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Fixed Link

I believe the best answer to improve the connections between the Island and the mainland is to improve the ferry service and not have a fixed link.

I am not dogmatically anti-fixed link it is just as engineer I tend to look at practical issues first. On this subject I see a number that mean a fixed link will not happen soon and it may not even improve connectivity. The issues I see are:-

  • The fixed link question arises every few years on the Island, but never on the mainland. Therein lies the practical problem, which local mainland authority wishes to have the infrastructure for a fixed link, on current local plans none of them.

  • The next plan period is from now until 2030 to 2036 depending on the authority. All local authorities in the area are currently finishing their local plans. However, none of them includes the necessary infrastructure for link, including the IW Council.

  • There is currently no firm proposal on what type of link, where it should run to and from. Whereas there are points it could link to the Island road network, there is no obvious point to connect to the Island's short rail network. There is no clear route on the mainland side.

  • There is no real possibly of government money for such a project given the current state of the country's finances. Any private sector involvement would a see a high cost toll link given the build cost of such a link. For example see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Øresund_Bridge a similar length link. This bridge/tunnel link was built because it joins two major cities, countries and land masses. The Isle of Wight link would be similar in size but would have nowhere near the demand.

  • The effect on the ferry services need to be thought of too. For example a link across to the Lee-on-Solent could affect car ferry, catamaran and hovercraft services to the extent that they become non-viable. This could result in links to Portsmouth either reducing or been removed.

  • The shape and geographical location of the Island means there are three obvious points for a crossing, i.e. either end and from the middle. Multiple crossing points are better served using ferries.

  • The Isle of Skye is often cited as a similar case to the Isle of Wight, however it is not. Skye had one ferry short crossing and has a road network that fans out from that crossing point. Then after the bridge was complete the ferry was stopped.

All of these factors mean that even if the decision was taken today it will be years before anything really happens and the Island economy cannot wait that long. Plus a possible negative effect on the ferry offering and the high cost could well mean a lot of effort and expense with little gain.

Next steps: On a Fixed link

All that said I also believe that a proper feasibility study should be done into determine the best three options for a fixed link. So that everyone including myself can make an informed decision.

There is currently a larger body of public opinion in favour than I have known since I moved to the Island aged 7 in 1970. So if, following the feasibility study, that body of opinion still exists then the council should have a fixed link referendum. Then once the view of the people has been expressed everyone should work together to come up with a solid detail plan, including the private sector financing model, to make it happen.

Next steps: On improving mainland connection - A Fresh Approach

The basic economic fact is that it is the volume of traffic attracted across the Solent that drives the price and frequency of ferry sailings or the cost and type fixed link. So to improve the connection with the mainland I believe that a fresh approach is required, one that concentrates on the issue of improving the attractiveness of the Island to tourists and business alike and combines that with being a critically constructive friend of the ferry companies and pointing out ways in which to improve the quality of their service offering. I believe this approach would have a real chance of succeeding whereas the approaches of the past have not.

The real question is, how to make the Island more attractive?

I have also spoken to both the CEOs at Red Funnel and Wightlink they both say the same thing. That the product they are selling is not ferry crossings but the Isle of Wight as a place to go. They both struggle to make money in the Winter and ​need the Summer to generate the profits that keep the businesses viable.​

I believe need to develop a tourism trade that goes throughout the whole year, in the winter we lose a third of the ferrying crossing, due to a lack of winter attractions.

Hotels that have invested in indoor pools/spa/sauna facilities appear to be able to be open during the whole year, and from my Councillor experience I know that the shortly to open 4-star Hilton Hotel at the Ageas Bowl that a large spa & sauna is the main thing to have. As MP I would look to try and attract high quality international hotel chains to the Isle of Wight and talk the Islands businesses to get them to think about a tourist offering that works in the wet. Other ideas are degree level higher education college, software design/creative design hub, marine engineering started by building the next two Red Jet boats etc.

The MPs do not have a large pot of cash with which to do things, but MPs do have a badge of office that enables them to open doors and talk to people to get them to invest. There are numerous ideas that many people have but no one to co-ordinate to help drive this business forward. This is something I believe a more pro-active person as MP could do.

Bottom line:

Even when a road is free and empty you still need a reason to use it, an attraction at the other end. So let's concentrate our efforts in making the Isle of Wight the best attraction we can with high educational standards, excellent internet and communication links, great public transport around the Island, excellent quality of housing stock, good quality roads etc. Let's make the Isle of Wight the place to be 365 days a year. Then connections between the Island and the mainland will improve because there is a reason to improve them.