A vision of Ryde High Street as a social hub and an attraction for tourists, including cruise ship passengers, was presented to the community by the Leader of Isle of Wight Council, Councillor Dave Stewart, last night.
It was part of an upbeat message by the council chief, who also maintained that he hadn’t personally agreed to any plans to build on the town’s seafront – an issue which had sparked bitter controversy.
Speaking at a packed meeting of the Ryde Society at the Royal Esplanade Hotel, Cllr Stewart was responding to calls for better facilities in Ryde town centre including more trees, and tables and chairs on the pavements during summer months.
He said the High Street needs to become a social destination to attract extra visitors.
“There are already plans for pedestrianisation of the high street and that sounds good. Ryde has got a better view than Newport because it’s on a hill.”
He added that the Island is now on the destination list for cruise ships.
Talking about fears of housing over development, Cllr Stewart pointed out that if the Island can show its ‘exceptional circumstances’ it may not need to hit the government’s house building target, but can aim to build homes to meet local needs. Among the exceptional circumstances are the facts that half of the island is in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the coastline makes some places unsuitable for building.
However, he insisted affordable housing is needed for young people and families living in temporary accommodation. There are 2,000 people awaiting homes on the council’s housing register.
Cllr Stewart also revealed that the Council is considering moving the Records Office from Newport to Westridge, Ryde and is also looking at developing the site, close to Tesco, into a Heritage Centre. He said:
“If we do nothing the National Archives could take all the records off the island, store them where they like and charge us for storing them”.
It was also revealed that £25million has been secured for improving Ryde Pier, and the Council has made a £10million bid for the Esplanade area. There is also a bid to win £28million to improve the entire Island Line network.
Resident Jonathan Dent said he didn’t think the council leader answered all the questions, but was glad at least that Cllr Stewart personally didn’t agree to building tower blocks on the sea front. Talking about over development Mr Dent added:
“There are 180 homes planned for green field sites near Bembridge. This is an area where roads are narrow and where there is little infrastructure like schools or public transport. How are people going to get around? Surely, new housing should be in areas of employment and industry.”
The meeting also heard from speakers talking about home grown food from The Modern Kitchen Garden, plans to install new designer flags on the Esplanade, arts and crafts at The Lounge in Monkton Village and Wightfibre broadband, said to be as fast as anything in Central London.