Cornwall is losing its historic helicopter link to the Scillies – thanks to a supermarket planning War
We broke news of British International Helicopters move from Penzance to Newquay back in November last year.
The plan was for the council to sell the old heliport to Sainsburys – a move which outraged Penzancers – and which CCN reader Dick Cliffe noted was the only thing keeping the firm afloat.
Today Tesco and two private petitioners announced they were contesting the sale.
The supermarket giants lawyers say the sale was illegal – and they’ll fight it in court.
BIH MD Tony Jones immediately announced his company was closing the Scillies-link for good.
Mr Jones told CCN: “This is extremely sad news but unfortunately we had no alternative.”
He said costs were going up, passenger numbers falling, and not being able to sell to Sainsburys was the end
Flights will continue until October 31st, post-November bookings will be refunded in full, and staff will be made redundant.
The chairman of the Scillies Transport Committee Dudley Mumford told local Scillies paper Scilly Today: “This is a Hell of a blow to the islands.”
“The helicopters has been a lifeline link and it leaves a huge gap in our transport infrastructure.”
“My thoughts are also with the staff at Penzance and in Scilly.”
Councillor Marian Bennett has been pushing for the Govt to subsidise the helicopter service.
She told the local paper: “This reinforces our case for the Government to assist in subsidising our lifeline transport service.”
“We can see from the demise of the helicopters how fragile that is. If that can go so easily, what about the rest of it? We have to get Government support.”
A council spokeswoman said it wasn’t their fault and blamed everything on Tesco.
She said: “We are extremely disappointed by today’s announcement by British International Helicopters that they intend to discontinue the passenger service between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly from 1 November 2012.”
And she insisted: “Over the past few months the Council has worked hard to support BIH in considering an alternative site at St Erth and supporting the relocation of the helicopter service to Newquay Cornwall Airport.
“We appreciate the difficulties they now face as a result of Tesco’s action to seek permission to judicially review the Council’s decision making process in granting planning consent for Sainsbury’s to redevelop the heliport site in Penzance.
“We do not accept the claim by Tesco that there was insufficient evidence to support the consideration of the loss of the heliport as a factor in deciding the application and that the Council acted unlawfully in not securing an alternative site in the locality.
“We are disappointed that Tesco has delayed so long and put this claim in as late as possible. We will be fully defending this claim but appreciate that this process could take several months to conclude.
“We are keen to continue to talk to BIH about the future of the helicopter service and to see what support can be provided.”
Penzancers were outraged by the move by BIH to Newquay last year, and a CCN reader, local hotelier, Dick Cliffe, predicted it was the death knell for the service.
Mr Cliffe explained that the Sainsburys sale was the only thing keeping BIH afloat and that the company “should have collapsed in 2010. ”
He wrote in CCN: “The Heliport was mortgaged to the Bank of Ireland to cover a large part of the Company’s £14 million borrowings.
“Sainsbury’s purchase gave BIH a second chance – but this sadly may not be enough to save the IOS link.”
He explained: “The real problem is that IOS helicopter route does not make enough money to cover replacement of ancient helicopters and interest on debts.
“The service is failing due to competition from the cheaper Skybus service which is stealing their passengers – a brutal commercial reality.
“As Skybus have the lease for Lands End airport (the obvious alternative) they have the right to refuse access to BIH.
“Govt cannot help because it would give an unfair advantage to BIH over Skybus.
“You can understand why the Islanders pressed for an all year around ferry service – they are going to need one quite soon.”
British International came into being when British Airways Helicopters was privatised and sold to media tycoon Robert Maxwell in 1986.
The original company was involved in a disaster of historic proportions when, three years earlier, a helicopter ditched into the sea in thick fog killing 20 of 26 passengers and crew
The company underwent a series of management buy-outs in 2006 and 2008. The firm lost its contract with South Wales police that year, changing its name to BIH.
Local MP Andrew George said: “”This is devastating news.
“It could have a severe impact not only on the Isles of Scilly but also on Penzance.
“BIH has provided an invaluable service to the Islands as the first scheduled air passenger service for nearly 50 years.
“It is marginally less weather dependent than its fixed wing competitor and provides an important lifeline service for the Islands and the mainland.”
The Lib Dem MP revealed: “Many of us had feared and, to a certain extent, anticipated that this may happen.
“It is a commercial decision and not one which public authorities can influence.
“That having been said, it is important that everyone, including the local councils, come together to look at an alternative service.”
What do you think about the end of the Scillies Helicopter link? Inevitable business failure? Or a vital link that we should pay for with taxpayers cash? Let us know! Just post below!