Have Islanders been taken for April fools?

By Chris Cornford Apr 19, 2021

The sum the Isle of Wight Council was paid by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in respect of a land transfer, has been disclosed by Dave Stewart, days after Freedom of Information requests were submitted to both bodies by the IW Observer.

The sum to be handed over to the council to permanently take over repairs and maintenance of former prison estate land and roads is £6.3 million, a figure it was previously claimed could not be disclosed on commercial grounds. However, the council leader released no information about the expected costs and liabilities the council has taken on as part of the deal, signed just before a deadline set by the MoJ was going to expire.
A report prepared for the council cabinet in March pointed out the poor state of the roads and that they could not be brought up to an adoptable standard without being completely rebuilt. The sum offered by the Ministry of Justice, the report said, would cover only repairs and maintenance. On April 1 a press release was issued by Island Conservatives claiming it was the ‘best possible deal that could be secured’, although Mr Stewart conceded the payment ‘would not resolve all the issues on the estate’. He also pointed out that the work to St Mary’s Roundabout had cost over £9 million.

Former council leader, Jonathan Bacon, standing in next month’s local government elections as a candidate for Our Island, was sceptical about the lack of information provided. He said: “As the original announcement, without the figures, was made on April the first, I hope Islanders haven’t been taken for fools.
“A figure does not mean a great deal without knowing about the terms and conditions attached. As things stand it looks as if this is £6.3million heading directly to Island Roads for the next 13 years that they remain in control of our road system. At least we got something but, as with all these situations where we are told money has come to the Island, we need to know more detail before we can work out if this is a good deal or whether the work that will need to be done is going to end up costing far more and draining resources from elsewhere.”
A former local councillor also opposed the decision to take over the upkeep of the former prison estates, which residents say have been neglected since the ’70s.
Jeff Manners, who represented Parkhurst on former Medina Borough Council for over 20 years, told Local Democracy reporter Louise Hill the MOJ was using the deal as ‘an opportunity to offload a huge liability’ to Island council tax payers. He said: “To bring those estates up to a reasonable standard is going to cost tens of millions of pounds to do the job properly.”
Mr Manners added: “If the Isle of Wight Council were to be stupid enough to take over this liability they would saddle taxpayers with a huge debt for many years to come.”
A spokesman for the Isle of Wight Council said appropriate due diligence was undertaken and the decision was made with ‘full expectation that the council’s budget would not be negatively impacted going forward.’

The council considered rejecting the MoJ offer but documents show the authority was worried about the impact this may have on its wishes to acquire the old Camp Hill prison for housing, although no evidence has been made public that it would have any effect on that decision.