Withdrawal of challenge clears way for Sainsbury's
SAINSBURY'S has completed its long-term goal of buying the Penzance heliport site after a legal challenge was withdrawn, only days before British International Helicopters' last flight to the Isles of Scilly.
The supermarket confirmed the acquisition on Tuesday, after Charlie Cartwright abandoned his judicial review into the planning process surrounding BIH's sale of the land to Sainsbury's.
BIH claimed the legal challenge by Mr Cartwright, former chief executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, stopped it using funds from the sale to finance a temporary move to Newquay which would have rescued the islands' helicopter service.
Instead, and despite the millions now gained from the sale, BIH launched its last flight from Eastern Green on Wednesday, stating it was too late for the service to be saved.
Although talks between St Ives MP Andrew George and an unnamed helicopter operator are still taking place, this will be the last flight – at least for the time being – in the route's 49-year history.
The announcement comes agonisingly late for those who had hoped to save the service, as well as the numerous staff made redundant by BIH.
A BIH spokeswoman confirmed it would invest the funds in the remaining elements of its business. "As a private commercial business, sometimes we have to make difficult decisions," she said. "The helicopter passenger service is no longer commercially viable due to delays in the sale of the site, rising costs, many of which are regulatory and therefore unavoidable, combined with a continued fall in visitor numbers to the Isles of Scilly.
"BIH experienced a 21 per cent reduction in bookings between 2010 and 2012 and in fact has seen a 16 per cent reduction in bookings during the 2012 season when compared with 2011."
The planned Sainsbury's will be the third major supermarket within a mile of Penzance, along with Morrisons and Tesco.
The latter had, with an unnamed third party, also sought a judicial review but withdrew it in August amid criticism.
Mr George said he was not in favour of the development but hoped to work with Sainsbury's on potential solutions to the loss of the air service.
"They should come into the town, not out of it," he said. "It undermines the centre of the town. (This announcement) doesn't change anything; it just changes who we need to speak to about how we go forward."
Two options to resume flights could be shared use of the site or a transitional arrangement to use the site before a store was built, while seeking a new heliport site.
He said he wanted to see flights resume by March, and hoped the loss of the service would not devastate the economies of the Isles of Scilly and Penzance.
"It's obviously extremely bad news – something I have been warning about for a number of years," he said.
"It's a sad day, saddest of all for the staff of the service."
Mr Cartwright, who denies his challenge prevented the link being saved, said he had withdrawn to avoid a lengthy battle with Cornwall Council. "It would have made no difference; the heliport was going to be turned into a supermarket," he said. "You can't fly helicopters without a heliport."
A Sainsbury's spokeswoman said it welcomed the withdrawal of the legal challenge, and the new store would bring more choice and competition in weekly shopping and create hundreds of new jobs.
The plans would release the land for future development, including a park-and-ride and a number of business units.
Cornwall Council said it was also pleased Mr Cartwright had dropped his challenge.
A spokeswoman said: "The authority will continue to work with all parties to identify and explore all possible options for reinstating a helicopter service to the Isles of Scilly."
Mike Adams, of campaign group A Future For Penzance, said: "We can never be disappointed with someone spending money. It's going to put money in the area during construction. The one caveat is that it's another supermarket.
"We have three large supermarkets, a chain of Co-ops and a population of 60,000.
"We're disappointed at the loss of the heliport. The concern is the impact on local business."