Sutton Harbour is the birthplace of the city of Plymouth, with centuries of maritime history creating the historic centrepiece of Britain’s Ocean City.

But Sutton Harbour is also fast evolving into one of the most spectacular waterfront destinations in the UK, and Sutton Harbour Group plc has been at the forefront of that transformation for more than a century and a half.

The company began life in 1847 as the Sutton Harbour Improvement Company, before later being renamed as the Sutton Harbour Company (SHC).

The SHC remains today as a wholly owned subsidiary of the group with responsibility as the statutory harbour company to manage harbour activities.

Sutton Harbour was once a cargo port, as well as a major fishing port, and evidence of the harbour’s history can be found around the waterfront, where dockside railway tracks and cranes remain along the route of the Harbour Heritage Trail walking tour.

The last commercial ship left Sutton Harbour in 1988 and the Company delivered a change of direction in 1993 by managing the installation of lock gates to create a safe, secure harbour with a useable depth of water.

The idea of building a lock in Sutton Harbour had first been mooted in 1786, and acclaimed engineer Brunel even drew up plans for one in 1845, but it only came to fruition in the 1990s thanks to Sutton Harbour Group plc working closely with agencies including the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency).

The lock gates enabled the harbour’s marina to expand and offer sheltered and secure berthing. Tourism potential for the harbourside was boosted as a result of the harbour no longer drying out at low tide.

A pedestrian bridge was installed over the lock gates, enabling access from the Barbican side to the eastern side (Coxside) of the harbour, where the National Marine Aquarium is now based.

The next major development was the relocation of the city’s fish market from an unfit building alongside the Barbican to the eastern side of the harbour, where a custom-built fisheries complex was built by Sutton Harbour Group plc and opened in 1995 as Plymouth Fisheries, transforming the region’s fishing facilities.

Sutton Harbour Group plc has continued working to transform what was once a decaying port into a vibrant waterfront district, earning a Secretary of State award in 1996 for the Best Urban Regeneration Project.

Between 1996 and 2008, the company delivered seven major regeneration schemes, including developing three landmark waterfront apartment buildings, three major office buildings, and an affordable housing development.

Regeneration projects carried out further afield include developing a building in Portland for the Royal Yachting Association, and creating an affordable housing scheme at Exeter Quays.

In 2014, Sutton Harbour Group plc launched its Vision for the next regeneration phase of the harbour. In 2018, following a change in major ownership of the company, planning consent for a newly designed development at Harbour Arch Quay and Sugar Quay, both located at Sutton Harbour, together with an extension to the Harbour car park were gained and consent for the proposed boardwalk development at Vauxhall Quay was granted.

In 2000, the company acquired Plymouth City Airport Ltd and a long lease of the city’s airport site as part of a strategy to increase trading activity. The airport closed in 2011 after suffering unsustainable losses, and the company is developing a masterplan to show alternative uses for the 113 acre airport site to maximise its value.

Interested in reading more about the history of the area?

Sutton Harbour by Crispin Gill (Published 1997 by Devon Books, ISBN 0 86114 912 2)