Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Penzance Town council and Cornwall Council's harbour scheme

Tonight was my first full town council meeting, well the first proper one, the first Mayor Making meeting was largely ceremonial. Amongst the approval of minutes and plans for the Penzance 400 celebrations (which look very good at this preliminary stage) and other largely procedural stuff. There was a glimmer of excitement, argument and for me head scratching over the harbour.
Cllr Cliffe proposed that the council hold a public meeting over Cornwall Council's business case for harbour improvements recently forwarded to the Department of Transport (DFT). That document is here on the Penzance Town Council website. This caused some controversy among the members and a lively and passionate debate. On the one hand some thought that the previous position of the council be reiterated by writing again to the minister. Stating that the council wishes for improvements to the St Mary's harbour on Scilly be undertaken. Dredging of Penzance harbour is supported by PZTC. That proposed rock armour placement to South Pier and Lighthouse pier needed more engineering evidence. It's my opinion and other councilors that the Royal Haskoning study (also on the link above) was unconvincing in it's arguments and conclusions for rock armouring. Here essentially was the debate, should Penzance Town Council hold a public debate or stick to it's previous position held by the last town council.
The plan by Cornwall Council

I was decidedly on the fence through the debate. There was a convincing argument that we need not take a new position, this was a scheme wholly drawn up by Cornwall Council, the town council had no input on it. Why should we take a position considering this? Also this is a divisive issue in the town why should the council draw flak from both sides for and against, when realistically this is a scheme drawn up in Truro and rubber stamped (or not) in London. Although the minister promises to give weight to the view of the town council, whether there will be a consensus and whether this means anything to the minister remains to be seen. Further if the town council chooses to not support the scheme this puts us firmly back to square one.
On the other hand this is an important scheme for Penzance the Isles of Scilly link, and the harbour itself is hugely important to the town. It ought to be the duty of the town council to influence where we can these decisions, however trying this may be. Personally I find it very frustrating that the views of the town council have not been taken into account by Cornwall Council in drawing up these plans. I know members of the last council and the staff no doubt feel frustrated that the harbour plans drawn up by themselves was disregarded by Cornwall Council. In the end I decided to vote for the motion to hold a meeting to quiz representatives of the DFT and Cornwall Council on the planned scheme. I also spoke about the need to have people such as the Penzance Harbour Users Association and the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company at this meeting to hear their views, particularly on the subject of overtopping. That is when waves during storms and/or high tides come over the top of the Lighthouse and South Piers. In Cornwall Council's proposed scheme they plan to use rock armour to limit the effect of this. It will be interesting to learn the justification for this and the views of harbour users on the problem of overtopping itself  and other solutions such as a breakwater. 
The meeting will be held in the next few weeks...