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'Last chance saloon' for Ferry Link Project

posted Dec 14, 2010, 7:29 PM by Richard Cliffe

True Friends wish the  IOS deputation every success in their Dept of Transport visit on 15 Dec 2010.

The Council of the Isles of Scilly deputation to see Norman Baker MP is turning into a last ditch measure to save the project.  Recent letters from Andrew George MP to Mike Water, Chair of Pz Chamber of Commerce and the MP’s other actions to frustrate a meeting between the two Councils and Norman Baker MP (Dept of Transport)  indicate our MP is attempting to “kick the ball into the long grass” so that he can promote Option Pz as an alternative.  Such a policy would be in line with the position taken by the objectors lobby group FofPH  - effectively “the current service can continue indefinitely (with current vessels and harbour arrangements) and even if a new vessel was required the IOSSC has sufficient resources to fund its own solution” (as quoted 22 Oct 10 at St Johns Hall).

Those familiar with the timescales for working up and approving major projects know that Option Pz could not be worked up and approved before the EU ERDF deadline expires in 2013 (loss of £11 million EU funding) which effectively makes it ‘dead in the water’ because the quoted Option Pz costs are only slightly smaller that Option A but do not include sea defences for the inner section of South Pier (contentious issueof Battery Rocks Beach) or the cost of buying out the existing businesses who need to be relocated.  The Government's contribution to the project would therefore rise from £41 million to over £50 million   - the wrong direction in a time of austerity.

More worrying is whether the Scillonian III will retain its current Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) licence without having passenger numbers slashed.  The MCA have notified IOSSC recently that they require major upgrades to the vessel (believed to cost between £1.5 – 2 million) if the vessel is not to have passenger numbers substantially reduced in 2011.  As the vessel is 33 years old the economics of a major upgrade are questionable but revenue will drop in peak months if passenger numbers are cut.  There is also the issue of additional demand if BIH ceases operations after Sep 2011 which is a distinct possibility as the IOS helicopter service is marginal economically given loss of market share to Skybus and BIH is in financial difficulties.


Additional Comment


The campaign for petition signatures in support of Option A (Penzance Harbour component) spoke to over 4000 people in Penzance shopping areas over a 6 week period in Jan/Feb 2010.  The only age group with substantial opposition to Option A was the retired aged age group (over 60s).  Working age people with children were overwhelming in support of Option A and did not understand what all the fuss was about.  Nearly 800 people wrote letters of support to the planners.  Cornwall Council councillors for the Central Penzance and Promenade wards have since confirmed that substantial support exists in the affected communities despite the controversy.  What this proved to the campaigners was that it was not just small business owners who supported Option A but a lot of middle of the road working people living in and around Penzance.  This was tested in the General Election in May 2010 when Andrew George MP, endorsed by FofPH, lost nearly 10,000 votes from his majority to a relatively unknown Conservative challenger thereby making his seat a marginal.  A considerable part of this loss of votes can be attributed to his position on the Harbour issue which was seen by many as divisive, disingenuous and thoroughly unhelpful.   

We have dilapidated harbours at both ends of the ferry link and a ferry on its last legs after a sterling 33 years service.  We have a carefully crafted plan to replace the vessel and upgrade the harbours to meet current levels of safety and security as well as future proofing them against the effects of climate change.  You would expect your local Cornish born and bred MP to be 100% behind such a project but instead we have the shameful spectacle of Andrew George trying to scupper the project and belittle any community or business representatives who challenges his actions.  Penzance deserves so much better.