Thursday, February 11, 2010

Penzance to Scilly Isles Freight And Passenger Ferry Shipping Service Row Rumbles On

Accusations Fly as Revised Local Route Evolves for Islanders
Shipping News Feature

UK - In the world of freight and logistics there is nothing as contentious as the development of a new intermodal depot, airport or dock complex. The views and vested interests of local people, conservationists, local and national authorities and developers combine to make an explosive mix in which views become entrenched and battle lines clearly drawn.

We have outlined many such situations in the past and the list of current infrastructure developments causing friction includes the St Albans rail enquiry, the dredging of fishing grounds for the London Gateway project, multi modal terminal developments in Kent, Stobart’s plans for Southend Airport and stretching all the way across the world to include such things as the Tasmanian RoRo saga on Flinders Island. However, the arguments over the proposals for a new freight terminal between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly are particularly vocal.

In the past few weeks both sides of the planning debate to continue a reliable sea ferry route between the mainland and the Isles of Scilly have been vigorously putting their points of view in an effort to demonstrate that their own plans for the service from Penzance form the only sensible option. When the terminal development also involves a potentially lucrative passenger trade as well, then devolving power in Northern Ireland and the Palestinian situation begin to appear as minor debates by comparison. Our previous article brought criticism in equal parts from both sides and feelings are running high.

The row partially centres on whether the proposals of the local Cornwall County Council to use what all parties refer to as ‘Option A’ is fit for purpose in that it requires development of certain areas of the sea wall and beach to be used for the development of the ferry terminal. The areas in question, say objectors, contain much loved and historic parts which they claim they, and English Heritage, consider should remain as they are. The Council and their supporters argue that the area is a shale beach unloved and avoided by most locals and the listed sea wall has been subject to renovation and development over centuries as sea defences inevitably are. Also changes are needed to protect certain local businesses from the constant storm damage.

The objectors formed themselves into an operation known as ‘Friends of Penzance Harbour’ (FOPH)and opened up a website, their opponents, mainly representatives of the local Chamber of Commerce and Penzance and District Tourism Association then, in what representatives of FOPH have called cynical and deceitful move, then formed the ‘True Friends of Penzance Harbour’ (TFOPH). This latter group conducted a petition supporting only their preferred ‘Option A’. FOPH claim this was a deliberate misrepresentation. TFOPH denied this and retorted that the FOPH were led by a ‘professional environmental activist’ and were conducting a dirty tricks campaign by drawing visions of heavy freight trucks delivering into the heart of Penzance. Conspiracy theorists will see vested interests at every turn of this dispute. With local businesses affected either positively or adversely feelings naturally run very high.

Another bone of contention is that currently the route uses two ferries and has apparently been managed by the same company for around ninety years but they failed to get approval when tendering for the contract to run the new service despite being present at the original consultation phase. They are scheduled to continue operating until the planned inception of the new development but would not comment on reports they have purchased the local dry dock and will continue to run a rival service from the town after the matter is resolved. One of the ferry companies ex directors has failed in a bid in Court to force a Judicial Review and simultaneously has tried to gain support for his own plans to purchase a fast ferry, a SWATH vessel designed for passengers only and speedy inter island transport, and run it to Scilly. The Council state that whatever vessel is chosen has to be seaworthy in 4 metre waves which means a craft at least twice the length of the one proposed. Others feel a RoRo ferry would be more suitable for the vital link, particularly for freight deliveries. The council has had their commercial partners draw up vessel plans which can be seen here.

The Council appeal for a lifting of listed status was rejected initially and will be resubmitted for a hearing in early March. The Council feel that one vessel is sufficient to serve the route, opponents say it needs two, both for ensuring continuous cover to and from Scilly and for freight and passenger needs. They say the new vessel will be more costly in terms of fuel which the Council in turn ridicule, pointing out there will only be one vessel used and that equipped with a modern gas turbine. FOPH say the Council think they are running a cruise line and, at a time of economic hardship, a passenger service for tourists will do nothing to serve the supply needs of the island population which is currently reliably handled by the MV Gry Maritha, an ageing but, they say, sustainable vessel licensed until 2015.

With both sides claiming a majority of support from local businesses and townspeople, around £60 million pounds at stake, elections due shortly and the bitterness of each side toward the other there is a chance that prevarication might provide a scenario where funding for the development disappears with unknown consequences. Falmouth have been clamouring to obtain the service and this has been used as an argument to support Option A but in reality the much longer sea route from further east of Lizard Point makes that an unrealistic solution. What is certain is that unless both sides can start to work together then, as is the way with local disputes, recriminations may carry on for years to come and the chance to finance whatever scheme is settled on may have vanished with the hot air of argument.

For full details of what is an ongoing and extremely bitter dispute full details can be seen at the various combatants’ websites :

Isles of Scilly Harbour Link  – Cornwall CouncilFriends of Penzance HarbourIsles of Scilly Travel

Photo:- Waves washing over the Dolphin Inn, Penzance (Courtesy of Dick Cliffe) 


Editors Additions 13th February: During the course of compiling this article we compiled a list of Questions for parties directly involved. The True Friends of Penzance harbour we mention wish to point out they are actually calling themselves the “True Friends of Penzance & Isles of Scilly”. This group referred certain questions to Cornwall County Council who failed to respond in time. Tim Wood, Special Projects manager for the Council has now responded and we publish here his answers in full.

Q HSG) On a route with two ferries currently running do you think it is sensible to reduce the cover to one as this seems to be the main provision source for the Islands and a serious malfunction could leave them only with air cover?

A TW CC) The risk of failure is much lower with a new vessel than it is with the current two ship service. Planned maintenance will be carried out in the Winter season when passenger numbers are low and a freight ship chartered in for the period out of service. Unexpected breakdowns happen with any service but they are less likely with a new vessel. The single ship service has been shown to save approximately £400k per annum in operating costs when compared to two conventional vessels. See Here 1)

Q HSG) Have you considered another FOPH point, that is to continue the Freight Ferry service and add a passenger service possibly using a vessel they say was specifically designed for the situation (a SWATH fast ferry) which they claim to have sourced and which is currently on sale for £600,000? They also claim the owner will let you run this craft on "sale or return" for a season if you pay the placement fees is this correct?

A TW CC) Yes the conventional freight vessel and SWATH passenger ferry option has been considered. See Here 2

The reliability in service of the SWATH (Cloud X) is questionable and a high risk that that Council is not willing to take. Mr Cartwright (FoPH) has reported in the local press that he will bring that vessel into service in the 2011 season.

Q HSG) Have you plans for the vessel you intend to install?

A TW CC) See Here 3

Q HSG) Is it correct that the contract to run the service does not in fact exist, that the company running the service own the local dry dock and that it is perfectly feasible they will continue to run a service from Penzance when the new service commences?

A TW CC) The contract for the operation of the new vessel and shoreside infrastructure has been tendered through European tendering procedures. Tenders were received in October 2009 but the Council cannot appoint an operator until it has secured funding approvals. The last remaining approvals required before funding can be secured relate are Planning permission for a sea wall which will protect the freight and passenger facilities and Listed Building Consent. You will have to seek the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company’s view on their future intentions.

Q HSG CC) Who licences the service and are any vested interests involved in the licensing procedure?

A HSG CC) The MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) licence the passenger vessel. There are no vested interests.

Q HSG) You state "option C was only ever introduced to placate opposition". Does this mean there was never a serious intention to implement any other scheme than the one you support?

A TW CC) Option C (using a freight depot out-of-town) was assessed because it was thought by FoPH that it could offer a better solution. In 2004 it was considered, but not documented, by the Council’s consultant that only options with freight facilities within the harbour area were likely to have low enough operating costs to be financially viable. Cornwall Council commissioned an initial appraisal to test that earlier work. This was reported in August 2009, confirming that there were indeed higher operating costs and that the harbour based facilities would be simpler to operate. See Here 4

Option C was then further investigated. It has been confirmed that Option C would not offer the Council a sustainable business case; at the end of the vessel design life there would be £5.5m of the Council’s loan unpaid and therefore no vessel replacement fund established to continue the service. This was reported to the Council’s Cabinet committee on 25 January 2010 who decided not to pursue Option C. See Here 5 The full Option C report is on the project website: See option studies link above.