A HUGELY controversial issue that has caused deep divisions in a west Cornwall town is back on the agenda this week.
Rock armour sparked many a heated debate when it was discussed as part of the doomed Option A harbour development scheme in Penzance.
A special town council meeting was due to be held last night to see the subject debated once again as discussions over the future development of the harbour continue.
A letter sent to the town council by Norman Baker at the Department for Transport gave approval for a scheme that includes harbour dredging but the local council was also asked for its views on the use of rock armour.
"This is hugely controversial and also very, very costly," said John Maggs, co-ordinator of the Friends of Penzance Harbour and a board member of the Penzance Seafront Forum.
"It is not a question of whether rock armour is good or bad, it takes funds away from things that would directly benefit the town.
"Rock armour has nothing to do with the Isles of Scilly link and this is an easy way out for Cornwall Council who should be maintaining the pier anyway."
The DfT letter said County Hall had been invited to develop plans for dredging and submit them for formal planning. Mr Baker has deferred his decision on rock armour until hearing the views of the town council.
"Rock armour will attract a lot of focus," said Councillor Jon Pender, also a member of the Penzance Harbour Scheme Management Board which was set up to find a way forward for development works.
The board laid out its own vision for the waterfront which included demolition of buildings and quay upgrades. But Cornwall Council refused to back it, instead vouching for dredging and the possible use of rock armour along the grade two * listed south pier and Lighthouse Quay.
The government letter also gave hope that other areas of the blueprint put forward by the town could be incorporated into the latest development.
Mr Baker said that if a "modest scope" for works could be agreed between town and county and drawn up in time to receive the cash available from Europe, then he would consider it.
"I hope they take on some of the works we were envisioning on the north arm, like demolition of the rank building, and widening of the quay," said Mr Pender.
"I want to talk about all the things we put forward and say, 'can we persuade you to take any of this on?'."
Mr Pender said he welcomed the latest letter from Whitehall, saying any cash investment is better than nothing.
"The dredging alone will cost well over £1 million – that is a lot of investment," he said.
"If you think back 18 months, everyone was walking away from a scheme and now we have a reasonable amount of money going in."
A spokesperson for Cornwall Council said the authority endeavours to secure external funding wherever it can to reduce the demand on the local council tax payer.
"Cornwall Council has works under way to maintain the Penzance harbour South Pier," they said. "Rock armour, which already has all necessary approvals, would provide protection to the pier itself and would significantly reduce wave overtopping, enhancing protection of the Scillonian berth and the safety of those using the pier."