Council Officers Cast Doubt On Vote For Sunday Flying in Scilly

airport from old townCouncillors have approved Sunday flying from St Mary’s Airport although the decision will have to go to a Full Council meeting on the advice of officers.

Last night’s Transport Committee backed the plans for 7-days-a-week airport operations.

Members supported an alternative resolution tabled at the last minute by Tresco Estate owner, Cllr Robert Dorrien Smith.

It called for an extension of flying days in the interest of the viability of the airport and the positive impact that is anticipated for the economy of Scilly, the islanders, visitors and Steamship Company.

Cllr Dorrien Smith warned that airport figures were 27% down on the year to August and since 2002 they had fallen by 5% each year.

Robert feels Sunday flying is vital to reverse that decline, allowing people who would visit Scilly for short breaks to fly back in time for work on Monday.

He warned that, “failure to act would cost the community greatly.”

Cllr James Francis, who operates the Star Castle Hotel, echoed Robert’s view that short breaks could reinvigorate the market, particularly from younger demographics.

James felt that career-focused, younger visitors in their thirties would be more likely to sample Scilly for a short weekend visit and would become our regular visitors in the future.

But Council Director of Finance, Peter Lawrence, voiced concerns that Sunday opening would be a financial risk for the airport because of the extra charges.

He advised councillors that the airport can’t be subsidised by the ratepayer, although James Francis didn’t share Peter’s attitude to risk, claiming that, “risk is what you do every day when you run a business.”

And Cllr Steve Sims questioned why it was being viewed as risky when the costs would be passed onto Skybus as the operator.

During the meeting, the cost of Sunday opening was revised upward by Chief Fire Officer Steve Webster from £74,000 to £82,000 annually.

Cllr Dorrien Smith calculated that an additional 5,000 passengers per year would cover the costs and Cllr Francis believes that’s achievable. Further more, if that figure were doubled, it would bring a profit for the airport.

Dorrien Smith warned that doing nothing wasn’t an option because the decline in passengers would mean that there’d be big bill for the Council next year and he repeated his call for all airport costs to be heavily scrutinised by a third party.

He felt that a change in culture could reduce airport operation costs and that the financial impact of Sunday flying could be monitored by airport management on a monthly basis.

Cllr Steve Sims pointed out that Sunday opening should be a commercial decision and felt that comments had focussed on the outgoings, but not the income it could generate.

After the meeting Steve claimed that Scilly has the only busy UK airport that isn’t a 7-day operation, adding that you, “have to give them what they want rather than what we want.”

Steamship Company Chief Executive Jeff Marston outlined his company’s desire for Sunday flying, which he felt would prove popular after the successful trial this summer of Sunday sailings.

He also confirmed that he expected the company to cover additional charges and he gave an impassioned reply, describing how they had made major investments despite many uncertainties.

He asked how locals or the Council would have reacted if the company had said it didn’t wish to take any risks last year

Cllr Marian Bennett applauded his words and said the 7-day flying plan gave islanders greater freedom. She felt that the community should, “not be left in any doubt of our expectations.”

Jeff said the company just wanted a decision in principle from the Council and urged members to back the plan.

Both the operator and Cllr Dorrien Smith wanted a clear message from the Council and Robert said he didn’t want to have a decision dragging on, which led Cllr Sims to quip that, with the usual Council delays, it would be 2018 before anything would happen.

As the vote approached, there was a clear split of opinion in the room between the majority of elected members and the Senior Officers.

Most councillors backed the airport opening on Sunday but Peter Lawrence expressed a view shared by many of the senior staff present that a further detailed report into cost was needed.

“It’s a simple case of doing the work,” Peter said.

Councillors eventually backed Sunday flying by 8 votes to 2.

Those voting against the proposal included Richard McCarthy, who said he backed the notion of Sunday flying, but wanted more information on the Authority’s liabilities.

Vote described as “grey area”

But after the vote, the Director of Place, Craig Dryden, voiced his opinion that the decision to approve Sunday flying wouldn’t stand.

If it had been on an operational matter, the Transport Committee’s decision would be final, as that was within their remit.

But Craig felt the decision was a strategic one that would have to be ratified by Full Council.

Robert Dorrien Smith strongly disagreed with Craig at that point. He said he’d worded the resolution that members had voted on so it could only be taken as an operational issue.

But Craig said legal advice was given that the issue should go to all members, although Committee Secretary Andy Thomas said the matter of whether it was operational or strategic was a “grey area.”

Some members said they were confident the Council would pass the Sunday flying.

Steve Sims told the meeting it was, “inconceivable” that they’d throw it out and Dorrien Smith wants Sunday flying, most likely in the afternoons, in place by next April.

The meeting won’t be until December, and if Full Council backs Sunday flying, the decision will miss the deadline for promotion in the 2014 tourism brochure, which some members had felt important.

Islands’ Partnership Chairman Chris Gregory explained it would go to press in November.

This morning, the majority of messages from locals on our Facebook page are against Sunday flying.

Noise disturbance and disruption of a family day are the most common reasons for objection.

Anita Asten said: “Oh great. So we have to put up with the horrendous noise as it goes right over our garden 7 days a week.

I’d like to invite those who voted for it to come and sit in our house or garden and try and have a conversation with each other as it’s going over.”

Ritchie Christopher wrote: “It will put costs up for all, ruin Sundays for a lot, be convenient for a few and destroy the whole concept of Scilly. Very surprised at this vote – feel I wasted mine now!”

Jennie Woodcock felt the public should be allowed a say in the decision. She says: “Sundays will be well and truly ruined for hard working folk, families and visitors alike.”

This morning, Cllr Gordon Bilsborough, who described the meeting as “a shambles” on Facebook, has called for a full public consultation on Sunday flying.

When asked whether that would be costly, he told Radio Scilly, “It won’t be as costly as it would be if we got it wrong.”

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