TAXPAYERS have been given a £17,000 bill from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after Royal Marines rescued cars trapped by a landslide, the Cornish Guardian has learnt.
This newspaper reported last month how the Armed Forces were called in to help remove dozens of cars which had been cut off in a cul-de-sac since Christmas, after a road collapsed in Calstock.
The military operation saw cars loaded onto landing craft and taken off, one by one.
However, the cost of the operation has now been put at £17,000 – £1,400 more than originally quoted.
But Dorothy Kirk, Cornwall councillor for Gunnislake and Calstock, said it was a good price. "If we take the cost of the 50 cars stranded and the hire cars that Cornwall Council paid for, it's still a bargain," she said. "I think it's still pretty good value for money as it saved Cornwall Council money in the long run because paying for hire cars isn't cheap.
"It was a wonderful thing for our little community."
On Christmas Day, motorists in Calstock were cut off after a retaining wall carrying the highway collapsed.
Residents were forced to use hired cars paid for by Cornwall Council to get around after their own vehicles were trapped.
Grateful villagers praised the Royal Navy for recovering their cars – which was the bright idea of a ten-year-old boy.
Charlie Southcott came up with the idea at a Christmas carol concert when he approached a senior Navy officer. At the time his mother, Vanessa Southcott, whose car was stranded, said: "It's really great that the marines have given up their time to help us out.
"The whole village is really grateful – it's been a real problem for us who commute to work and can't easily get to our cars.
"We don't see the marines in a quiet place like Calstock and it's been a big event – loads of people have come out to watch."
On the cost of the operation, a spokesman for Cornwall Council said: "The number of vehicles and full extent of the essential supplies to be moved was not known at the time the original estimate was provided by the MoD.
"In the event, 40 vehicles were transported by the marines, a number of which were owned by people visiting relatives or holidaying in the area at the time. In addition, supplies of heating oil and equipment required by a local builder were also transported into the area affected by the landslip.
"The operation was a great success and the local community will benefit from having access to their cars and supplies of heating oil during the period of the works which are not expected to be completed until some time in April.
"The final cost submitted by the MoD is in accordance with the standard procedures set out in military aid to civilian authorities protocol."