Letter: St Ives prepares to taste life in the sewer

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Sir: Last Sunday more than 400 people queued to visit the new Tate Gallery St Ives, on Porthmeor Beach. Since this gallery opened at the end of June, last year, it has received over 140,000 visitors, a fifth of whom came from abroad.

Germans, French, Americans and Japanese are frequently now seen standing in a queue before 11am each day. All of which led a St Ives hotelier to inform me a week or two ago that he estimated that the presence of the new Tate at St Ives had brought at least pounds 7m into the town in fewer than six months.

What all this adds up to is that civilised visitors from abroad are enjoying St Ives itself, as well as the western tip of the Cornish peninsula, as never before. An international spotlight is thus turned on this ancient town.

Unfortunately, that spotlight is just in time to catch the evidence of a vast programme of unparalleled, irrational destructiveness. South West Water has for some years now been hell-bent on an immensely expensive and elaborate scheme for channelling all the sewage from the whole of West Penwith into St Ives Bay at a point close by Godrevy Island, with its famous Virginia Woolf lighthouse.

The stuff is going to be collected, town by town, and pumped along the coasts of Mount's Bay and St Ives Bay through gigantic pipes, whose installation is already devastating the countryside. A series of huge pumping stations, situated at intervals on these pipelines, will appear like small fortresses along the coasts.

Vast quantities of treated sewage are going to shoot into the waters of the bay. Just what effect this will have on waters that should remain pure cerulean, cobalt and ultramarine blue is anybody's guess. The horror is the enormous damage to the coastal landscape of both bays that this vast enterprise is inflicting right now.

Yesterday it was announced that South West Water had won a public inquiry permitting it to place one of these great pumping stations right on the Island at St Ives itself, at the car park at Porthgwidden Beach. Cornwall County Council energetically contested this Porthgwidden appeal, but under the present regime in this country, what chance has a mere public-spirited and resolute county council against a quango? The intensity of outraged, very public opinion counts for absolutely nothing these days.

So any moment now we may expect blasting to begin - because this pumping fortress of concrete will have to be sunk into a great hole in the cliff, larger than the St Ives Guildhall, we are told. As that cliff happens to be of solid blue elvan, the hardest rock on earth, it can be imagined what is going to happen to the hundreds of ancient, world-famous fishermen's cottages which comprise the old town of St Ives, known as Downlong - because this intended great hole is situated only a few yards away from that uniquely beautiful huddle of domestic dwellings. They will all be shaken to bits.

Visitors who remember the narrowness of the streets of Downlong may wonder how all the lorries, that will be forevermore servicing this pumping station, will get through town.

James Joyce once told a friend of his, also a friend of mine, that 'St Ives is the most interesting town in England'. Not for much longer - unless central government changes its spots.

Yours faithfully,




25 January

(Photograph omitted)