The Isle of Wight prides itself on many things. It’s England’s largest island. It has a long history of Morris dancing. According to the UK Pagan Council, it’s known in some circles as the Isle of Witches, “due to the high proportions of pagan folk”. Even its roads are special: as a sign proclaims outside the ferry port, “Island roads are different. Please drive carefully.”
All this may go some way towards explaining why the island is so divided on what, to the untrained eye, looks like an excellent idea: a tunnel and monorail system for an island whose major mode of transport is currently buses, whose only links to the mainland are ferries, and whose only airfield is restricted to private jets.
The plan, proposed by two local businessmen and titled “A fixed link for a better community”, outlines plans for an under-sea tunnel between the island and the mainland, and a monorail network between the island’s five major settlements.
Andrew Turner, the island’s MP, has said that if there’s sufficient interest in the proposals, a referendum could be held in early 2015. If the voters choose Yes, the proposals could take home a chunk of a £6bn fund promised to regions in July to improve infrastructure and boost local economies.
The proposed Solent Tunnel would be a road tunnel, with a separate lane for emergency services and potential for fuel and telecommunications pipes.
But on a Facebook group set up to gauge the reaction to the proposed link (it currently has around 4,500 members), many have complained that better access would raise crime and traffic and destroy the island’s culture. Similar criticisms were raised around previous attempts to better link the island to the mainland, most recently in 2008.
As one islander pointed out, however:
We already have a link. If you want a true ‘”island” then you have no ferry service at all.
Others said the new link would be beneficial for those requiring medical treatment on the mainland, and could bring more business and tourism to the island. There are currently two e-petitions filed to the Department of Transport – one for the link (about 3,300 signatures at time of writing) and one against (about 1,202).
The monorail proposal has prompted far less controversy, presumably because it won’t bring nasty mainlanders with it. It could, however, reduce the traffic impact of the new tunnel, since visitors could travel around by monorail rather than road.
The proposed route would run in a U-shape from Cowes to Ryde, partly replacing the existing line down the island’s eastern side, and partly tracing a historic, disused route between Cowes and Sandown:
It remains to be seen whether a referendum would cover both the tunnel and monorail proposals. We like the idea of both, but then we’re biased: monorails are cool, and we can’t shake the memory of a horribly unpleasant post-festival ferry from Cowes to Southampton. Bring on the tunnel.
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