My yachting experiences haven’t been successful. On my first outing, my spectacles fell off my nose and we somehow managed to fish them out of the water with a boathook. The second time around I caught mackerel from Poole harbour, cooked it in a greasy frying pan and promptly was violently sick. I have stayed on dry land ever since.
I don’t see the attraction of rolling around in a claustrophobic stomach churner. And as for owning a boat and having to spend hours scraping barnacles off its bottom… well, I can understand why boat owners say that their two happiest moments are the day that they buy their boat – and the day they get rid of it.
To be fair, they do look quite pretty from a distance and I don’t mind strolling around looking at them, just so long as nobody expects me to step aboard. Michael Knight and Jason Schofield are hoping that others might feel the same way, because they are planning to turn Sutton Harbour into a major tourist attraction or, as they like to call it these days, a ‘destination’.
And there is quite an interesting story behind this development…
How Sutton Harbour was born out of disaster
Sutton Harbour is nowhere near Sutton, but is in fact an abbreviation of South Town, the ancient name for Plymouth. There is plenty of history in these parts, not least of course Plymouth Hoe, where Sir Francis Drake famously finished his game of bowls before polishing off the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Plymouth Hoe is about half way between Sutton Harbour and the East Quays. They’re both now owned by Sutton Harbour (SUH), an AIM-listed share that is attempting to drum up a bit of shareholder enthusiasm following a disastrous excursion into regional aviation.
Let’s get that out of the way first. Sutton Harbour shares ownership of Plymouth City Airport with the local council, and it used to run Air Southwest. Having been responsible for a £9.2m balance sheet writedown, this, I undiplomatically suggested to Sutton Harbour’s chairman, Michael Knight, had been a bit of a disaster.
Bristling slightly at this description, Knight emphasised that this was all in the past, and Schofield added that they are hoping to see the £4m value of the airport land enhanced by development. However, a protest group sees things differently, and wants the airport to re-open. The matter is in the hands of Plymouth City Council – and frankly this is the sort of contentious local issue that will probably run and run.
Can Sutton Harbour become a fixture on the tourist trail?
Meanwhile Knight and Schofield are getting on with their own development plans, and there is quite a lot to like here. First, we have the marina within Sutton Harbour with berths for 500 yachts. The charge here depends upon the length of the boat, and is roughly £400 per metre per year. So you will pay £4,000 per year just for the privilege of having your ten-metre pride and joy sit in Sutton Harbour. But that, I gather, is a bargain compared to prices in the Solent.
Sutton Harbour runs car parks – another licence to print money. It also owns the building that houses the fish market – yet another nice little earner. Last year, 5,400 tonnes of fish, worth £17m, was sold at the market, some of which heads straight up to London by train. Then there is the property overlooking the marina, most of which is owned by Sutton Harbour, and delivers a rent of over £1m.
But the master plan now is to put Sutton Harbour on the tourist trail. Assuming that the sun will one day shine again, and that Devon and Cornwall are not lost for good beneath flood waters, this could work. Walkways will be put in so that visitors can perambulate around the harbour, there will no doubt be countless cafés and tasteful retail outlets, and you will be able to extend your gentle stroll around Plymouth Hoe and to the East Quays.
This is all part of Millbay Docks, built in the 1840s by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and now to be turned into another marina. It all sounds quite pleasant and over time the shares which, unusually, sell at a large discount to the 42p net asset value, might make patient shareholders some money. I just wish I could get a bit more excited about Sutton Harbour. Maybe it takes a saltier sea dog to see the attraction.