Wednesday 24 December 2008

Stop the Destruction of the Sacred Heart of Penzance!

The town of Penzance lies at the far south-western edge of Cornwall, overlooking the beautiful and unique Mount's Bay, where the last vestiges of the English Channel melds with the wild Atlantic Ocean. The town's name means holy headland or sacred head, and is traced from the Cornish language Pen Sans. One of the oldest parts of Penzance lies at the sandy beach adjacent to Battery Rocks. It was along this shore on the holy headland where Dark Age Celtic hermits and settlers arrived from Brittany and Ireland. St Buriana, St Gulval, St Paul Aurelian and St Madern are all localised Celtic saints, and it is easy to imagine them landing at this beach in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Sandy Cove, Penzance

Gradually a fishing community was established and the site of an 11th century chapel was discovered where St Anthony's gardens lie, just a few yards from the beach. It was here that the remains of a Celtic cross of late antiquity was discovered. This can now be seen in nearby St Mary's churchyard, at the top of the ancient low-lying cliffs of this holy headland. St Mary's is an 1830's Victorian rebuild, built on the site of a medieval Church. From St Mary's church, the oldest street in the town leads away from the headland towards the modern shopping centre. Chapel Street takes its name from the ancient Celtic chapel by the beach, neither from the Victorian St Mary's nor the neo-classical Wesleyan Chapel, both of which now sit along this old road of beginnings.

Remains of Dark Age cross

It is difficult to understand then, why this ancient sacred heart of the town is about to be completely destroyed. The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company in association with Halcrow Group Limited and Cornwall County Council are developing a project to build over the beach and battery rocks, completely destroying what remains of the ancient sacred headland where Penzance was born. This is one of the towns last pieces of wild shoreline, most of which has been destroyed over the last couple of hundred years of "development". Dolphins and Seals are regularly seen here, and the rock-pools are full of life, with anemones, fish and crabs. The view from this small beach is unsurpassable! St Michael's Mount with the Lizard peninsular stretching out behind is a wildlife paradise. It is difficult to believe that this project is even being considered, as back in the 1950s over half of the existing harbour was filled in to make a car park. This car park remains as a constant reminder of idiotic planning!

The plan now is to build a combined passenger and freight ferry terminal to service the Isles of Scilly, along with another car park and numerous buildings and warehouses. The present Lighthouse pier will be extended, and the beach and rocky headland will be obliterated in the name of so-called "modern progress". So in the 1950s one side of the historic port was ruined, and now in 2008, the proposal is to completely obliterate the other side of the historic harbour and docks at Penzance.

The road leading to and from this historic area to the immediate west of the present docks is totally inadequate for any increase in traffic, and this project will bring increased freight traffic, which in turn will cause many problems on the narrow roads in the Barbican and harbour areas of the town. The existing Isles of Scilly freight and ferry service is more than adequate, and given the lack of space available to add any kind of development at this historic and much loved Cornish port, I believe the plans should be scrapped.

Snakelocks Anemone, Sandy Cove, Penzance

The Route Partnership Proposal Isles of Scilly Link has come up with the worst possible option for Penzance in spite of hundreds of thousands of pounds being given to Hyder Consulting (UK) and others. The council tax paying residents of Penzance and Cornwall are expected to pay millions of pounds to guarantee the funding from the Department for Transport for this project. It does not remove traffic congestion from Penzance, in fact it will only increase it! They propose a development that is detrimental to Penzance sea front and will destroy the valuable and irreplaceable beach and Battery Rocks. It will ruin the setting of many listed buildings - the Lighthouse Pier, Jubilee Pool, and the Promenade. The war memorial, which sits between the beach and the art deco splendour of Jubilee Pool, will be lost amongst the new buildings, not very respectful to those who lost their lives during two world wars!

So what about the archaeology of the site? As mentioned the remains of a dark age cross was found at this site. If this project goes ahead, any remaining archaeological discoveries will be lost forever. Penzance thrives on the tourist industry, and the people who visit, do so because they are interested in the unique history of the place. If we allow part of the towns history to be destroyed, what will that tell future visitors about us? It is also worth remembering that this beach falls on the so-called St Michael/Beltane Line, a loose alignment of ancient sacred sites spanning the entire length of Southern Britain.

Autumn Equinox Sunrise from Sandy Cove, Penzance

So what can we do?

There is now an online petition courtesy of the Save the Holy Headland group. The petition is to the Secretary of State for the Environment and is requesting the rejection of a proposal put forward by the Route Partnership to build a passenger terminal and warehouses over Sandy Cove! The whole beach and rock pools would be buried under metres of concrete and obliterated forever. This proposal was rejected in 2004 by local people but since then plans have been going through without the townsfolk direct involvement. I know that this project will not affect people outside of Penzance but it is a stand against private companies who believe that their money can buy anything! We cannot simply stand by and do nothing to protect our ancient shoreline. A shoreline littered with the ghosts of dark-age Celtic hermits and the founding souls of this ancient settlement; a place where the sacred landscape and diverse wildlife of the sea meet and merge!

If you feel you could support this cause then please click on the link below and sign the petition.

Sign the online petition now by clicking this link here

Protest now by writing to the following:

Andrew George MP, Trewella, 18 Mennaye Rd, Penzance TR18 4NG. Tel: 01736 360020 Fax: 01736 332866

Secretary of State for the Environment. The Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR

Keep up to date with the latest developments by subscribing to the online newsletter on this site

If you are local, visit the beach, take photos of the wildlife and protest, tell people and keep in touch.

It was reported in last weeks Cornishman newspaper (20/11/08 ) that due to massive public opposition, the plans have been put on hold whilst further consultation is held with the public!

Let's keep up the pressure by continuing to protest and lets hope for a sensible outcome.

This article first apeared in Heritage Action's Heritage Journal here

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