CORNWALL Council has breathed a new lease of life into hopes for the redevelopment of Penzance Harbour after declaring it is willing to work with Penzance Town Council on proposals to unlock key funding.
The significant step was made last Friday when new Cornwall Council leader Jim Currie and Cabinet member Bert Biscoe wrote to Transport Minister Norman Baker, MP, stating that the council would work with the town council to deliver a scheme on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT).
St Ives MP Andrew George also wrote to the Minister suggesting there could be a change of heart at Cornwall Council following recent cabinet changes which saw leader Alec Robertson ousted and transport supremo Graeme Hicks resign.
Good relations between the two councils are seen as crucial to gain backing for the £8 million harbour redevelopment proposal from the DfT, which has been in the offing since the disastrous £62 million Route Partnership scheme was thrown out.
The often volatile relationship appeared to have reached a recent nadir at a crucial point in September, when the unitary authority dismissed town council-backed plans for the harbour; instead vouching for its own scheme of dredging and rock armour.
However, Cornwall Council's fresh statement of intent, in which it also asked for additional funds, has given new hope that a satisfactory conclusion could materialise from discussions with the DfT.
Speaking at Penzance Town Council on Monday, Councillor Biscoe, the newly appointed portfolio holder for transportation, highways and the environment, said: "We are very grateful to the town council, to the harbour master and to all the groups in Penzance who have contributed to building a strong case.
"With the last helicopter having flown from Penzance, this is now more important than ever. I certainly hope this represents the beginning of a positive, fruitful relationship."
In the letter to Mr Baker, councillors Currie and Biscoe said that, assuming the council gets approval from the DfT by mid-November, it hopes to recommence work on the scheme and submit a business plan by the end of December.
If that happens, the DfT could give the council access to at least £4 million towards the at-one-time £8 million scheme to develop the harbour by as early as March. The rest of the funding would be sought during the next round of EU Convergence funding, meaning the work could be undertaken as early as 2014.
Transport Minister Norman Baker has confirmed the Government is willing to bankroll a scheme once a business case is put forward.
He said: "The Department for Transport is continuing to set aside funding for improvements to St Mary's and Penzance Harbours, but I am now keen to make progress, as indeed are local people, and to end the uncertainty that exists.
"As Cornwall Council has now agreed to lead on the scheme I look forward to receiving their business case."
Although the content of the potential business plan is yet to be finalised by the town and unitary authority, Mr Biscoe said dredging the harbour would take priority.
Penzance mayor Phil Rendle said he welcomed the positive approach from Cornwall Council but believes there is still work to be done.
He said: "My view is that we really need to be aware of not only what is happening in the short term but also the future of Penzance in the long term."