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Mail delays highlight Scilly transport issues

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: November 29, 2012

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THE VULNERABILITY of Land's End as the chief mainland airport currently serving Scilly direct was brought starkly into focus this week.

Heavy, continuous rainfall, supplemented by heavy winds, waterlogged the cliff-top landing ground – seriously curtailing operations which affected the movement of passengers, mail and newsprint.

It followed a whole week of sporadic weather-induced disruption and, on Saturday, the lone aerial contact with the mainland was through two flights out of Newquay.

The incessant rain – Scilly itself was measured that day at 1.3 inches and over a two-day period 2.2 inches – meant that mail and newspapers were held up as there was no sailing of the freighter Gry Maritha as a back-up alternative.

Increasingly islanders spoke of the pressing need – should Land's End remain the only mainland airport exclusively serving Scilly – to reconsider pressing for hard-surface runway facilities.

But freight manager Nick Sanders recently told a forum that on the basis of historic robust opposition to such a move, provision in the immediate future was unlikely.

St Mary's post office sub-postmistress Lindsay Rodger said she couldn't recall a worse period for island transport.

"For the first time in many years, the islands are starting to go without mail for anything up to 72 hours," she said.

There were no flights on Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, which meant the mail from all three postal days finally arrived off the boat on Wednesday morning.

She said that agreed freight arrangements with Newquay were not in place to allow mail transfer. Historically the mail arrival time allowed for postal workers also holding down another job.

Now there was no consistency of receipt of the mail and the consequent delivery, so shift patterns were unreliable, she said.

Her small staff (currently just two due to holidays) were working at 6 or 7 at night and not getting the afternoons off. Three vacancies should be filled by Christmas, she said.

But, having worked at the post office for ten years, she said she couldn't ever remember the situation being so bad.

The backlog is duplicated by the islands' newsagent.

Clive Mumford called the past week's disruption and erratic newsprint receipt as "the worst I can remember.

"It's obviously costly to my business and not customer-friendly," he added. "I had only one day's papers actually on the day all last week."

With no Land's End flying on Monday, he had hoped the marooned papers from Saturday, Sunday and Monday would come over by the Monday freighter sailing to be, on sale on the Tuesday.

"But the sailing was cancelled because of the awful conditions," he added. "It's doubly frustrating that we can hear Newquay flights coming into the islands but are unable to use them to carry papers."

As Tuesday dawned and the newsprint drought went into its fourth day, three days' papers were stuck in a ship's hold at Penzance quay. They also finally arrived on Wednesday.

Island firemen were busy over the weekend dealing with flooding threats both on the green behind Tresco school and, on St Mary's, at Longstone and Porthloo.

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