FRIST Support Reaches 2,000 Mark
Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport member Marian Bennett says she wants more islanders and second homeowners to join the pressure group to show the strength of support for their goal of year-round, subsidised transport.
In just five months, FRIST has grown to 2,000 supporters, 800 of whom are on the islands.
Marian, who sits on FRIST’s advisory group, believes that the higher the number of supporters her group has, the less likely it will be that FRIST’s aims will be ignored by the government.
She accepts that the group has been vague about what they mean by a lifeline service, but it would be similar to what’s available to Scottish islanders.
Marian hopes that government cash will underwrite a Scillonian III replacement vessel and secure a year-round service.
She accepts the IoS Steamship Company may have to pitch to for that contract but feels they would be well placed to win the tender and could still operate commercially and retain a profit.
If there was a regular subsidised winter boat operating, air services could continue as a purely commercial service and Marian hopes additional operators could start flights.
Marian says FRIST wants to work with the Steamship Company and the Council to appear united in their goals when addressing the government.
But she says getting a meeting with the Council or the company has been challenging and it’s easier to talk with the Department for Transport than the Town Hall.
The Steamship Company says a year round service isn’t viable as when they last operated in the winter there was an average of nine people on each sailing.
But Marian believes that we shouldn’t be using arguments that applied in the late 80s and the poor weather of the last few days shows there is a need and more residents and visitors are travelling outside summer now.
She says rural bus services often run with very low numbers for the very reason that they’re subsidised.
Some islanders have voiced concern that the extensive promotion of Scilly’s transport problems that FRIST has arranged may dissuade potential tourists. But Marian disagrees and says they are only concerned with highlighting out-of-season problems.
She adds that the high cost of the fares is the thing that’s really putting people off coming here.
The transport minister, Norman Baker, has consistently said that the commercial sector needs to sort out Scilly’s transport problems. Marian says FRIST has invited him to visit and see the problems first hand.
But Marian says he still represents one of their biggest hurdles to overcome.
She says FRIST wants to talk with other ministries, as our travel challenges impact on additional aspects of life. They have contacted health minister Anna Soubry to correct what they feel is misinformation given about ferry services.
Marian also wants a community consultation over a new boat to replace the Scillonian III to start now. She says time is running out for planning and building a new vessel by 2018, when the current boat’s service could end.
It will, she says, take a year to discuss, a year to design, finance and tender the project, then a further two years to build it.
Marian also feels there needs to be a discussion about a roll-on, roll-off ferry option. It has been dismissed previously because of local objections but it wouldn’t necessarily be the sort that brings in lots of visitors’ vehicular traffic, she says.