Sunday 17 June 2018

FRIST makes further Penzance Heliport Submission

 15th June 2018
Planning Application PA/16/09346

Further submission by the Friends of the Isles of Scilly Transport (FRIST).
Without repeating the points we made in our submission to Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on 8 January last year, FRIST would like to emphasise the following:

Improvements to Cornwall’s transport links are key to strengthening the economy of the county and the islands.  One of Cornwall Council’s strategies for ensuring the growth and prosperity of both Cornwall and Scilly is to develop a transport system which connects “people, businesses and services in a way that is reliable, efficient, safe, inclusive and enjoyable.”  It remains difficult to identify another project which so aptly fulfils these criteria.  The proposed heliport service not only enhances connectivity between people, businesses and services but also makes the route more reliable, certainly increases efficiency for people travelling on business and, particularly according to the hundreds of representations, provides the most enjoyable mode of transport for many people.

FRIST’s aspiration since its inception in 2011 has been to strive for “an affordable, reliable all-year transport link between Scilly and the mainland”.  The failure to operate resilient transport on 29% days affected by poor visibility and the frequent resulting need for unexpected overnight accommodation can make the process of travel quite unaffordable.  So FRIST is now placing more importance on the need for transport to be more resilient in recognition that serious unreliability outweighs affordability as a criterion.  Also, in the absence of an all-year passenger ferry service, the proposed helicopter service at least in part fulfils our requirement for an all-year service.

Additional points we make are:

-    The Penzance heliport site offers the benefit of public transport only 70m away, going east or west, particularly useful for the nearby rail station.

-       The built site itself is modest in size, but compatible with other small industrial/commercial buildings in the close vicinity.

-       Regular users of the former helicopter service recall the frequent sight of a cap of low cloud sitting precisely echoing the contours of the cliffs so that the beaches could still be in sunshine while the higher land (such as Land’s End airport at St. Just) was shrouded in cloud.  There is no doubt that the Penzance site is superior in terms of performance in poor visibility to other sites at higher altitudes.

The following groups of stakeholders are those most directly affected by Penzance Heliport and its helicopter service:
The people of Cornwall.  Tourism continues to be the principal source of income for the county and islands.  It is imperative that the services provided for our visitors (and residents) are of the highest possible quality, and with best ease of access.   It should be recognised that a helicopter service is a major attraction in its own right – representing an exciting and enjoyable experience, and the former heliport in the same location is a facility which has been keenly missed for the past six years by visitors to the area. 

The people of Gulval. The former helicopter service from the neighbouring heliport did not attract these complaints from the residents of Gulval.  The modern helicopter proposed is significantly quieter than the previous ones (S61) proposed. When the Penzance heliport proposal was announced, it was apparently difficult to find anyone in the village to comment to BBC television, other than to be supportive.  Like the former Penzance heliport, the access flight route is almost entirely over the sea and landing in an existing utility rather than residential area, an area dominated by the railway and road network. 
The people of Penzance.  Penzance residents generally have been overwhelmingly supportive of the heliport proposal, probably in recognition of the past damage that the Department for Transport’s rejection of the Route Partnership scheme and the demise of the previous helicopter service did to the economic communities of Penzance and Scilly.  Many in Penzance greatly resented the loss of the heliport in Penzance and the jobs it offered.  Developments like the new train care centre, the retail centre and the Longrock bus centre do not compensate for the heliport which had been a special prestige feature of the area for 48 years. There is an interdependence between both communities but while Penzance’s tourism economy has flourished during the recent past, the same cannot be said for Scilly.  The reason for the decline in the islands’ visitor numbers must be mainly due to transport difficulties and, while cost is a major factor, ease of travel is also of great significance.  Many air passengers find the final leg of an already long journey, by winding road to Land’s End, the ‘final straw’. 

The people of Scilly.  The islanders are the people most affected by this planning application although the building is not directly on their ‘turf’. The image often painted of Scilly is one of affluence  and alternative lifestyle but this is entirely wrong for people living here. While Scilly is a special place, the majority of islanders are ordinary working people who strive to make a living.  The need to travel applies as much to islanders as it does to anyone on the mainland.  Most people would protest if all their choices of transport were removed – imagine no road, rail or air services!   This is what happens much of the time during the winter in Scilly, at times without transport at all.  Life on Scilly can quickly become marginal for older people and future viability depends on getting on or off the islands. While cost is very important, improved reliability, such as that offered by Penzance Heliport and particularly during the winter months when there is no ferry service, has now attained priority status.  Increased certainty of being able to travel with good flying records at both Penzance and Tresco heliports will alleviate the anxiety of failing to keep mainland appointments and reduce the likelihood of booking extra overnight accommodation and onward travel.
Passengers. Visitors are the lifeblood of Scilly.  Its natural beauty is our main resource and it behoves us to provide the most attractive and enjoyable facilities and services we can possibly achieve.  There is no doubt that Penzance is the appropriate location for a terminal for the new helicopter service as the principal component of an excellent, integrated, and efficient transport link between the islands and the mainland.

Marian Berkeley, FRIST Co-ordiator 07770 341302,

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