Penzance harbour deserves better
The MP for the West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly constituency of St Ives, Andrew George, is urging the public to take a full part in the consultation before final options are selected to go forward for investment in infrastructure improvements for ferry and freight services at Penzance for the Isles of Scilly link.
Mr George, who spoke at the public meeting in St John’s Hall last Thursday evening (17th November 2011), urged local people to get fully behind the newly established Project Management Board and to take a full part in the public consultation.
Mr George had helped to secure the promise of funding under the previous Government almost 10 years ago; he managed to persuade the present Government to keep open a budget to support alternative proposals to enhance both Penzance and St Mary’s harbours when the £62 million ‘Route Partnership’ application by Cornwall Council was rejected in March this year; and he brought together a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ at the Penzance end when Cornwall Council refused to have any further part nor to respond to the offer of investment in Penzance harbour.
Mr George brought stakeholders together and, last month, chose to step aside as convenor and to hand the project on to a Management Board, co-ordinated by Penzance Town Council.
Mr George said, “This is a golden opportunity for Penzance. The original proposal for Penzance harbour was budgeted at £14 million. But that included the expensive plan for major (and controversial) land reclamation, which is unlikely to be needed under new alternative proposals. The approximately £8 million budget would offer Penzance the opportunity to improve the ferry and freight infrastructure around the harbour and contribute towards the economic regeneration of the town.
“We should remain ambitious for the future development of the harbour. This project is not an alternative to a big plan and grand ambitions for Penzance and its harbour; but it could be a stepping stone to achieve those ambitions.
“Also, the public should not be misled by the map which was circulated at the meeting. Their proposals should be brought forward within the curtilage of the lines of jurisdiction around the harbour and not be diverted to only look at the area around South Pier/Lighthouse Pier. The main constraint is that proposals which require a further Harbour Revision Order or similar legislative change which would delay the project beyond the limited period we have to complete are unlikely to be workable. That’s all.”
Mr George maintains close dialogue with the Minister, Norman Baker MP, who has asked Mr George to help monitor progress as the project proceeds.
Comment on the Route Partnership Project to secure a resilient year-round ferry service from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly and the decision of the Department for Transport to withdraw funding on 31st March 2011
Along with others I worked hard and played my part to help secure the £67 million funding package for the Isles of Scilly Route Partnership Project to secure the provision of a new ship and harbour improvements at both Penzance and on St Mary‘s, Isles of Scilly. I made the case for the required funding and risked political capital to secure the confidence of transport ministers who backed the project and helped secure the requested matched funding from the European Objective 1 programme and other sources. All this a decade ago.
This was a hard one victory. The claims of of some political activists that I would be prepared to even consider “sabotaging” this important project are as preposterous as they are mischievous and misleading.
It was an enormous disappointment to me to learn on 31st March this year that the Department for Transport came to the unavoidable conclusion that it should withdraw its grant for the project when all factors were taken into account. These factors included the following:
1) The Department for Transport lost confidence in the project when it became clear a couple of years ago that it was being used as a political football by the Conservative-led Cornwall Council. In particular, Departmental officials and proposed project partners recoiled from full engagement when the Councils advanced the surreal prospect that they would run the ferry service from Falmouth if they couldn’t get their way with their preferred Penzance harbour option. The impetuosity undermined confidence in the project.
2) The Councils – Isles of Scilly and Cornwall – had been repeatedly asked to scrutinise project costs and respond with meaningful proposals for project cost savings. Instead they blankly refused. No cost reductions, value engineering, re-tendering or review of the harbour or ship options were presented. Instead they proposed to add further risk – believing they could overcome the value for money challenge by simply loading the project with more borrowing.
3) The primary operator lost confidence in the project as well. This had clearly been picked up by the Department for Transport who were looking for reassurance from that company but instead received indications which suggested that the project had diverted significantly from its original planned intentions and potential for long-term financial viability.
4) If that wasn’t enough, the promoters of the project and their political supporters engaged in an extraordinary campaign of name-calling, social media trolling and unimpressive complaints to the Department for Transport. All this achieved was to further undermine the project and its credibility.
I invited the project promoters and local community to meet the Ministers and officials to seek assurance that the project would be protected in spite of the setbacks described above. I lobbied for the project (I have placed letter to the Minister in the public domain). Even though it was already clear to me that the disappointing antics and bizarre behaviour of the project promoters had undermined the credibility of the project I was determined not to see all the work I’d put into this lost because of these actions. The residents of the Isles of Scilly deserved better.
In these circumstances it was unsurprising that Department officials advised Ministers that it could not support the project. Securing a viable and more resilient year around sea link between the mainland and the Isles of Scilly is absolutely essential for the long-term viability of the islands and to secure its economic future; a future which depends so much on its tourism and the ability to transport passengers and goods to and from the islands on a reliable and cost efficient basis.
I had worked tirelessly to ensure not only that the funds were in place but to reassure officials in the Department that the project was proceeding efficiently and in a manner which would deliver the project objectives.
I cannot fully do justice to the extent of my disappointment. Residents on Scilly have especially been very poorly served by these ill-judged political antics.
Nevertheless, against the odds, I have since secured additional funding for substantial harbour improvements at both Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. Whilst I am confident that the original proposed extension to the harbour to St Mary‘s harbour will proceed with the support of the Islands’ council and the Duchy of Cornwall, I have no such confidence that the proposed harbour improvement at Penzance will proceed whilst the same Cornwall Council continues with the same transport portfolio holder and leadership team as was in place during the lead up to the most regrettable decision that was taken on 31st March this year.
Nevertheless, I remain very determined to ensure that Penzance will ultimately secure the long-term investment that it deserves and to to ensure that the harbour is able to provide a safe harbour refuge for a year-around ferry service to the Isles of Scilly and 21st-century passenger facilities. That continues to be my primary objective.
21st Nov 2011
I have reposted the statement above made in 2011. This is to correct misinformation recently circulated to Isles of Scilly residents by the Conservative candidate in the present general Election.
Since that comment in 2011, my predictions proved accurate. St Mary’s harbour did complete its harbour extension and improvement and Cornwall Council (then under Tory Leadership) obstinately refused to support the local community’s proposals for a £10+ million harbour and passenger handling improvements to Penzance harbour.
I set up the Penzance Harbour Working Party chaired by former Penwith & Truro College Principal, Jonathan Burnett, which has been working on a proposed £150 million harbour plan to build a new outer harbour and improved harbour infrastructure. I remain an active member of that group and would look forward to being in a position to press to case in Westminster to secure that essential investment if I’m re-elected to office.
Likewise I will take up the campaign for a new Ferry and facilities to secure a more resilient ferry link. I certainly hope all parties will have learned lessons and are able to move forward together for the good of the whole community.
Andrew George – November 2019