Torbay's ambitious regeneration plans aim to drag the area out of retirement
PUBLISHED: 10:42 05 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:50 05 June 2018
Change is in the air in Torbay. With an influx of big plans, bright minds and cash investment, this beautiful corner of Devon has the chance to shine once again. Chrissy Harris finds out more
A wonky water fountain, straightened and returned to its original colour, stands proudly among carefully planned displays of dazzling summer blooms.
The restoration of this Grade II-listed monument in Torquay’s Princess Gardens is a small victory in a grand plan to make this area great again.
The fountain, one of only three of its kind in the UK, had developed a tilt and work started in November to construct a new base, while enhancing the surrounding gardens.
This much-loved spot for tourists and residents is slowly being restored to its former glory, with plans for pop-up cafes and a reorganisation of street furniture to help reinvigorate this area of historic seafront.
The Princess Gardens facelift is just one in a series of regeneration schemes taking place all over Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, the three towns that make up Torbay.
Residents, architects and council workers agree there is a lot of work to do and there are no quick fixes for an area of Devon that has been in decline for several decades. But sun, sea and a beautiful palm-tree-lined bay means there is plenty to work with here in the English Riviera, once regarded as the playground of the Victorian gentry.
“Torbay has this incredible infrastructure,” says Torquay-raised architect Simon Goode, whose firm has just been appointed by Torbay Council to work alongside the planning team.
“You only have to walk along the seafront in Torquay, Paignton or the harbour in Brixham to realise that it’s all there.
“But it’s about how you take these natural assets and complement them with really good architecture and urban design.”
Simon and his team at Lyndon Goode Architects are providing advice on a number of projects in Torbay, including housing developments and hotel schemes.
Elsewhere, work is underway to give people better access to Torquay’s Princess Pier and the town’s listed Pavilion building is at the centre of a plan for a new hotel and residential complex, overlooking an improved harbour.
Torbay Council has now received a planning application and a decision on this iconic building is expected shortly. If the proposed scheme proceeds, it will secure a £26m investment into Torbay and create between 160 and 200 jobs.
There are also town centre regeneration plans in place for Torquay, Brixton and Paignton, which call on residents, businesses and investors to flag up what they would like to see put in place.
So far, a £2.5million pot has been agreed to deliver a hotel at Harbour View in Torquay and a mixed-use development in Paignton Harbour, as well as new car parks and improvements to bus and train stations.
Running alongside all this are three neighbourhood plans, put together by local communities to outline how their towns should be developed over the next 20 years.
Could Torbay finally be ready to come out of retirement?
“I am hopeful for the future,” says David Watts, chairman of the Paignton Neighbourhood Plan. One of the overall aims here is to recreate the area’s ‘garden town’ appeal by improving green spaces.
“We’ve been working on this for six years,” says David, adding how important it is for local people to have their say: “Times change. But that doesn’t means you have to just sit back and wait for things to happen.”
Back in Torquay, Neil Coish, head of parks for Torbay Council, says he’s entering the newly vamped Princess Gardens for a national Green Flag award.
“I’m very impressed with the work,” he says, explaining that the fountain, with its colour changing LEDs, sits in the middle of flowerbeds arranged in the original 1894 ‘Fleur de Lis’ decorative design.
“It’s about respecting the Victorian history of this area and bringing those elements back, but also but trying to bring it up to the present day.
“It’s been hard work at times,” he says, adding that it took him seven years to put the funding together for the Princess Gardens project.
“But we’re putting the time and effort in. That’s why I wanted to enter for the national award. We’re doing our best to show everyone that Torbay is still here. I’m biased, I know, but it’s such a great place to be.”
Five things you should know about Torbay:
Rockin’ rocks: The English Riviera has been accredited by UNESCO as a Global Geopark because of its unique geology, landscape and heritage. There are only seven geoparks in the UK and 120 worldwide.
Something’s fishy: The waters around Brixham are richly populated with a wide variety of marine life. More than 30 specie are regularly landed, including gurnard, Dover sole, lemon sole, lobster, cuttlefish, hake and Brixham crab.
Tropical trees: The region’s sheltered location and mild climate means that it is home to many exotic plant species, including the famous Torbay palm.
A royal visit: In 1833, Princess Victoria visited Torquay for the first time and Victoria Parade was named in honour of the spot where she first stepped ashore.
Take a dip: Shoalstone Pool is a 53-metre sea water swimming pool on Brixham sea front. It is built into a natural rock pool that was popular for bathing during Victorian times.