Duchy Announces Major Review Of St Mary’s Harbour Operations

harbourmasters officeThe Duchy of Cornwall could give up its St Mary’s Quay operations, with a community-led group being set up to manage the Harbour.

The Duchy said today that they intend to review the governance of the quay with stakeholders and if all goes well, they will transfer the statutory harbour authority to a new body.

But they stress that the Duchy is only reviewing the way the harbour is managed and a decision has yet to be made.

Their timeline hasn’t been specified, but a spokesperson at their London HQ said the process won’t be rushed and there will be a public consultation.

The Duchy says the harbour has been operated at a profit over the last few years. It is uncertain whether any financial underwriting from the Duchy will be available after a handover.

A team of five staff is currently employed to ensure that there are facilities for freight services, the Scillonian III, inter-island boating and cruise ships.

The Duchy says it’s too early to say whether staff would move to a new quay operating body. If any change in the employment structure does arise they say that they will consult employees at the earliest opportunity.

In recent years Harbourmaster Dale Clark has spearheaded efforts to increase the number of cruise ships visiting the islands and to improve their passengers’ experience.

New signage and an emphasis on a warm welcome for passengers have paid off with a record number of 41 vessels booked in this year.

The Duchy staff also provide pilotage as the competent harbour authority, act as the lighthouse authority and maintain navigational aids.

Additionally, 2,000 yachts use the harbour’s 38 moorings, another area for potential tourism growth. The Duchy invested in its yacht grid facilities last winter.

The Duchy say that this review is taking place “in light of recent litigation, which has thrown up questions about the potential implications of their status as the Statutory Harbour Authority for St Mary’s.”

In a letter sent to all harbour users this morning, Land Steward Chris Gregory says that the islands have changed too.

When they first managed the quay most islanders were Duchy tenants, he says, and that is no longer the case. The Duchy thinks another approach is needed.

Any withdrawal would end their 124-year control of the access point for 80,000 annual Scilly travellers and the majority of freight movements.

A new community-driven operating body would have a vastly improved facility. In his letter, Chris tells stakeholders that the Duchy and its partners have secured funds to improve the quay and “meet the islands’ future needs.”

Earlier this month a £12.8 million scheme to upgrade St Mary’s Quay and dredge Penzance Harbour was finally given the green light after the Transport Minister approved the UK government contribution.

Most of the funding will go towards extending the St Mary’s Quay by 23 metres to improve the choice of vessels to replace the Scillonian III. The works also include heightening of the seawall to protect from storms and there will be better passenger check-in facilities and freight handling.

But stakeholder or community management of the harbour will be a new concept here. The Quay has always been operated on islanders’ behalf.

It was ‘Governor’ Augustus Smith who built the current structure, now a listed building, in the mid-1800s from Peninnis granite. It was extended in 1899 to accommodate the developing flower trade.

Over the winter of 1993-1994 the Duchy appointed a consortium led by Mac Mace and Richard Chiverton to widen, lengthen and resurface the quay as part of a £1.5m scheme, 40% funded by the European Community.

Earlier this summer, the Duchy began their £1.6 million project to refurbish the Harbourside building. When completed, there’ll be an 80-seat first floor restaurant and two retail units as part of the redeveloped property.

Blackwell Building Services is carrying out that work, which will also improve passenger waiting facilities.

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