Wight Life

Grief Road

By Richard Nettell


A PERSUADER hidden in the telly has been claiming that only Findus take the trouble to slice their plaice in half.

Someone must get himself straight.

The other day champagne was drunk in council offices of our south-east coast to celebrate a decision on the latest way of carving up this Island.

The tourist trade blew a muted bugle call. Radio Solent found d dissentient voice; Isle of Wight, indivisible!

Bold words - it not exactly William Tells. At least they had more mettle than the seven samurai of the county council, who are sounding notes of defeat before another battle begins.

Closure for the last railway, they are reported to be saying, was on the cards. And at once they lost heart. They plan further futile mopping at the tide of motor transport which the Beeching blunder had let into the Island.

It is common belief among the large majority of clear-thinking people that a recent call for planning is the syndrome of political jitters. HM Stationery Office has come across with Putting People First at 16p. Imagine that! Local authorities are recommended to adopt overall planning to roads.

So, along lines self-consciously angled towards support from get-away people, the council discuss the Brading relief road.

Our council is not without a stiffening of honourable-and-gallants. Perhaps business men We apt to think of the whiskered poet at Farringford as having cast hiscloakon Batman. BLit to those who leave the Queen's service to take public office, Tennyson has always meant The 'Revenge'.

At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville fought off the dogs of Seville. You know how his orders came over crossed wires; one was contradicting the other. First it was 'Fight on! Fight on!' and then, 'Sink me the ship, Master Gunner - sink her, split her in twain!'

All rather confusing for builders of British tradition — keeping a blind eye to the telescope and demonstrating how there is nothing up one's sleeve.

Undoubtedly there are other problems. Traffic through High Street is threatening to increase beyond its present 18,000 vehicles of a summer day. Panic may call for the same dribs and drabs of treatment that have constipated main roads for the last ten years. Let's have another gang-bang at the countryside. Let's gouge a relief road through the old rail track.

From closed government at high levels down to consultation after legislation, secret-cave decisions behind quasilegal, sub judice screens sound like log-rolling. One imagines the speculators coming up-wind, with the smell of development between Rowborough Lane and the North Marsh — where Sir William Oglander would go fowling at dusk.

The view across Brading Haven to the windmill is the first and last of the scenery offered to passengers going to and from the sandy coast. It is lost from the road: a by-pass would destroy it irrevocably.

Unless councillors and the tourist board take time off from presenting themselves and their thing favourably to the plebby people — unless they take walkabouts within the Island (and do that soon-, will there be a square mile worth touring? A day may come when some Commonwealth immigrant, or a visitor from the States, searching for great-grandpappy's birthplace, may invoke the Trades Descriptions Act against the board, against guide writers and the picture postcard industry.

And then....? Publicity will talk.

Just how many thousands are paid into booking offices on the accounting side of the Solent is a well-kept secret. So too, it seems, is any breakdown of the supporting subsidy —paid in part by ourselves and the million and more who, by last year's reckoning, came into the Island. £240,000! About £66 daily for underpinning each mile of the second-hand track?

Never in the history of these branch lines have we seen new stock. Correction — never, until train crews went Continental and appeared uniformed like bathchair attendants.

The pensioned generation remember rolling-stock of the Ryde to Shanklin line in useful but uncomfortable service on London Underground Visitors regard the line as a transport museum; of course, with museum charges. Their younger children see it as the laugh of Southern Region — the 'Wibbly-wobbly Train.'

At the closures, British Rail offered their violated rail-bed to, adjacent farms. They found few, if any buyers; until one section was needed by the local authority. But this was not for a tramway through the Newchurch valley, the loveliest of the Island. Nor to relieve villages,isolated under the extortion of the promised alternative service and driven to growing cars in each garden and parking more on the green.

This purchase is to bury a sewer, piping its load into the bay.

After the last sleeper had been prised from ballast; and the last coach, built around 1890, was burned in Newport yard, the dubious reasons for closing a non-paying line were forgotten. Two-men cabs, guards and luggage vans, manual signalling, booking offices and even manned crossings are of the past. Along with so much railway law and regulations, like the man with the red flag, they were seen to be expendable.

Most of us believe the slip of the tongue that reported on the 'Brading Grief Road' sounded uncomfortably prophetic. For, as Dr Johnson should have said had it occurred to him, a man can squander his life in driving fast in a good car with a pretty woman. Last year 15 accidental deaths were on the roads; too many ended lives of between 15 and 44 years.

A Court has valued one girl's sight at no less than £75,000. What price does the motorway lobby put on young lives that will inevitably be lost along a new by-pass?

On the mainland, councils, travellers and conservationists are having some success through snapping at the heel of environment and transport industries. Totnes to Buckfast is already a viable fun line, thinking of new miles; another takes pilgrims through Haworth and Bronze country. The Cambrian coast is finding friends to fight for its life. Between Loughborough and Leicester, rail wagons earned freightage by carrying motorway material — here, hauliers pounded a residential road to truck ballast into Sandown station.

But our councillors cry, Sink me the ship! rather than, Fight on!

Is the Isle of Wight so poor that we cannot buy obsolete rolling stock at scrap prices? Nor lease rundown track at a peppercorn rent, so that we might keep the line and develop it towards full service? Or are we so rich that we can afford to do without?