HELIPORT BENEFITS OUTLINED IN SOCIO-ECONOMIC STUDY
A study accompanying the planning application for the proposed heliport at Penzance has outlined the economic and health benefits to the islands and the wider region.
The socio-economic assessment states that a reinstated helicopter service can be complementary to the fixed wing and ferry service in the future, in the same way it was for many decades previously.
It would also provide around 30 permanent year-round jobs in Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, with around ten of those on the islands.
It states that the £2 million investment in Penzance Heliport has the potential to generate £5.68 million of overall economic activity.
There would also be indirect employment benefits, from building and ground maintenance contracts to taxi and shuttle service providers, accommodation providers, shops and cafes, which would have a positive economic impact on the wider tourism infrastructure of Penzance.
The report said: ‘The former helicopter link brought visitors to Penzance and West Cornwall who otherwise would not have visited the region. The current transport infrastructure to Scilly undoubtedly has a positive impact on Penzance but fixed wing flights from Land’s End mean many passengers pass straight through Penzance, whilst the benefits of the ferry link are seasonal.
"Returning a year-round helicopter service to the town itself will bring a cohort of visitors with high disposable income to Penzance and its accommodation, shops, services and eateries.'
The study also revealed the reduction in visitor numbers in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal of the service by British International Helicopters in 2012.
Air passenger numbers to the islands fell by 38% between 2011 and 2013, although the islands were accessible through air links from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter and the seasonal passenger ferry service from Penzance.
In comparison, during the same period the number of tourism trips across Great Britain as a whole fell by less than 3%.
The report cited Tresco Abbey Garden as a barometer of the health of the islands’ day trip market. Following the helicopter route closure, day trip visitors to the garden fell 19% in the first year.
Tresco Estate, the largest business and employer on the islands with 230 employees, experienced an immediate drop in annual turnover from its core business of holiday bookings of 21% in the financial year following the cessation of the helicopter.
Visitor numbers to Scilly have been slow to recover and are still well below previous levels, despite intense marketing activity in recent years.
This downward trend was reflected across the islands’ tourism businesses. St Austell Brewery, which owns and operates a 30-bedroom hotel and two pubs on St Mary’s and is a supplier to a further 17 outlets on the islands, noticed a reduction in business of 20%.
The business case for the new heliport is supported by messages from MP Derek Thomas; Chair of the Penzance Chamber of Commerce Sarah Shaw; Isles of Scilly Council Chief Executive Theo Leijser; Visit Cornwall Chief Executive Malcolm Bell; Tim Jones, Chairman of Devon and Cornwall Business Council; and Penzance Councillor Dick Cliffe.
The report also outlined healthcare and medical benefits and received strong messages of support from Helston Medical Centre and the Cornwall Air Ambulance.
The new heliport would provide opportunities for the Air Ambulance to refuel and create a new landing point for patient transfers to hospitals.
Every litre of fuel carried affects mission range and in the past the Air Ambulance had recourse to both Penzance Heliport and RNAS Culdrose but neither facility is available any more.
Paul Martin, Chief Executive of the Cornwall Air Ambulance said: “While the air ambulance has managed to meet the needs of all of our patients since the closure of the previous heliport in Penzance, it would be in the best interests of patients in the future that we maximise the opportunities to provide the very best service in West Cornwall.”
Reference was also made to significant costs to the NHS associated with missed appointments and islanders opting to travel many days ahead of appointments.
Alison Butterill, Managing Partner of Helston Medical Centre, said: “There have been a number of occasions when weather conditions make it unsuitable to fly and this often results in clinicians being on the wrong side of the water or indeed delaying their return to the islands. This not only impacts on clinician’s availability on the islands but impacts on when people are prepared to work and cover the islands.
“Access to transport during difficult weather conditions will enhance who we can send over and how quickly they can return. The provision of supplies and/or transportation of samples to the hospital have also been an issue and a more sustainable system would be wholeheartedly welcomed.”
Robert Dorrien-Smith said: “I am resolved to promote this exciting project because I feel that there is a bright future for Scilly.
“Now is not the time to pursue narrow interests. I wish to be a part of a process that restores confidence in our island communities and makes for a better future for all islanders, their families and future generations.
“I sincerely believe this is the right proposal at the right time for Scilly and Penzance. Let’s make Scilly a better place to live, visit and work.”