercise and I warmed to talking with other folk about the future of our harbours.
A general question-and-answer session might have helped, perhaps with the finance department offering their' views on our 'dreams'.
It was good to see planning boss Mr Les Crump there and not only listening but offering some interesting proposals.
With table four 'investing' close to £40million on future developments, I came away thinking that while the mayor's conference concept was a good idea, perhaps the 'range of consultation' wasn't fully exploited.
Any joy in finding the money, Mr mayor?