Totnes has come a step nearer to a tourism U-turn by agreeing to fund an investigation into finding a site for a new manned visitor information centre in the town.
But the town council is still delaying making any final decision about spending £10,000 to employ a new tourism officer to cover this summer, or the IT back-up that will be required.
Although councillors have agreed to put aside the cash they will need for employing a new officer, they have decided they need to know just where a new visitor centre would go and just what the job will entail before making any commitments.
Former Totnes mayor Jacqi Hodgson said she is still hopeful that a new tourism officer employed to meet and greet visitors could be in place at some time during this tourist season.
But she added: “It’s an endless mess, because people play politics rather then deliver the service people want.
“This is something people want now. They don’t want it next year. We have a fragile economy. If we lose momentum it will be much more difficult to re-establish. That’s why there’s urgency. This has been pushed off and pushed off. Sometimes I don’t understand my fellow councillors.
“We have to give the town a proper service and not a pile of leaflets in a shop somewhere. It has to be a personal welcome with someone who can help and advise.”
Cllr Hodgson had asked the town council to come up with some £16,000 to fund a new information officer for seven months, working 25 hours a week, following the major row resulting from the decision to close the town council-run information centre at the Town Mill last summer.
She told councillors that the alternative now in place at Totnes Bookshop was not working, adding that “tourism is so important to the economy and vibrancy of Totnes”.
The councillors agreed to spend £3,100 to increase the town’s destination manager’s hours to give her a chance to work on finding a possible new visitor centre venue at the bottom end of the town.
But they backed away from agreeing the funding for a new tourism officer, even though they agreed to put aside the money for it.
Instead they decided to hold another working group meeting to discuss just what the job would entail and to look at the possible venues for a centre that may come up.
Deputy mayor Rosie Adams suggested that the town council needs more time to sort something out, while town councillor Judy Westacott warned that the council had to get it right or it could be faced with introducing something and then taking it away again and upsetting people in the town even more.
Fellow councillor Andy Simms backed the plan to set the money aside for a new tourism officer, but suggested the council first needed to “come up with a plan that works for everyone”.
Cllr Hodgson said that, even if a venue for a new tourist centre was not available immediately, the council always had the “fallback” option of siting it in the town museum or the Guildhall.
“The town deserves to have a public face to welcome visitors. We could still bring it in for
the summer season,” she told councillors.
Amid major controversy, the Totnes Information Centre at the Town Mill shut its doors at the end of last August and the town council set up the main tourist information point for the town at Totnes Bookshop, next to Market Square, opening it in the middle of September.