The Sutton Harbour Improvement Company, later renamed Sutton Harbour Company (SHC), was formed by an Act of Parliament in 1847 and that company remains a wholly owned subsidiary of Sutton Harbour Holdings plc today. SHC is the statutory Harbour company, which manages activities of the Harbour itself and its activities, and is governed by the original 1847 Act and a number of subsequent acts.
For several generations Sutton Harbour continued as a port receiving cargo as well operating as a fish market, and evidence of the Harbour’s heritage, dock side railway tracks and cranes are still present and form an integral part of our conservation work; the Harbour Heritage Trail.
The Company’s archive records show interesting reports about the effects on trade of both World Wars and then in the early 1970’s how results were propped up by sales of a commemorative Mayflower Plate commissioned from Spode. The last commercial ship left Sutton Harbour in 1988 and although the Company had set up a small marina in the 1970s and owned an estate of warehouses and other harbour-side property, a new direction was required.
The turning point was the installation of lock gates in 1993, provided as a flood defence by the National Rivers Authority. First mooted in 1786, with later interest from Brunel who drew up detailed plans in 1845, the lock created a depth of water to accommodate fishing boat movements, a larger marina and the potential for an attractive harbor-side, which did not dry out at low tide. With the lock, a pedestrian bridge was installed providing access from the historic Barbican quarter to the eastern side of the Harbour where the world-renowned National Marine Aquarium is now located.
The new fish market, Plymouth Fisheries at Sutton Harbour, relocated to the eastern side of the Harbour from the opposite Barbican and opened in 1995. It has re-established Plymouth as a major fish auction centre with a state of the art electronic auction system. From a low point in 1994 when just £800,000 worth of fish passed through Plymouth fish market, fish landings have steadily grown now making it the second largest fish market in England. Investment into the new £1.2million ice production and chilling facilities will enable Plymouth Fisheries to further strengthen its position as one of the best places in the region to land a catch.
The transformation of the decaying port into a vibrant waterfront with sustainable uses earned the Company the Secretary of State’s award for the best urban regeneration project in 1996.
Making use of a number of underused sites around the Harbour, between 1996 and 2008, the Company delivered 7 major regeneration schemes including three landmark waterfront apartment developments, three major office buildings and one smaller affordable housing development. The Company also undertook a major conversion of the listed old fish market structure providing high quality retail space, now occupied by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
By 2000, with the vision for phased regeneration of the Harbour underway, the Company was looking to increase its trading activity. British Airways plc had placed Plymouth City Airport on the market and the Company acquired the airport company and long lease of the airport site. The acquisition had similarities to the port operation, with earnings from landing dues, rents and fuel sales. The Company achieved moderate success with the new venture over the first three years until British Airways, the major customer, withdrew services to the far southwest. With the Post Office flights already ceased in favour of road transport and no other operators forthcoming, the Company examined the opportunity to save the Gatwick links for the region by setting up a new airline. Air Southwest commenced services in October 2003, initially just the Plymouth, Newquay, Gatwick triangulation route, adding services to Manchester, Leeds, Jersey and Dublin shortly thereafter. The airline benefited from favourable exchange rates, reasonable fuel prices and an increasing consumer desire to fly as the transport of choice and results peaked in 2006. Thereafter, an economic slowdown loomed and Air Southwest struggled in the face of increased fuel prices, competition, impact on consumer confidence caused by security incidents at other airports, extreme weather conditions, disruption caused by volcanic ash clouds and falling consumer demand. The Company attempted to revitalise sales with the introduction of new services to Norwich and then London City, but by early 2010 it was clear that the company could no longer sustain the airline and it was marketed for sale. Air Southwest was purchased by Eastern Airways in November 2010 and under new ownership services were reduced with the last air services out of Plymouth in July 2011.
The Company sustained a significant loss in the disposal of the airline and it was clear that Plymouth City Airport would not have a sustainable future with a lack of air traffic. Plymouth City Airport was closed in December 2011 and the Company retains the legal interest in the remaining 113 acre site.
In the recent past the Company has held and since divested investments in public private partnerships to construct and lease primary healthcare facilities in both Plymouth and Cumbria.
Regeneration projects further afield have included development of a facility building in Portland for the Royal Yachting Association and an affordable housing scheme at Exeter Quays.
The Company is now clearly focused on its marine operations, waterfront regeneration and destination activities. The current business plan centres on the management of the income earning businesses; Sutton Harbour Marina, King Point Marina, Plymouth Fisheries and the Sutton Harbour investment property estate, for growth in revenue and capital value. Cornerstone projects are the further development of Sutton Harbour as a destination, creating the linkages to the City Centre, National Marine Aquarium, Barbican Leisure Village, historic Barbican Quarter and the Hoe.
Interested in reading more on our history? Sutton Harbour by Crispin Gill (Published 1997 by Devon Books, ISBN 0 86114 912 2)
|We pride ourselves on the quality and location of our property estate.||5 Gold Anchor Sutton Harbour Marina is located in the heart of the historic Sutton Harbour.||Found at the heart of Plymouth's Coastal Quarter in Millbay.||2011 has been another record year with landings of fish, crabs and scallops.||Sutton Harbour in Plymouth is already one if the UK’s most attractive waterfront destinations.|
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