Time running out for £10m ferry link
Around £10 million of Government cash earmarked for a "lifeline" ferry link between the Isles of Scilly and the Cornish mainland could be lost unless new plans come to fruition shortly.
Last year, ministers withdrew an offer of money to upgrade harbour facilities for the Penzance-Scilly ferry link amid bitter rows over the scale of the project and the damage environmentalists claimed it would cause.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has continued to earmark money, but significantly less, and a "coalition of the willing" has since been drawing up pared plans.
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The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company recently announced the ageing Scillonian passenger ferry would continue for the next six years.
But there are fears newer and larger boats will struggle to dock in the future unless improvements are made.
The Western Morning News understands the DfT offer is time-limited, with ministers anxious to spend precious money elsewhere if a deal cannot be done.
Transport minister Norman Baker has told the WMN the department is "bending over backwards" to help the "lifeline connection", and urged Cornwall Council to get involved.
Despite being the transport authority, Cornwall Council has refused to take anything other than a passive role with the new plans after the original proposals it marshalled were rejected, leaving the council embarrassed and footing a £4 million bill. It has been left to tiny Penzance Town Council to take the initiative.
Mr Baker said: "We've accepted there's an issue with the Isles of Scilly. I am happy to accept it's a lifeline connection, which is how the Isles of Scilly have described it.
"We've been bending over backwards to help at the Department for Transport on this matter. And there's a budget line there of £10million – there's other European funding that's still outstanding.
"We're simply waiting for the Isles of Scilly and Penzance Council, hopefully with Cornwall Council in tow, to come up with a scheme that can be delivered and which meets their aspirations. It's not for us to micro-manage that or to tell them what to do locally.
"We've been there helping. The money's there – I hope they can come up with a scheme they can fund. I've written to Penzance to encourage them to get a move on."
St Ives MP Andrew George, whose constituency includes the Scillies and Penzance, urged Cornwall Council to take an active role.
The Liberal Democrat MP said: "It is Cornwall Council's harbour and they are the transport authority. It is difficult to do it without their active support.
"We are still trying to convince Cornwall Council to come on board. It will be a Herculean effort for Penzance Council to do it on its own."