Cornwall Council tells Government to sort sealink

Cornwall Council is washing its hands of our islands’ mainland sealink project .

The Battery Rocks – Anti Route Partnership Protestors fought against a new ferry terminal on the site

That’s the clear message that Cornwall Council has sent to the Transport Secretary, Norman Baker. Cornwall Councillor Craeme Hicks writes of the “operational deficiencies” at the harbours in Penzance and St.Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, and highlights the Department for Transport’s  ‘lost opportunity’ of securing tens of millions of pounds of non Government investment in transport infrastructure to safeguard the lifeline link for the next 25 years. Following the minister’s decision, the proposed Cornwall Council borrowing of £15m and the European Convergence investment of £12.75m are now no longer available.

After eight years of work and nearly £6m of lost investment Cornwall Council has now made it clear that it cannot support any further investment towards developing an alternative solution to the Route Partnership Plans in Penzance where locals have ‘such differing aspirations’.

Scilly MP Andrew George has brokered discussions with Penzance Groups proposing alternatives but this is a clear sign that they are on their own, as far as Cornwall Council is concerned. Cornwall has offered to hand over their research and information collected over their 8 years on the project.

This is the letter that Councillor Hicks has sent to the Transport Minister.

Dear Minister

Isles of Scilly Sea Link Project

Thank you for letter dated 31 March 2011 informing me that the Department for Transport is unable to award grant funding to the Council to deliver the Isles of Scilly Sea Link Project.

As you are aware, there are currently many operational deficiencies at Penzance and St Mary’s harbours and the service is operated using vessels which are nearing the ends of their operational lives.  The proposals included within the Isles of Scilly Link Project have been developed to provide a financially sustainable transport solution through a package of harbour works and a new combined passenger and freight vessel to safeguard the service for the next 25 years.

I am therefore very disappointed at the decision of the Department not to support the project at this time.  Having worked under the guidance of the Department over the last 8 years to develop this project at a cost of nearly £6m, it is particularly frustrating to now learn that the project falls well short of what the Department now requires.

 

Throughout the development of the project, the Council has worked with the Department to reduce the scope of the proposed works and vessel specification, reduce risks and manage costs.  To use the cost of the scheme when the Department granted it Conditional Approval back in May 2007 as a benchmark against which to measure the current cost, is over simplistic and fails to take into account how much further work was been undertaken since that time.  The fact that the cost of the scheme has not increased since being approved by both the South West Councils and South West Regional Development Agency through the Regional Funding Allocation process in 2009 provides a more accurate base against which to consider the current cost of the project.

 

You highlight, quite rightly, the pressure the Department is under in considering requests for funding during this time of fiscal stringency.  In order to reduce the call on the Department’s funds, the Council has worked with its partners to increase the level of local contributions available to nearly 50% of the total scheme cost and in doing so, reduced the contribution finally required from the Department to £32.3m, and not the ‘over £35m’ you quote in your letter.  In turning down the opportunity to support the project at this time, we have now lost the opportunity to take advantage of £27.75m of local contributions which were available.  This will leave the Department and the private sector as the principal funders of any project which may come forward in the future.

 

In your letter, you also refer to the Council’s proposals going far beyond what is necessary to maintain the passenger and freight services and that they represent very poor value for money.  Both of these issues have been addressed to the satisfaction of the Department previously as detailed in the Annex attached.  I would be grateful for an explanation as to why you have chosen to raise these issues now as reasons for not supporting funding of the scheme ?

 

Given the changes to the project which now appear to be required, I would respectfully request that the Department lead any future work on the project.  This will ensure that the scope and approvals for any revised proposals are developed in an efficient and cost effective way.  Whilst the Council is unable to support the cost of any further work on the project, we are prepared to provide access to any technical information we have built-up over the last 8 years of the project.

 

I look forward to your response on the points raised in respect of your decision.

 

Yours sincerely

Graeme Hicks CC

Cabinet Member – Transportation & Highways