Golden opportunity to reassess Scilly Link scheme

2010-06-14

The government decision to suspend funding for pending transport projects, including the Isles of Scilly Link project with its ill-thought-out plans for Penzance Harbour, should be treated by local residents and Cornwall Council as a golden opportunity to reassess the scheme.

It gives us the chance to take proper account of the likely closure of the helicopter service and the availability of cheaper vessel and harbour options, as well as the traffic and planning problems and opportunities highlighted by the recent AECOM studies.

The Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, the private sector operator of the link for the last ninety years and successful tenderer for the new service, has already made it clear that the Company will continue to operate a service from Penzance whether public sector funding is available or not, so a delay to funding will not endanger the link.

The delay gives time for a full and independent review of the Route Partnership’s objectives, taking into account likely funding restrictions, recent developments with the helicopter service and the emergence of alternative options for the Penzance harbour improvements, such as Option PZ and the Trythall Shipping proposal. These contain elements that could substantially cut the costs of the project, remove the necessity for expensive reclamation at Battery Rocks beach, and provide a fast sea-based alternative to the helicopter. These and all other options that focus on value for money and the genuine service needs of Scillonians and visitors to the Islands should now be reviewed in order to develop a credible and attractive offer for national government funding. Working on the basis that “the prime concern... has not been to reduce capital costs, which will largely be covered by grant funding...” (Cllr Graeme Hicks in WMN on 17/11/09) was never a sensible approach to the project, and now Cornwall Council are having to face the consequences of their shortsightedness.

An alternative approach to the Scilly Link project will also avoid further conflict over Penzance’s historic South Pier. Listed Building Consent for works to the Pier, the historically most important parts of which would be buried in concrete and infill by the development, has yet to be granted by the Secretary of State (for Communities and Local Government), but even if that approval were given the plans would in all likelihood be subject to challenge in the courts.

Cornwall Council have only themselves to blame for the delays to this project. They failed to address the depth of public concern over the Penzance end of the link project and attempted to push through a deeply unpopular scheme, indeed to date they have failed to even put a business case together. Now they should make a virtue of a necessity and seize the chance to look afresh at all aspects of the Scilly Link scheme.

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