A legal challenge has thrown fresh doubt into the planned return of a helicopter link between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly.
Permission for a new heliport in Penzance was granted in February, following a public consultation.
However, the pause button on the project has been hit after the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, which operates air and sea services to the islands, began proceedings for a judicial review, claiming the Council’s decision was “flawed”.
Tresco Estate owner, Robert Dorrien-Smith, who is spearheading proposals to reinstate a helicopter service, blasted the intervention, calling it an “attack” on the islands and islanders.
He said: “This issue is bigger than just the heliport; the islands are facing a critical challenge to their independence. On the one hand we have a transport monopoly trying to prevent improvements to the transport system, against the wishes of islanders and Penzance people. On the other hand we have an entire community wanting something better.
“This is an abuse of power on a very serious scale because we have no other options. It is not comparable to a planning challenge on the mainland where alternatives exist. In theory this behaviour by the Steamship Group could put us in a position in the future whereby they have the final say on anything and everything that happens in these islands.
“This obstructive move will only ever be seen for what it is: an anti-competitive action, dressed up in as much legal fog as they can muster.”
Isles of Scilly Steamship Group chairman, Andrew May, defended his company’s action. He said: “We have mounted this legal challenge because we consider that Cornwall Council’s decision was flawed in its assessment of Penzance heliport in a number of important areas.
“We are not against a helicopter operation and do not have a ‘monopoly’ in transport services as is claimed – the market is open to any operator wishing to operate sea or air services to the Isles. Our primary concern relates to the serious socio-economic consequences of creating a new heliport and the effect the proposal will have on the long-term sustainability of the wider transport network and future investment in it, including a replacement for the Scillonian III ferry.”
The Steamship Group has offered the helicopter service the use of Land’s End Airport, which it owns, with “heavily discounted fees”. However, Penzance Heliport Ltd said, after studying the proposal, that it “would not deliver the growth and resilience enhancements that are core aims of this project”. It also said the proposal was also not viable for “commercial reasons”.