Anger mounts as helicopter service set to be mothballed
A last-ditch bid is to be mounted to save a helicopter "lifeline" service linking a fragile offshore community to the Cornish mainland.
British International Helicopters (BIH) has disclosed that flights between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly will be scrapped from November 1.
The news has been described as a "bitter blow," but MP Andrew George, whose constituency straddles both areas, and Cornwall Council have vowed not to give up.
Mr George said the closure of the "important lifeline service" which has operated for 49 years was quite simply "devastating news". He added: "It could have a severe impact not only on the Isles of Scilly, but also on Penzance."
Mr George said that many had feared BIH would pull the plug after an unsettled year since announcing the sale of its heliport in Penzance to supermarket giant Sainsbury's. Plans to relocate to a new transport hub at St Erth were scuppered by fierce local protests and the company had said the service would instead fly from Newquay. However, according to BIH, the final nail in the coffin was dealt by a legal challenge issued by Tesco and two private individuals over planning permission granted on the heliport site.
Mr George said he had already contacted aviation minister Theresa Villiers to ask for her support and that he hoped various stakeholders would come together.
Cornwall Council, meanwhile, has urged the Government to give the Isles of Scilly transport link the same support as Scottish islands.
"Effective, all-year-round transport links are vital to the economy of the Isles of Scilly and to the wellbeing of the islanders," said council leader Alec Robertson. "The Isles of Scilly face the same challenges as the Scottish islands and it is wrong that they do not receive the same level of Government support".
A spokesman for the Department for Transport told the Western Morning News they would be happy to attend a meeting.
"We are aware of British International Helicopter's announcement regarding their services to the Isles of Scilly and we are happy to meet with the local council to discuss the impact of this decision," he said.
The loss of the helicopter will leave transport to the islands in the hands of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, which operates airplanes and the Scillonian ferry service.
But Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, said helicopter flights were an important element of the transport links, adding: "The loss of this service is a bitter blow to the Isles of Scilly."
He said he was disappointed with Tesco's action and "would ask them to think long and hard about the impact of this on the local residents".
"Tesco are very proud of their community relations and I will be writing to the chairman and chief executive on behalf of the business community to see if they can intervene," he said.
Mike Hicks, chairman of the council of the Isles of Scilly, said he was "deeply saddened" by BIH's announcement.
He said: "Our immediate priority is to ensure the stability of our transport infrastructure going forward, and to work closely with all our partners, both on the islands and on the mainland, to bring that about."