Over 100 local residents packed into Niton Village Hall on Saturday (28th July) to discuss the possibility of re-opening Undercliff Drive to all traffic.
The meeting was prompted by an event in Spring 2018 – 4 years on from the most recent landslip which resulted in the closure of the road for through motor traffic – where Council Leader and local councillor Dave Stewart presented the findings of a Bournemouth University Impact Study. It claimed the closure of the road costs the local economy £1.4 million a year, and thus justified Cllr Stewart supporting the cost of engineering work at over £1.5 million to fully reopen the road to all traffic.
However, an increasing number of residents in Niton and St Lawrence attended the lively and energetic meeting, to voice their concerns over the poor quality research which underpinned the Impact Study, and that there were many benefits to the area brought by experiencing reduced traffic over a number of years.
It became apparent throughout the meeting that there is no clear agreement to support Cllr Stewart’s plan to fully reopen the road. Many locals voiced concerns about the stability of engineering schemes and support for developing and promoting the Undercliff area as a destination for walkers, cyclists and tourism.
In contrast, others wished to see a return of the road to its previous state with capacity for heavy traffic, mentioning loss of tourist amenities, the economic effects on local businesses and the loss of public transport links.
Additional comments were made about the relationship between the road closure and that any long-term access solution must first attempt to tackle the complex issues surrounding drainage and geological slippage on the Undercliff, In particular, inadequate signage regarding the closure – particularly on the Niton end – was leading to driver confusion and delayed access for the emergency services.
There was unanimous agreement that improvements must be made immediately to signage in the area and to lower speed limits to protect cyclists and families. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the Council who are said to have delayed tackling these issues for too long.
The meeting listened to the full range of views and was chaired by Vix Lowthion from the IW Green Party.
“It is now very apparent that there is no local consensus in support of reopening Undercliff Drive to all traffic. Views were aired and discussions were heated.
“In the short term, the IW Council have to rectify the problems of speeding traffic and confused drivers. In the medium term, a full investigation is needed into the geological stresses faced in the area. But in the long term, along with the Military Road on the Back of the Wight, the future of Undercliff Drive must face the very real challenges brought by coastal erosion and consider the full range of options for protection, access and enjoyment – not just those dominated by vehicle traffic.”
A collection was made in support of the HIOW Wildlife Trust, with £49.08 to go towards their work in the area.