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News Archive > Sport > Harbouring a 30-year dream

Harbouring a 30-year dream

By Warren Wilkins 7th January 2004

THE AMBITIOUS project of building a deep water harbour in Newquay has been a life long dream of one man.

John Bennetts from Newquay has worked tirelessly trying to bring the scheme to fruition for more than 30 years.

Although the development has hit a few snags along the way and come in for a barrage of opposition he is not one to give up easily.

The marine surveyor has persevered throughout. An optimist to the last he believes it is only an amount of time before the project becomes a reality.

As many people might like to think John Bennetts idea of building a deep water harbour in Newquay is pie in the sky.

But there are few as qualified as John when it comes to sea based projects.

Whether it be working out of Newquay harbour as a fisherman, delivering ships to far flung locations like Africa and the West Indies or as a marine surveyor John has spent most of his working life at sea.

It was having to work around the tides as a fisherman that John realised the huge benefits a deep water harbour would bring to Newquay.

The 53-year-old who now lives at King Edward Crescent overlooking the harbour, said: "Sailing out of Newquay harbour as a kid I could see the restrictions the tidal harbour causes to your everyday working life.

"The benefits of a deep water harbour to all visiting seafarers would be beyond prediction."

John became a marine surveyor in the late 1960s when he was approached to help test oil booms at the River Gannel following the Torey Canyon disaster.

The company, Hydrolics Research based at Berkshire, asked John to stay on full time to do coastal surveys.

He became involved in some major projects, which included working on the Thames barrier and the shutting of the Bristol City Docks.

Through the knowledge he gained on working on such vast schemes John thought about trying to get the deep water harbour project off the ground in 1970.

He saw the Gazzle on the Towan Headland as an ideal location to site the scheme.

John decided to build a model to show people his impression of how the deep water harbour would look and pedalled the idea to anyone who would listen.

In 1993 Aoki Corporation, a Japanese company saw the model and were keen on building it.

With the backing of Newquay councillor Les Mountford he took his proposition to Restormel Borough Council.

David Brown the then chief executive of Restormel thought the harbour project was a "wonderful idea’ and as no money was available land was offered to fund the scheme.

Land where the Walkabout and Blue Reef Aquarium is now situated and between the war memorial and Headland Hotel as well as part of the golf course were put up to cover the development costs.

But residents were outraged at the idea of building on part of the golf course.

Although Aoki offered to build an alternative 27 hole course between Skeyse Hill and Quintrell Downs residents rejected the idea.

"The project didn’t come off," John said. "There was a lot of prejudice because it was a Japanese company and there was a lot of outrage about the developing on the golf course

"Basically Aoki lost interest and eventually pulled out. It is a bit of a shame really because the company has recently completed Hong Kong Airport."

The plan looked to have died a death but was recently rekindled when a group of city financiers in London called out of the blue.

"Despite the setback I never gave up hope the deep water harbour project could happen," John said. "I carried on shouting about it.

"A bank in London has said if a similar amount of land was offered to them, which was available for the scheme in 1993, it would come up with the money needed to build the deep water harbour.

"They are looking at financing two or three major projects in the Westcountry.

"There is a lot of interest being shown in North Cornwall at the moment, particularly Newquay.

"This is because they could potentially get a good return on their investment.

"The financiers would either build flats or a hotel on land offered by Restormel.

"The scheme is now viable because construction costs have not increased all that much while residential prices have rocketed."

John who now works on a dredger out of Padstow will be working at pace on the deep water harbour project in the New Year.

"I will be in negotiation with the financiers as well as Restormel to see what land is available," he said. "Then I see whether the land offered is suitable to the financiers."

Time is quickly running out for the deep water harbour project to qualify for the present round of Objective One funding.

Though there is a possibility it will qualify if Cornwall receives another round of European funding.

"The project met all the Objective One regulations for a grant," he said.

"It was an ideal project for Objective One considering the amount of jobs it would create. If we lose Objective One status then it could be problem."

John believes the scheme would be very popular, as there is no deep water harbour along the North Cornwall coast.

It is anticipated ferry, cruise ships as well as yachts and fishing boats would all want to use the facility.

"Passing trade, cruise ships, the navy and the Scillonian would all use the harbour," he said.

"There were 30 cruise ships in Fowey and Isles of Scilly alone last year that would have loved another port of call on the Cornish coast.

"Every yacht club we speak to would love to have the harbour built.

"There is nowhere along the North Cornwall coast for people to birth. It would be a wonderful stepping stone between France and Ireland.

"If there is any sense in this world the project should happen.

"This is the only way to revive Newquay’s up market image.

"Regeneration plans like the ecopods on the golf course are just cosmetic, it wouldn’t generate the income like the deep water harbour would.

"The harbour would turn Newquay around from the slow but inevitable deterioration to a backpackers and nightclub stag weekend resort.

"Visitors that come to Newquay with a yacht will be financially better off compared with somebody who arrives with a surfboard and a tin of beans.

"Why is every port in Cornwall and the EU trying to get improved maritime facilities?

"Because it is the biggest growth industry and Newquay’s head is in the sand.

"Falmouth has made millions from events like the Tall Ships race."

Even though the deep water harbour project undoubtedly has its pluses it has received its fair share of negative response.

Many people have raised fears of its impact on the environmentally sensitive area of the Towan Headland.

Residents and water users have voiced concerns the project would destroy the natural beauty of the area and cause pollution.

They are worried that the cleanliness of the water could be badly affected in the Bay by ferry and cruise ships coming in and out.

Concerns have also been raised that the golf course and surrounding area would need to be developed to provide the infrastructure needed for the deep water harbour to be viable.

John said: "I think it is a bit like the A30, it will always be built, delays and frustrations will be overcome.

"There have been a few nasty comments. Some people are very anti the deep water harbour.

"I genuinely think the deep water harbour will benefit the town.

"An example is when they proposed putting Dock Gates at the Padstow inner quay.

"The whole town was vehemently against it but on its completion everyone comments what a great improvement it is."

By Warren Wilkins 7th January 2004

Robert Briggs 1st May 2019 12:57
Excellent idea, I agree with utterly agree with you.
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