By Julia Penhaligon
Friday’s announcement that the Heartlands’ visitor attraction at Pool, between Camborne and Redruth, is to close has been met with an outpouring of anger and dismay.
Opened as recently as April 2012 with £35 million of public funds, much it from the European Union and the National Lottery, the 19-acre former mining site was at the time hailed by County Hall as Cornwall’s first “free cultural playground.”
The project had been planned since 1998, following the granting of European Union “Objective One” funding.
Developed on the site of the former South Crofty tin mine’s Robinson’s Shaft, the revenue side of the Heartlands “business plan” always looked suspect.
It now stands alongside the £20 million Newquay spaceport and the £25 million Saints Trail cycle path as another example of why Cornwall Council’s “build it and they’ll come” approach to economic development is so fragile – particularly when reliant on imaginary numbers associated with tourism.
County Hall’s critics have been quick to point out that the £60 million Mid Cornwall Metro railway project appears to have been designed around a business plan which thinks tourists from Newquay want an hourly shuttle service to Falmouth. Even Great Western Railways, which will have to run the service, thinks this is improbable and wants a continuing annual taxpayer subsidy of up to £4 million.
The new railway will go via Par but will not deliver any increased passengers to the Camborne-Redruth area.
A County Hall statement said of Heartlands: “Despite its popularity, recent economic conditions have meant that utility costs have considerably increased and income from operations has decreased.
“All of the funding options currently available have now been exhausted and Cornwall Council is not in a position to be able to step in and provide ongoing financial support for the current operation.”
The council’s Facebook page has already received more than 175 comments, nearly all of them negative. “The council has poured finance into white elephant projects such as Newquay air and Spaceports for wealthy individuals and businesses, but disregards a facility which is actually used and beneficial to local residents. Disgraceful,” said one.
Another said: “The whole concept was always a flat balloon and it never helped itself charging people to park their cars.”
Many commentators suggest the site could have been better used. “Where were the regular farmers markets or local produce markets, arts and crafts fairs, open air cinema, beer/cider festivals, car boots sales, autojumble, car shows, community events, opening of the engine house to the public, organising and hosting sporting events for example being the start and end of bike races or runs?” asked one.
“The circus would have fitted nicely on the green instead of squeezing itself onto the gravel of Pool Market.”
Several commentators lament that, after Brexit, there is no-one to ask for more money.
“Sad news but was, alas, inevitable. £28m of EU money on an ill thought out but well meaning project. It was never broad enough in its appeal to be commercially successful. Feel so sorry for those losing their jobs.”