Department of Transport says ‘No Go’ to funding beloved Mili Road

The Isle of Wight Council has hit a road-block in the quest to save the Military Road from coastal erosion.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has made it “crystal clear” that it will not fund efforts to save the iconic road, according to the leader of the IW Council. Cllr Phil Jordan told the IW Observer that, although the National Trust are potentially willing to gift land to re-route the road, the DfT is firm that it will not fund the work.

Speaking about the council’s plans, Cllr Jordan said: “We are getting a ballpark cost for a business case of between £250,000 and £350,000.

“We continue to speak to landowners, but it appears a funding bid to the DfT would be unsuccessful; they have made it crystal clear that the road does not meet their criteria for funding. Roads and highways are usually funded by the DfT. I cannot say if other government departments might have funding opportunities, but I will be speaking with them at an early opportunity.

Cllr Jordan added that it is estimated that re-routing the Military Road would cost at least £20 million. He added: “Currently we continue to work towards a solution, but are mindful that the council cannot fund the build of a new road and we would need total and direct funding from the government.”

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The news comes after a senior council officer warned this week that the road could disappear within two years. Colin Rowlands, the council’s director of community services, told a council committee this week: “It would be anything between two and ten years before the Military Road is washed away by the sea. Regardless of any intervention we try to engineer, that is like-ly to happen.

“Any decision is not just based on the need to protect the natural environment and economic and social factors, but also on the reality the coast is eroding at such a rate you would not be able to engineer yourself out of that situation.”

The Military Road is an important tourist asset, as well as a key transport route, but that alone is unlikely to save it. The circumstances are eerily similar to those of the B3191 in Somerset, closed last January after geo-technical surveys raised fears about coastal erosion. It was an important scenic route for holiday-makers, and regularly used for diversions when the A39 was closed or congested. Described by local MP, Ian Liddle-Grainger, as a “vital transport link” and with the closure described as “a devastating blow” to the nearby town of Watchet, six schemes were proposed to re-open it, ranging in cost from £14.5 to £71.7 million. The preferred option, to re-route it inland, was estimated at £30 million. Local politicians, including the MP, pledged to do everything possible to save the route. However, the spirited campaign came to an end this week, when the permanent closure of the road was announced.

B3191 near Watchett pic: Geckoella

The latest campaign to save the Military Road, including a Facebook ‘Save the Military Road IOW’ page, which quickly amassed more than 3,000 followers, came after new fissures appeared next to the road as it crosses Afton Down. That, according the the council, is not thought to be the most vulnerable stretch; instead the area between Brook and Compton Farm is of the most concern – at places the road is just yards from the cliff edge.

Some campaigners are pinning their hopes on the Military Road being an A road, a major route that links regional towns or cities, but there are no funds or plans to open another part of the same road, Undercliff Drive, closed since February 2014.

It is unclear whether another hope for campaigners, that the government will stump up the money in an election year, is likely to have any traction, but any potential decision may be adversely affected by the recent landslip, one of the largest in Europe, forcing the closure of Leeson Road in Bonchurch.

It appears Cllr Chris Jarman’s words, reported two week’s ago in the IW Observer, “Enjoy the Military Road while it is still there,” may, sadly, prove wise advice.