Bideford vandals threat to town tourism

A SOUTH Wales coach operator has warned that Bideford vandals could jeopardise the town s future as a destination for tourists. Edwards Coaches, based at Pontypridd in Mid-Glamorgan, said it had been visiting Bideford for more than 20 years but was now re

A SOUTH Wales coach operator has warned that Bideford vandals could jeopardise the town's future as a destination for tourists.

Edwards Coaches, based at Pontypridd in Mid-Glamorgan, said it had been visiting Bideford for more than 20 years but was now reluctant to return after one of its luxury coaches was vandalised.

The firm, which runs regular package tours that bring hundreds of tourists to the town throughout the year, says it many not return due to what it called a "lack of security" at the coach park, to the rear of the Riverbank car park.

One of the company's �250,000 coaches was allegedly "ransacked" after vandals broke in through an emergency exit on the roof during the St Valentine's weekend last month. Seats were set alight, lockers ripped open and the personal belongings of holidaymakers strewn about the interior.


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Edwards Coaches' director Jason Edwards said that if the seats had not been fire retardant, the coach could have been destroyed.

"The coach would have become a fireball within seconds, trapping these yobs inside, before igniting the 400-plus litres of fuel in its tanks," he told the Gazette.

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"This could have led to a major incident, but fortunately, through the increased safety factors now in place on coaches, this was avoided."

Mr Edwards said the firm was now "hesitant" to visit due to an apparent lack of overnight security at the coach park, which is owned and managed by Torridge District Council and is adjacent to the town's skate park.

"The incident seriously jeopardises the future of Bideford as a tourist destination for ourselves as a coach company," he said.

"If we should withhold our tour programme, and other companies follow suit, this would be disastrous for Bideford as tourism would become non-existent."

Mr Edwards said the "near disaster" had left his firm "greatly out of pocket" due to the repair bill on the vehicle. He said the company needed some form of guarantee that his coaches would be secure when parked overnight.

While the council was quick to point out that such severe incidents were very rare for the area, parking services manager Simon Toon told coach bosses it was the worst he had seen in Torridge for nearly 10 years. He said he would be undertaking a review of the coach parking facility with a view to reducing the potential for any future anti-social behaviour.

Cllr Geoff Lee, lead member for parking services said the original coach parking area on the Pill car park was moved for safety reasons in 2004, following the completion of the flood defence works and the creation of dedicated drop-off and collection points for coaches.

"Although the council has no legal requirement to provide coach parking in the district we do, however, realise the importance of tourism to the area and provide for coaches in many of our car parks," he said.

"Personally, I am appalled and saddened by this incident but, realistically, it could have happened anywhere. We have signs saying that people do park at their own risk and nowhere do we say that we provide 'secure coach parking'."

Ray Webster, the council's head of environmental health, housing, planning and public protection (inc CCTV) said the council worked closely with the police to identify the best places to install CCTV cameras and that a new camera at the coach park was unlikely.

He said: "In the vicinity of the coach park area there have only been two reported incidents in the last 12 months, making it hard to justify the �16,000 to �20,000 it costs for the installation of a new one."

PC Perry Hodgson said police were currently investigating the incident: "Enquiries are on-going at this time and we would encourage anyone with any information to get it contact on 08452 777444," she said.

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