TRANPORT Minister Norman Baker's £8m pledge for the joint harbour project with Penzance has been greeted with cautious island optimism.
The disappointment that followed the last-minute collapse of the scheme's precursor, the £65m Route Partnership project, is still a painful memory.
The enthusiasm at the recent funding approval has therefore been tempered with caution.
Council chairman Amanda Martin welcomed "the green light", given that the harbour scheme is "subject to final clearances and the securing of European funding".
It had taken a lot of hard work and co-operation to get this far, she said: "The Council of the Isles of Scilly is delighted that the project to develop the Quays at St Mary's and Penzance has moved another step forward towards final approval."
She thanked the DFT and Cornwall Council for their hard work.
Dudley Mumford, Council vice-chairman, and former island council transport committee chairman, said: "It's been a long wait, going back as far as 2001 or 2002 when we started the ball rolling in the time of Transport Minister David Jameson. But it sounds great news for the islands. Hopefully we shall now be able to start bringing the quay up to scratch."
He stressed, however, the securing of EU funding was a vital element. The Ministerial approval was "an important part of the process if EU funds are to be accessed ... . In that respect it was essential we got the Minister's go-ahead."
The Minister's approval brings to an end an anxious wait for islanders, many of whom were sceptical about the project following the failure of the Route Partnership scheme.
Diana Mompoloki, strategic investment framework manager was "cautiously optimistic", saying it was good news, but while it was a big step in a "significantly smaller scheme than the failed route partnership", it was only one step along the path.
"I'm confident but it's not yet time to celebrate. There's a lot of hard work to do before we get everything stamped. They've accepted the basis of the business case and now there remain a few points to be clarified – like procurement and also the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)."
The Euro meeting was set for October "and until we get that sorted and get through the approval, it's still not yet a live project. History tells us it's a good idea to be cautious in quay matters".
If ERDF approval was given, "we are probably looking at starting work on the quay either next spring or summer".
For years the Victorian quay at St Mary's has been fighting an often unequal struggle with modern tourist traffic. An upgrade has been badly needed for passengers of RMV Scillonian and for the holidaymakers boating to the off islands.
The St Mary's end of the project – more comprehensive than that at Penzance – has been ready for some time. But both ends are tied together as one project and islanders were concerned that problems at the Penzance end could at best delay the works and at worst jeopardise the project as the deadline for EU funding neared.
Not long ago Mr Mumford, echoing the concerns of not a few, told a council meeting "the quay prospects diminish with every day that passes" while Mrs Mompoloki said "we are with Penzance or we don't happen at all".
The £8m clearance by the Transport Minister, therefore, comes as a huge relief, especially at a time of recession, a perceived dip in tourist traffic and worry about falling visitor numbers.
The proposed works involve widening and lengthening the quay, the extra length affording the ship extra depth.
There is to be a covered walkway for queuing passengers, a central paved walkway to facilitate passage the length of the quay. The presently cramped cargo handling area is to be supplanted by a more commodious freight shed. There will be improved waiting facilities.