Friday, September 14, 2012

Penzance Harbour to Scilly Freight and Passenger Services Set for More Controversy  

New Plans Submitted Just Hours Before Government Funding Deadline

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UK – Once again we turn to a story which we have been writing about for the past three years. In a last minute move Penzance Town Council submitted revised plans to develop the harbour at Penzance merely hours before today’s Government funding deadline. The maintenance of an efficient freight and passenger service to and from the Scilly Isles is seen as vital by many locals whose livelihoods depend on trade between the Island and the mainland.

The current passenger helicopter link to the Isles will end on the 31st October when British International Helicopters (BIH) close the route following potential prosecutions by Tesco and two others which scuppered a deal to sell off heliport land to Sainsbury’s. The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company maintains both passenger and freight links with the Scillonian III ferry (and a fixed wing air passenger service) but the company says dredging work to the harbour is vital to maintain the marine services without an increase in costs.

The company tells us that the ferry freight service is maintained all year round, weather permitting, but the amount of controversy which works in Penzance Harbour engender can be seen by looking at any of our previous stories (just type Penzance into the News Search Box) and by one in particular in the comments column at the foot of a report HERE.

Mr Jon Pender, Penzance Town Councillor and Chairman of its Planning Committee and Harbour Improvement Board, spoke to the Handy Shipping Guide today and explained the reasoning behind the new development. The original cost of the scheme was put at circa £65 million. This envisaged not only major development in the harbour in Penzance but also on the Scilly Isles and included the purchase of a new vessel to serve the route. The revised scheme was put together by Penzance Town Council together with their planning advisers Hyder Consulting and concentrates on Penzance Harbour alone including dredging works.

The original scheme having been rejected by the Government, the owner of the harbour, Cornwall Council, seems to have lost interest but Mr Pender believes that with so much of the original contentious content of the grander scheme removed local resistance will turn to support as he insists the Council remain flexible and that most buildings and businesses will be unaffected by the works. There have been public consultations whilst the latest plan was developed but there now exists a problem in that whilst Cornwall Council’s legal advisers have decreed that a new Harbour Infrastructure Plan will need to be submitted the Penzance legal team come to a directly opposed opinion with the dispute centred upon the North Harbour. 

The result of this further dispute will doubtless result in a delay which precludes the acceptance of the scheme by EU authorities for their current round of funding although it is hoped that Government assistance will be available, especially in the light of the much reduced cost. In the past we have witnessed EU funding forthcoming for more grandiose developments such as the £12.7 million grant from the EU's TEN-T Trans-European Transport Network to cover the cost of deepwater channel dredging to kick start the London Gateway project. Mr Pender concluded:

“With this new scheme we hope we can draw together both strands of opinion on the subject of development. We intend to be flexible in terms both of finance and the finer points of how and which buildings and businesses are affected and we have received some encouragement after the public consultations and during the discussions with the Department for Transport and the Island Council who have been kept fully informed. We shall continue to investigate alternative forms of finance now it appears we shall be too late as regards the latest round of EU funding and are hopeful that we shall be able to secure funds perhaps in the next round in 2015.”

Penzance Town Council and others in the region will doubtless be concerned that with the demise of the helicopter service all vestiges of competition on the route will have disappeared creating a monopoly for the Steamship company. Despite several attempts there was nobody available at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company offices prepared to comment but CEO Jeff Marston was quoted elsewhere as saying:

"I'll be disappointed if we don't find a resolution now, the (Steamship Company) operation won't cease if this work isn't done. It would just become more difficult and ultimately that affects everybody and ends up costing more money."

Photo: Single ferry operated services are particularly vulnerable when dry docking is called for.

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