Local Politics on the English Riviera


The mayoral elections for Torbay of 2011 produced a clear victory for the Conservative candidate Gordon Oliver. He had successfully wielded the knife and dispatched his rival for the Conservative candidacy (the incumbent mayor Nick Bye). His election provoked strong reactions not least from those who had worked closely with him and who felt he would be a disaster for the Bay and its towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. The local newspaper, the Herald Express also seemed to feel that this was a man who lacked vision and whose term in office would see the local area slide backwards.


A year on, the direst predictions have obviously not come true. The Local Authority continues to function and the ruling Conservative group appears to be as united as it is ever likely to be. Furthermore, the Council has continued to press ahead with eminently sensible policies such as the installation of parking meters at key points around the Bay. At a time of a squeeze on public spending it seems right that Torbay Council is following just about every other major town and city where free parking disappeared many years ago. Roads are a community asset and it is entirely right that where possible they can be used to generate community revenue. The current administration has also taken forward a policy of reducing the charges in town centre car parks to assist local traders. Long overdue repairs to Torquay’s promenade have now begun with a completion expected in June. The current Mayor has also safeguarded the promenade near the Pavilion from any intrusive development. Planting of new palms along the road by Torre Abbey meadows have resulted in a much enhanced appearance whilst also ensuring reduced maintenance costs because of the removal of unsightly shrubbery.


However, these modest successes cannot mask the fact that the current mayor, Gordon Oliver has apparently failed to articulate a vision for his term in office. This was something that was highlighted by the very moderate head of the Torbay Civic Society in 2011 and repeated again by him at the beginning of 2012. People just do not know where Torbay is headed under Mr Oliver. He and his senior colleagues may well blame a hostile local press for his inability to get his message across but he refused the opportunity to have a weekly column in the Bays local paper something that is perverse in the extreme for a politician. There has also been a sense that with the new administration has come a much more hostile attitude to developers. True or not, there is a perception that some big developments have been lost as a result. The issue of the English Riviera Conference Centre has also proved to be a thorny one. The previous administration had indicated a willingness to see some form of redevelopment by a private company thereby relinquishing the ratepayers of the annual £600,000 subsidy required to run it.  Mr Oliver has made it clear that the taxpayers must continue to fund the centre since the…

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