Ventnor councillor slams Undercliff Drive re-opening

As the Undercliff saga continues, Ventnor West Councillor, Gary Peace, has slammed IW Council proposals to re-open the A3055 Undercliff Drive.

The coastal road that runs between Niton and St Lawrence was closed following a major landslip in February 2014. In 2016, access was restored for residents, as well as through-access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The Council have since proposed working with geotechnical consultants to design a scheme to re-open the road to vehicles. A six-week public consultation survey was held, and concluded on July 26.

The cost of reinstating the road is currently estimated at between £1 million and £2 million, dependent on whether a one or two-way traffic light system will be put in place, as well as restrictions for vehicles above a certain weight. The work is also subject to a £200,000 topographical survey investigation into the stability of the road and an environmental impact assessment.

The Council acknowledged that ground movement will continue in the future, and any investment in the area will need to take this into account. However, Cllr. Peace believes the money could be better spent elsewhere, and that the economic case for re-opening the road has not been made convincingly.

He said: “I haven’t got a problem spending the money provided it’s going to last. I’d far rather improve the [Whitwell] road at the top and spend £10 million doing that. At least that way you’ve got a road that’s going to last 40 to 50 years, not spend £3 million on the Undercliff Drive, which in 10 years might not be there again.

“This comes at a time when quite frankly we cut £4.5 million from the budget last year and £4.5 million the year before. We’ve cut adult social care, we’ve cut education, we changed bin collections and yet we are going to spend £3 million on a road that’s not going to last.
“We’ve just been declared a biosphere, yet now the Council Leader, Cllr Dave Stewart puts forward plans which could potentially destroy a SSSI protected site. I’m pretty sure that not all the Cabinet were even aware of the plans before they were made public and the consultation was started.”

The Undercliff is a legally protected Site of Special Scientific Interest, shown to contain rare natural resources. In 2017, IW Council commissioned Bournemouth University to assess the effect of the road closure on local businesses. The study estimated the total cost of the road closure on businesses and the public to be £1.45 million per annum and £36.1 million over 30 years.

However, the results of the study need to be treated with caution, as businesses strongly impacted by the road closure were more likely to complete and return the survey.
IW Council Leader, Cllr Dave Stewart spoke in support of reinstating the road. He said: “This is the number one priority for the local parish council.

“The lack of through traffic for four years now has had a significant impact on the local economy. We have houses and businesses spread along the length of the Undercliff, but the economic damage of the closure has spread well beyond these areas, with businesses as far away as the West Wight also noticing a drop-in trade and tourism following the closure.”

In response to Cllr. Peace’s comments, he said: “He’s right, there’s no guarantee it’s going to work, but equally there’s no guarantee it’s going to slip away, depending on how we do it and that might in part be in how we approach the process.”