Was St Erth Ever Really an Option?

Planning has the habit of causing all sorts of trouble by placing villages, towns or whole areas on apposing sides at a moments notice when planning applications are submitted. Penzance has had its unfortunate share with first, the Isle of Scilly sea-link, supermarkets and now the heliport.

Late last week news came that British International Helicopters (BIH) were pulling their planning application due to overwhelming opposition. Now, to many people this hardly comes as a shock. For me, it was not if, but when they pulled their application. My view is they would have pulled it on environmental grounds etc, and not just local opposition. In many cases large local opposition is more a hindrance, than problem.

When the application for Sainsbury’s was heard at the recent Strategic Planning Committee I ask for that application and the new heliport be heard at the same time. I was told no, this could not be done, as you will have to judge this application (the supermarket) on its own merits.

You see many felt the play of selling the land at the current location and moving it to St Erth was nothing more than a ruse. The company have been mightily rewarded from the sale of the heliport land, but I believe their aims never really included this new location. For want of better words; ‘they were going through the motions’ for the capital from the sale. It would have been almost impossible for Sainsbury’s to get the planning if it had been said this would lead to the end of the heliport in Penzance.

Whilst many believed the heliport would never move to St Erth, this could not be proved; so in planning terms it could not be taken into consideration.

No doubt those residents of St Erth will be overjoyed at this decision, and the from their viewpoint it is the right decision. However for West Cornwall, and namely Penzance it is a disaster. As the helicopter service has gone; along with all the money that came from those users of the service.

I really don’t believe flights operating out of Newquay Airport is a financially viable option. Again, I believe this is nothing more than going through the motions to make it look like saving the service. No doubt in a week or so news will be this idea is to costly and it is thrown into the bin like the St Erth plan.  This will allow BIH to walk away with the money in the bank.

It could be seen a morally wrong, but in planning terms there is nothing that can be done.

No Route Partnership For Penzance – What’s the Future?

It has been a few days (and possibly long nights) since the announcement and decision by Government to pull the plug on the funding for the Isles of Scilly link. It got me thinking on the bigger impact with that decision and where it leaves Penzance. This is a complex question to answer, but having said that, here are my thoughts on this issue.

The current stance from the Council on the project is they have had enough and are walking away with a £2m hole in their pockets. They say it was always the Governments responsibility to supply the link, but they asked the then County Council in 2002 to work up a plan. Now any money that was earmarked for the plan would more than likely be reassigned to other projects.

Of course, a new ship could be funded by the existing operators, or even different operators. This money would probably have to come from private finance, or at a push Department of Transport money. I can hardly see the Council offering to pay for any of it. Without funding, no replacement ship can be brought, and that leaves the link in a perilous position.

It is worse for the Convergence money that was ear-marked for this project, as this will now be reassigned to other projects in Cornwall. Penzance’s loss might be a win for the Temple road upgrade or other projects that are in desperate need for cash. One thing for sure is this current Convergence money is gone from Penzance and even if a new plan (or miracle) appeared, it would have to be fully costed and ready to go by the 1st June.

On the wider picture and away from the sea-link there is a lot of concern to the future of the Heliport. This could leave Penzance completely and move to another location like Newquay. Even without the issues of the IoS link this would still be a huge blow to the economy.

Also, on the horizon in 2013, the franchises for the Intercity Rail Link are up for grabs. This may not seem a concern, but from my information it could be. This is because there is a real possibility that the Intercity service could stop further up line in Truro, or worse Plymouth. The reason is the journey from Plymouth is very expensive and could be replaced by cheaper, smaller trains. This would signal the end of the direct route to London and may put off a lot of people travelling by train. This scenario may never happen, but it is a worry by those in the transport business that I have talked to.

Losing one transport link is bad enough and may still spell trouble for Penzance, but imagine if two or three happened? It would be a disaster for Penzance as those scenarios would leave the town with a very bleak future.

Of course you may disagree with my points and think the cancellation of the project was good, but I am very worried.

Isles of Scilly Boat Project Sinks On The Homeward Course

The Government has finally given Cornwall Council the news on it’s part of the funding for the replacement ship and associated works for the Isles of Scilly. I am afraid from the Councils, the Isle of Scilly and probably half of Penzance this is terrible news. The Government has said it will not fund it’s side of the project.

The replacement project only worked if all 3 partners funded this project. It means there is now not enough money for the project to work. More concerning is the Convergence money is now lost too, as this was needed for other elements to be released.

I expect the full impact on this decision will not be fully felt for a few days until the numbness has subsided for those in favour of the project. Of course, if you were against the project in the first place, then sales of bubbly might see an increase in and around Penzance.

Personally, I am not sure where this leaves Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, but I do think it will be very rough until something (if anything) is worked out.

Below is the official statement from Cornwall Council that was released 20 minutes ago

News that the Government has decided not to fund the Isles of Scilly Sea Link Project has been greeted with disappointment and dismay by members of the Route Partnership who say Ministers are missing the opportunity to safeguard the future of the vital sea link.

The Route Partnership, which includes Cornwall Council, the Council for the Isles of Scilly and the Duchy of Cornwall, has been working with the Government on proposals to safeguard the future of the sea link between the Isles of Scilly and the Cornwall mainland since 2002. The bid, which includes proposals for both the harbours at St Mary’s and Penzance, together with a new vessel, has been designed to overcome the growing problems which are threatening the operation of the service in the future.

The sea link is responsible for carrying 45,000 passengers (90,000 trips) and 13,000 tonnes of freight to the Isles of Scilly annually (35% of all passengers and 95% of all freight) and is essential for the continued social and economic wellbeing of the 2,200 Islanders.

The Route Partnership has been waiting since January for final approval from the Department for Transport in order for Cornwall Council to let contracts for the harbour works, the building of a new combined passenger/freight vessel and appointment of a private operator to run the new service from March 2013. The tenders are due to expire on 31 March and earlier this month the Partnership warned that time was running out for the Government to reach a decision.

The Partnership has already reduced the costs of the scheme by £26 million and on March 16 Cornwall Council agreed to borrow an additional £5 million, with an additional £700,000 coming from the Convergence programme. This took the level of local contributions up to £26.75m – 43% of the £62.05 m required for the scheme.

Graeme Hicks, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Transportation and Highways, is angry and disappointed by the Government’s decision not to fund the scheme. “We were asked by the Government to develop this scheme and have done everything we can to reduce the costs and increase local funding over the past few months” he said. “The proposed scheme was a comprehensive one which would have enabled improvements to be made to the harbours in both Penzance and St Mary’s as well as providing a new vessel. The decision not to provide funding is a huge missed opportunity and I am very disappointed by the Government’s short sightedness.

“I am also disappointed by the lack of support from the local MP” he added. “This made it much more difficult for us to make our case to the Government and is, I am sure, one of the reasons for this decision.

“Developing this project for the Government has already cost more than £5million and we will need to look at the detail of the Government’s announcement before deciding what future action to take. “

“Cornwall Council and the other members of the Route Partnership have done everything they can to ensure this project goes ahead” said Philip Hygate, Chairman of the Route Partnership and Chief Executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly. “It is very disappointing that the Government has decided not to support this project which would have allowed £12.75m of EU Convergence funding and a further £15m from Cornwall Council towards the overall cost of the project.”

“The community on the Isles of Scilly have watched this project being developed over the last eight years with growing anticipation that this would, when implemented, safeguard the service for years to come. I am devastated that having come so close to delivering this project, the Government has decided not to support it” said Councillor Mike Hicks, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

“This is a very sad day for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly” said Cornwall Council Leader Alec Robertson. “This decision means that there is now no funding available to deliver improvements to the sea link. The European funding will now be reallocated to other projects within the programme and the opportunity for the Council to borrow funding to support the project has been lost”.

“However the need to maintain a sea link remains and it will now be up to the Government to ensure a solution is delivered”.

Isle of Scilly Link – The final hurdle over?

News just released is that the Government has approved ‘in principle’ the funding for the new Isle of Scilly Link. As many will know from the news coverage and my blog posts this has been a long and contentious issue. The news was given in the House of Commons on the 26th Oct by the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Sec of State for Transport.

Maybe now everyone will get together to make sure this project works. I think it is time to use the old saying and ‘bury the hatchet’ once and for all. I think this may take sometime though.

Sadly it comes at the same time that the helicopter link is still under threat with the Isle of Scilly Steamship Company not now supporting the move from Penzance Heliport to Lands End Airport. I do hope something is worked out as this would be another blow to Penzance