Peer Says Council’s Reluctance To Join Scilly Transport Study ‘Depressing’

Lord Berkeley in the House of Lords

Lord Berkeley in the House of Lords

Prominent FRIST campaigner Lord Berkeley has said that he finds it ‘depressing’ that the Council of the Isles of Scilly won’t take part in a detailed review of transport issues facing the islands.

He made his comments during a House of Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech on Monday.

Lord Berkeley said the Local Enterprise Partnership had offered to lead an in-depth study with the Councils in Scilly and Cornwall to identify the best transport options for visitors and residents. But he said our Council had indicated it was not interested in taking part.

He pressed ministers for a trial subsidy for a winter ferry service, adding that the Steamship Company was prepared to operate one, but was unwilling to say how much that would cost for fear of the service being put out to tender.

He also wants a speedy decision on funding for the quay projects in St Mary’s and Penzance.

Speaking on Radio Scilly yesterday, Lord Berkeley described his speech as a “shot across the bows” of ministers and the Steamship Company. He said that the idea of a winter ferry service, operating a few times a week had been generally welcomed and he didn’t want to see a repeat of “what went so badly wrong” last winter due to the weather.

He believes any subsidy to operate a winter service would be small and wouldn’t necessarily have to go out to tender.

And he said if a village of 2000 people in, for example, Sussex had been cut off for 20 days last winter the local MP would be making “a big fuss about it.” He asked why islanders should suffer so much more than those on the mainland.

Lord Berkeley believes a detailed economic survey, independent of anyone with financial interests in the outcome, is required. And this would form the basis of a properly funded, year-round service, possibly with a new boat, he says.

He was told by the Chairman of the LEP, Chris Pomfret that the Council was not interested in taking part in the study and he hopes the newly elected members will take a different view on this and work together with Cornwall.

A spokesman for the LEP said that in November, their Board had offered to provide funding towards an economic and transport study if the Council considered it to be useful. But to date, the offer has neither been declined nor accepted. They added that the LEP was committed to helping the Council with their long-term sustainable transport needs.

When asked if he thinks the focus on poor transport infrastructure could be put off people from visiting Scilly, Lord Berkeley says the problems he’s talking about are winter problems and that won’t affect visitors.

And he says if potential visitors know there’s a better service in prospect, they’re more likely to come. Evidence from Scotland shows that when lifeline services to the islands were introduced, with lower prices, the number of visitors and islanders using them shot up.

If you don’t try and expose these things, he says, it’s difficult to persuade the politicians to change anything.

Lord Berkeley says the next step in their campaign is a meeting with Transport minister, Norman Baker.

In response to Lord Berkeley’s speech, the Council say that in January 2013, it was agreed at the LEP Board meeting, at the behest of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, that the Council would undertake a Transport Preference Study.

This has now been started and visitors and residents can expect to be asked questions about transport use, methods and price point over the next few weeks.

The preference study aims to inform developments and support issues such as the hardening of the runway at Lands End, and to understand whether people would want to travel by sea in winter. The work is designed to support capital investment in the Islands’ transport infrastructure but would also allow a strong evidence base for future lobbying and provision planning.

They add that the Department for Transport has made it very clear that a subsidy would not be possible in the case of the Isles of Scilly as both the air and sea links are currently well served by a commercial operator.

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