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£8m sealink improvement a 'second prize' say businesses

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 05, 2013

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Business leaders in a West Cornwall port have angrily lamented the scaling back of a scheme which in just over two years has been reduced in cost by £54 million.

Transport minister Norman Baker announced on Tuesday that the Government would hand over £8 million to pay for vital improvements to the sealink between the Isles of Scilly and Penzance.

It comes two years after he sensationally pulled the plug on a £62 million project in the wake of controversy centred around work proposed for Penzance harbour.

Dick Cliffe, chairman of the town's Chamber of Commerce, said the cash promised by the Government this week was very welcome. "But it could have been so much more," he said.

"It is second prize. It is a missed opportunity."

Mr Cliffe said the Cornwall Council-led Route Partnership scheme, which was turned down by Mr Baker in the spring of 2011, would have meant a massive investment for Penzance at a time when it has struggled economically.

"I think, in retrospect, they will say that the Route Partnership scheme was far from perfect but it was the best compromise and it was a long-term solution.

"This £8 million will pay for the absolute bare minimum of work. It will do a lot on Scilly, but in Penzance there will be a few minor highways improvements and the passenger waiting experience will still be pretty bleak."

Antony Richards, who owns a property management business in Penzance, said he remained "bitter" that the £62million project had been sacrificed to "squabbling."

"It's difficult to get over what could have been and what should have been," he said.

"Anybody outside the area will look at what happened with sheer amazement."

He said businesses remained "absolutely frustrated".

"It's something we can never get back," he said. "It will never be recovered."

Despite the reduction in the scope of the project, many have welcomed the money which will pay for vital upgrades to two harbours.

Subject to further approvals and EU cash, it will pay for dredging at Penzance harbour and pier widening and improved freight handling facilities at St Mary's harbour. The money will not fund a new boat to ply the route which had been central to the Route Partnership scheme.

Amanda Martin, chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, said: "The Council of the Isles of Scilly is delighted that the project to develop the quays at St Mary's and Penzance has moved another step forward to approval."

Councillor Bert Biscoe, Cornwall Council's Cabinet member for transport and waste, said: "This is a crucial step along the way as it will help to unlock the complete finance package."

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