JIM PARKER: People should not be left out in cold
TORBAY's planning committee is tasked with making some huge decisions which sometimes will have an important bearing on the very future of the resort.
Members will decide the fate of development and regeneration projects worth millions and millions of pounds to the local economy and which may involve hundreds and hundreds of new jobs.
Take the recent decision to at last allow a Tesco supermarket scheme in Brixham.
Or the verdict to throw out the latest plans for a new Churston Golf Club clubhouse which would have triggered a new homes development.
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You would expect councillors to deliberate long and hard before putting their voting hands in the air and, no doubt, they do.
On the other hand they may be forgiven for trying to bring proceedings to a close as quickly as possible for fear of freezing to death!
The diggers are in at Oldway Mansion where planning meetings have been held in the past. Now the venue is 'The Fridge' — namely in the sports hall of the Parkfield Centre on Paignton seafront.
Councillors — and members of the public — have been spotted in coats and gloves trying to keep warm as they debate such hugely-important projects.
The problem has been raised by Lib Dem and planning committee councillor Ruth Pentney.
She has complained to Torbay Council acting chief executive Caroline Taylor and there is even talk of a boycott.
Cllr Pentney says: "Since Oldway is being developed we are now having planning meetings at Parkfield in the unheated sports hall.
"It was so cold that the committee sat with coats and gloves on.
"That is bad for the committee and it doesn't look professional.
"The public also have to sit on benches."
Evidently, another councillor had to be escorted to the toilets because there were children around.
In an email to Mrs Taylor, Cllr Pentney says: "I really must object to the use of the gym at Parkfield for planning meetings. The room is unheated and at the last meeting the committee had to sit wrapped in their coats. It is of course also unheated for the public.
"This is the most public of all committees and do you think it gives a good impression to the public to leave them sitting in the cold? Cllr Ray Hill was told he couldn't use the toilets as there were children in the building.
"I believe we are only using Parkfield to boost their coffers; Paignton Library would be a better venue. It also has the benefit of being sustainable."
By the way, the cost of hiring the sports hall is £186 per meeting and the PA system is charged as more than £264.
Committee chairman Beryl McPhail has now raised the issue with members.
She says in another email: "We all experienced discomfort from the cold on Monday — no heating in the sports hall at all. It must have been uncomfortable for members of the public, too."
And even a council official remarked: "I have had a number of comments from the public about it — including a developer who has only just thawed out."
Cllr Ruth Pentney even goes as far as threatening a boycott...
She says: "I am concerned about having the right environment to make important decisions."
Now where I am heading with all this..... I guess it's about getting the basics right and the rest will follow.
It's like making sure you have the right people in place, all pulling in the same direction trying to achieve the same successful outcomes — and all playing a part in the process at the same time.
That's why it is somewhat sad to see Alison Hernandez and Chris Lewis quitting their executive lead roles in Mayor Gordon Oliver's top team. Finance guru Alan Tyerman also stepped down in December to leave gaping holes in the team supposed to be leading the Bay to a brighter future.
Cllr Hernandez has found balancing life as a councillor and a mum nigh on possible.
Cllr Lewis says his children's service post has virtually become full time.
But both have hinted that they are not happy with the responsibility and their share in decision-making processes.
Lib Dem leader Steve Darling claims: "It is an interesting indictment of the council. Alison is a bright button and has chosen to walk away.
"It is difficult for her as an individual but it is more about the communication and lack of responsibility given to her and lack of direction.
"If somebody on the inside is saying this on direction and is saying 'I do not feel that I want to engage on this' what hope is there with getting our communities to engage with the local authority?
"I believe it is a lack of leadership. The mayor goes flip flopping on a number of different policies.
"There is flip flopping and indecision that is reflected by Alison's resignation.
"We need a firm hand on the tiller."
The Bay really cannot afford to lose councillors of the quality of Alison Hernandez and Chris Lewis.
The mayor has said he will be looking at new appointments.
He also has to ensure that people are not in the same position as those planning committee members — out in the cold.