Wight Life

This Age Of Destruction

By J D Whitehead

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED what is happening to the Isle of Wight?

You should. It is alarming.

Of course, you may not feel the intense sense of heritage that is inborn in those who come of Island families. I am unaware of the present percentage of 'Overners' now permanently resident on the Island but I fancy it must be quite a clear majority, and doubtless increasing year by year. Possibly the Island is, to you, just a place in which to live, though the fact that you are reading these pages seems proof that you have some regard for the place — indeed, I think it must show that you have come to love it and would be sad to see it destroyed, even if you yourself survived that destruction.

I was born on the Island of a family who had lived in Ventnor since it was no more than a cluster of fishermen's cottages and two farms. I have a son who, though the necessity of battering an existence out of modern life has forced him to follow employment on the mainland, has as deep a love of the Island as I have.

What shall we be able to offer his son? At the present rate of destruction very little that will be even recognisable. We have two bodies who represent Island Conservation. What are they doing? Sitting back happily raking in our annual fees no doubt. One certainly hears nothing of them and there is a total lack of any visible evidence of their existence. Of course, if the majority of residents are not nowadays people with deep Island roots, it is easy for them to agree that what the place needs is expansion, modernisation and development; they lose sight of the beauty and peace of an environment that not even they were lucky enough to know at its best.

Now, please don't misunderstand me.

That old folk's tale about Overners being outcasts until the third or fourth generation of residence is no longer true. Indeed it never was! And I am not prejudiced against anyone from anywhere, whatever their colour, creed or credentials, provided that they love the Isle of Wight and treat it with pride and respect. More — I find great pleasure in seeing them enjoy the Island whether they are new residents or passing holiday makers.

A hundred and fifty years ago Islanders lived by sheep farming and smuggling and a tourist was something to travel a dozen miles to stare at in wonderment. In these days, tourists in their thousands are the commonest sight on the Island and they now stare with pleasure at sheep which have become so few and far-between. The fact is that this holiday trade has become big business. At some £30m a year, it is the biggest source of income for the largest number of people on the Island.

By all means, let it boom! The visitors are welcome to our Island at all times. There are plenty who come again and again. I have even known one family which came fourteen years running until, finally, Ma and Pa retired here for good. Yes, do let it boom. But don't, please, don't try and increase the boom by re-designing the Island itself. All that will be achieved is its complete destruction, and the eventual deterioration of tourism itself.

Why do the majority of holiday- makers enjoy their visit? Surely, it is because they are able to get away, for a brief spell, from the year long rat-race in the over-populated, over-polluted steel and concrete jungles of the mainland.

They come here, not because it is cheaper, not because it is easier to get to, not because of any gay life we offer. They come here to relax in peace, and to relish the beauty of it. They come to enjoy the unspoilt, narrow, winding country lanes, the genuinely 'old world' villages, the rolling downs, the clean air — to enjoy everything that is the Isle of Wight. Alter that enough and you will remove their only reason for coming. Yet our Island 'authorities' want to build more roads, widen and straighten lanes, plan round-abouts and flyovers. They wapt to erect blocks of flats in our old villages, and pepper our countryside with new dwellings. They cry out for bigger and better ferries to carry more and bigger coaches, lorries and cars ... and more people — more and more and more!

They must stop and think!

Can they not realise that, if they want more tourism, they will not get it by trying to make the Isle of Wight into a cheap imitation of Coney Island? The whole basic concept is so wrong it is ludicrous.

Let us look at one isolated futility on the subject of road planning. Our 'authority' appears to be most anxious to disburse a sum which has (rightly or wrongly) been quoted at Elm upon the creation of a 'relief' road for Shanklin Old Village. They say the Old Village is a bottle-neck. They say it can take no more 'peak' traffic. They say that a relief road could be constructed from the foot of Cowlease to Westfield Road, thence to link into Victoria Avenue by way of a round-about. They say it would only mean demolishing one or two houses (in prime condition) and a few dozen of the trees which give Victoria Avenue its unique character. No doubt (though they don't say so) they will make amends by offering a bonus of select neon signs, fluorescent lights, sweeping curbs and elegantly painted instructions over an appropriately vast area of road surface.

Now believe it or not, I am not knocking the planning authority. In fact, they do a very fair job and, in this case, their arguments are right — the Old Village is a bottle-neck and it can't take much more peak traffic. It is the basic concept that is so hopelessly wrong. Someone, somewhere, has got his thinking twisted. That relief road will not solve the problem. Because the cause of the bottle-neck is not the existence of the Old Village but the existence of traffic lights a hundred yards beyond it. There used never to be trouble in the Old Village before those lights were erected. And the proposed relief road will still lead all the traffic to the same lights but by a different route. Is it worth a million quid to move the difficulty from one spot to another?

There are a number of other considerations.

Victoria Avenue is a beautiful road. It is a main artery out of Shanklin to the west and already carries heavy traffic in the height of summer. Before you double that traffic flow and gut the beauty of it in the process, you want to be very certain that you have achieved some lasting benefit.

The Old Village is a major tourist attraction. People drive through it in summer just to look. They will still want to look even with a relief road in full operation. If they cannot drive through, they will want to park and become Old-Village-pedestrians. The eating and drinking houses of the Old Village are some of the most well patronised of the entire Island in the summer. Again, this means parking. The existing car parks are already inadequate. Do we have to knock down more houses to make more car parks — for the three tourist-saturated months of the year?

The answer to all this is to reduce traffic — not just through the Old Village but throughout the Island. It has been stated more than once in our local press that the estimated expenditure on roadworks throughout the Island is expected to reach £1,100,000 a year for the next ten years. Divide that by the adult population of the Island and you will see the amount which you are expected to find.

Let's stop this farce. If the 'authorities' must spend our money, let them seek more worthy objectives. Keep existing roads in fair repair by all means, but let us have no new ones, or wider ones, or even straighter ones.

The traffic problem has certainly got to be dealt with, but not by trying to rebuild the Island. Let us revitalise the rail system which gave us such invaluable service for so many years (and, incidentally, paid dividends without ever suffering a strike) under Island management. Let the railways carry the goods (as was intended 150 years ago) and let us bar completely all those big commercial vehicles from ever landing on the Island at all.

Let us really open up our overgrown and half-forgotten footpaths and bridleways again and make the Island the foremost pony trekking centre in the country. Not only would it reduce the mad race of motor traffic circuiting our roads, it would also give visitors a very real attraction together with a chance to see the true Island of which they now miss so much.

Let us re-open the sight-seeing service of horse-drawn coaches which was killed by the motor. What a delightful attraction that would be.

Whatever we do, let us not destroy our Island at the rate of £1,100,000 a year in the vain attempt to cater for even more cars.