JIM PARKER: Get off your bum and have your say
IGUESS you know where I stand on many so-called consultations and obtaining the views of the public. For me they are sometimes a means of local authorities and other public bodies merely having to do it to tick certain boxes for the powers-that-be up the road in central government.
But there are some exceptions where gaining the views and input from the ordinary man and woman in the street are vital.
Welcome to the core strategy in Torbay. I can sense you turning to the next page already.
Not a very eye-catching and interest-grabbing topic by the sound of things.
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But this is probably one of the most important pieces of work and processes for Torbay — and other local authorities doing the same — in years.
The strategy will shape and determine where the Bay goes for the next 20 years when it comes to redevelopment, regeneration, new homes, schools and new roads etc — and, just as importantly, where they will go.
Torbay is unique in the way it is trying to gauge public opinion before it adopts its planning blueprint and its Local Plan is rubber-stamped and set in stone for the next two decades.
It is the only unitary authority in the country where consultation is being carried out throughout its entire territory.
Neighbourhood planning forums have been holding public meetings in Torquay, Paignton and Brixham giving residents a say in what they want to see developed — or not developed — in their towns.
Once the process is complete, neighbourhood plans from the three towns will go towards the Bay's overall planning master plan.
I don't think many of you appreciate the importance of this process — never thought I would be saying that — but there is no going back once this goes through.
And the danger is that these forums attract just a handful of people who may see them as a way of raising concerns or protesting about one-off, specific projects rather than looking at the wider picture in a resort where some see change as scary and not an option.
Deputy mayor David Thomas, who is in charge of strategic planning, says: "Brixham is ahead of the game with their neighbourhood plan. They have a town council and it is something they are taking forward.
"Paignton are getting on top of theirs very, very quickly and catching up Brixham.
"Torquay at the moment probably needs to get some more people involved.
"We see great merit in having neighbourhood plans across the whole of the Bay. It is important that the community get involved in this and have their say."
Each forum has been given £20,000 by the government to manage the process which will culminate in referendums on the plans for the three towns, with 50 per cent of those voting having to say yes or no to the proposals.
Cllr Thomas has been talking to people and reckons the turn out for Torquay so far has been around the 20 mark.
Brixham takes in Churston and Galmpton. Its forum has attracted larger numbers but that may be because of the Churston Golf Club redevelopment plans and controversy over proposals for sporting facilities at Brokenbury. See what I mean about the wider picture?
Numbers in Paignton have been averaging 50 but the last meeting attracted more than 150, again mainly because of one specific issue — the talk of a supermarket plan for Victoria Park (there is no actual proposal, by the way).
Cllr Thomas said: "I said at the meeting that I was delighted to see so many people but I would be even more delighted to see them at the next meeting when it's not a single issue — Victoria Park."
The meeting decided to say 'no' to any suggestion of a supermarket at the park.
"Victoria Park was excluded from the plan. The plan will say 'no development here'," said Cllr Thomas.
"If we had consulted with everybody in Paignton and 40,000 people the majority would have had that view.
"But in Paignton the question should be do we want a supermarket in Paignton or a hypermarket on the Ring Road? That's the big debate to have. Do we want a supermarket that sells food, where people can go to do other shopping, or a hypermarket that sells 40 per cent non food, out of town?
"Do we want another Willows on the edge of Paignton? If that's what people want, Paignton town centre has to diversify its retail.
"We have 42 retailers in Paignton. There were six businesses at the meeting. I asked what the business would say."
This process comes under the banner of the government's Localism Act. Cllr Thomas says there is a fine line between localism and nimbyism.
He is keen that the meetings don't become 'one item' meetings.
He says: "We need to be clear on the whole thing.
"This is about the Localism Act. This is a game change for all authorities.
"We have never been in a situation like this before. This is not consultation where the council puts something up for consultation and it happens if people do not like it."
Time is running out. The Local plan goes out to the public in September and is submitted to the government by the end of next March.
It is essential that the silent majority who appreciate the Bay has to move forward has their say. It is usually the more vocal minority that determine the future. So, with the utmost respect, please get off your backsides and help shape a brighter Bay.