'LET'S get on and get the job done,' councillors in Teignbridge said this week as they agreed more changes to decision-making in order to speed up delivery of a £9-million project to transform Newton Abbot’s high street.
Dogged by delays after the government awarded cash from its Future High Street Fund four years ago , Teignbridge District Council has decided now it will delegate decisions to officers but that the executive committee will keep overall control.
Liberal Democrat council leader Martin Wrigley (Dawlish North East) proposed that ‘delegated authority’ to be given to the head of place and commercial services so they can make decisions provided they have obtained approval from an executive member and that all decisions are reported to the executive.
He said decisions can be made effectively by officers but it is important to remember the executive was “making the bigger decisions on this project”.
Cllr Wrigley, who had previously put forward a motion for the executive to make all decisions alone – leading to an accusation of 'control freakery' by Cllr Andrew MacGregor (South Devon Alliance Independent, Bishopsteignton) – said progress on the market hall regeneration and the cinema had been disappointingly slow.
It was likely that changes to these projects may be required because of inflation and economic changes since 2019 and delays since last November.
'The cinema has yet to obtain planning permission after nearly four years of the project. The council is concerned that the projects are progressing without detailed oversight,' he said.
Councillors were told this week that the whole scheme could be in jeopardy if decisions were made solely at executive committee meetings.
They also heard that there was now some flexibility in how the money could be spent after Michael Gove, Secretary of State for levelling up, housing and communities, announced that changes of up to 30 per cent could be approved locally.
Cllr Huw Cox (Lib Dem, Ashburton and Buckfastleigh) said: 'I agree with the move to give officers authority to move things on a bit quicker but it’s been going on forever. We need to stop chattering about it and get the job done. We need to get it finished one way or another or we could still be here talking about it in ten years’ time.'
Cllr Richard Daws (South Devon Alliance, Ambrook) said the new flexibility was welcome.
'I think now we need to grasp the nettle, reform the cinema application size and scale, since the demise of Cineworld, Empire cinemas going into administration and the lack of interest by local operator Scott Cinemas,' he said. 'If there is one company that should have the handle on the viability of cinema in Newton Abbot, it is Scott Cinemas.'
'Let’s take this forward with a transformational plan which is in the community interest of the district. The Queen Street development can move forward, but it does not have the support of the retailers and we need to address that if there is to be a lively town centre.'
Cllr Jackie Hook (Lib Dems, Bushell) said plans to change Queen Street, including widening pavements , improving crossing, more planting and public seating and an introduction of a 20 mph speed limit between The Avenue and Courtenay Street, went through three stages of public consultation.
'The last one was close, but ultimately the residents of our town and district support that and they will be the people spending the money in Queen Street and that is what we have to remember.'
Cllr Gary Taylor (Lib Dem, Kenton and Starcross) said he is positive: 'I am looking forward to transformational change within Newton Abbot town centre and I am am confident we will see it, albeit with some changes to the original plans.
'I am pleased we have flexibility now, with the economic conditions we have floating around us it is important we have that flexibility.'
But he added that the closure of Wilko was a blow.
'I am very sad we will be losing one of major anchor stores, not least because it’s a tenant of ours, also because it provides a very good service to people of the town.
'It’s a huge shame to be losing them and whilst it does give us another opportunity, I do hope somebody comes along and continues to do something similar to what Wilko did for our high street as it took over from Woolworths when it came.'
Cllr Wrigley agreed it was a sad loss to the high street: 'No doubt we will have decisions to make in the future regarding what happens there,' he said.