Monday 17 September 2012

Penzance Town Council writes to Minister

In a letter to Norman Baker MP on 12 September Penzance Town Council stated it was fully supportive of Cornwall Councils dredging plans but felt that more of its harbour scheme was achievable within ERDF timescales or could be achieved using other sources of funding.  It is not entirely obvious what decision the Minister will make following the response.  The Minister originally required that both harbour schemes proceed together in lock step but that could mean neither project proceeds.   

Penzance Town Council's letter responded to the Minister's letter of 7 Aug 12 which  asked whether the Town Council believed they were able “to proceed with any elements of the (new) scheme, or any variation of the scheme, and provide a credible plan for delivery that is endorsed by Cornwall Council"

There has been disagreement between Penzance Town Council and Cornwall Council as to whether a new Harbour Revision Order is required.  See links at the bottom of this post to the current Penzance HRO and legal opinions on the need for new HROs for the two harbour projects.

Cllr John Pender, Chairman of the Penzance Harbour Scheme Management Board,  gave an interview to  Handy Shipping Guide (see here )

Other reports:
BBC Cornwall news here
Dredging Today here
Falmouth Packet here 

Comments (from Penzance Chamber of Commerce)

The problems currently being experienced are due to the Minister’s decision on 31 Mar 2011 to pursue two reduced harbour projects and rely heavily on ERDF funds.  The current ERDF programme is coming to an end and any contracts to deliver new projects must be let by Dec 2013 to be eligible.   The DfT, in a meeting held in Plymouth on 15 June this year, indicated that fully developed harbour project proposals with all consents in place needed to be delivered to them by Mar/Apr 2013.   For St Mary’s Harbour this deadline was seen as achievable because the scheme is essentially a reduced version of the previous Route Partnership proposal.  Penzance Harbour, because of the dispute over Option A, needed an entirely new scheme.  It has been questionable from the start whether there was sufficient time available to develop a completely new project, given the time required for international competitive tendering and achieving all of the necessary permissions in time to qualify for ERDF funding.   Even without the need for a new Harbour Revision Order  the timings have looked increasingly improbable. 

During the Penzance Harbour Options Review there was uncertainty over what harbour works would trigger the need for an HRO but insufficient budget to  seek an expert legal opinion on the matter.   Cornwall Council’s own legal department were sceptical that an HRO could be avoided and after the preferred solution for Penzance had been identified Cornwall Council sought Counsel’s Opinion.  The resulting advice was unambiguous in stating that an HRO was necessary.  As HROs are Acts of Parliament there is no quick way to acquire one; the normal timescale is two years and the current 2009 Penzance HRO took 3 years to approve.   Whilst the Town Council’s revised proposals have broad support they are not without effective critics so it is unrealistic to assume approvals of any type will proceed unchallenged (see news item  here )

A good outcome would be for the Minister to approve funding for works ready to proceed at Penzance and St Mary’s and for Cornwall Council to take forward a version of the Penzance Town Council for delivery later.  The Penzance proposals contain considerable flexibility and could be delivered in stages.

Counsel’sOpinion – Penzance Harbour                  

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