MP Questioned Over Islands’ Transport Links

Scilly MP, Andrew George

Scilly’s MP was questioned over his stance on the failed Route Partnership scheme last night.

In a public meeting at the Old Wesleyan Chapel, Andrew George denied that he wrote to the transport minister suggesting that he reject the £62m project.

Mr George told Sam Guy that the scheme was “at great risk” and that he told Norman Baker his preference was that it went ahead. He added that he “fought hard to keep us in the playing field”, saving the project and some of the funding which could have been jeopardised by the all-or-nothing approach employed.

Gordon Bilsborough asked whether Mr George felt he had delayed the decision process and prevented the money being in place by March 2010. Andrew George disagreed.

Sam Guy stated that the islands are 90% tourism reliant. Visitors wanted a boat offering a shorter and more comfortable journey and that could only be achieved with a larger, bespoke vessel.

Gordon Bilsborough questioned the MP over the Route Partnership project

He said a second-hand boat has been sought but it didn’t exist. The Steamship Company would continue as best as they could, said Sam, but he asked the MP why the Government couldn’t help the company with a loan as Labour had provided in the 1970s.

But Mr George said the Department for Transport would find it hard to support a tourism service and it was unlikely that a Conservative Government would part-nationalise a company that has been private since day one.

Moving forward, Mr George said there were good partnerships at St Mary’s and Penzance, and the Steamship Company is, vitally, working well with both partners and fully part of the process.

It would be a “significant challenge” to create an effective solution at both ends and, although it was “all or nothing” again, this time both projects need to succeed.

Speaking before the meeting, Mr George said he understood that there were concerns previously over plans for a separate freight handling facility, which would reduce traffic through Penzance but also add to islander’s freight changes through more handling.

But he said this time, it was up to the project to decide the best way forward and said people shouldn’t be concerned as the issue is well understood.

On economic matters, Steamship Company Chairman, Andrew May, asked whether the coalition would reduce VAT which would have a big effect on tourism in the southwest and the islands.

Andrew George said it would be good to target certain sectors to stimulate the economy.