A Summary of the 1998 Feasibility Study

The 1998 feasibility study was commissioned by Wight Training and Enterprise (WTE) and Linkland Ltd.  WTE was one of a number of Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) around the UK, which were established in the early 1990s to administer youth training and Modern Apprenticeships.  WTE also promoted training and business enterprise with local organisations.

Read the full study here.

The TECs were private companies (funded from public money) and reported their progress and results to their regional government office (WTE would have reported to the Government Office of the South East – GOSE).  These Government Offices were abolished in March 2011 as part of the newly elected coalition government’s spending review.

The report was created by KPMG and various specialist consultancies.  It was delivered to a limited audience, to which the Isle of Wight County Press (IWCP) were not invited.  They and other media organisations were entertained only after the initial briefing session.  This did not go down well with the IWCP at the time.

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It should also be noted that the IWCP benefits from many thousands of pounds per year in advertising revenues from Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel.  It is unlikely that the IWCP would ever take a positive view of a fixed link because this would endanger one of the largest sources of advertising income.  This makes it very easy for them to side against a fixed link.  Being excluded from the initial briefing was a perfect excuse for the IWCP to attempt to bury the report. They reported figures such as Tim Addison (then head of IW Council Tourism) going on record with only comments stating that WTE funds should not be used to assess the feasibility of a fixed link.  Very little analysis of the content was included in the coverage of the report.

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This report is still available in the IWC Record Office in Newport.  At the moment the legend ‘Not to be copied, quoted or referred to without the consent of WTE’ prevents its distribution.

What were the salient points that the IWCP was so busy not discussing after the briefing?  Without copying, quoting or referring to the report, let’s consider the content of the executive summary.

The report opens by highlighting that the IOW lags behind the rest of the SE England, highlighting the indicators of GDP, low incomes and high unemployment and poses the question whether a fixed link would resolve these problems, which can be attributed to our geography.

It reviews eight different routes, three from around the Cowes area to either side of Southampton Water, five crossing from a number of points around Ryde, crossing to the Portsmouth area.

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For each of those routes, three different crossing types are considered: bridge, bored tunnel and immersed tube tunnel.  All of the routes were assessed as being feasible, so the report composed revenue plans for all of them.

It notes that there is no consideration of a fixed link in transport strategies either for the Island, or Hampshire and that ferry traffic has been growing steadily at 1-2% ‘in recent years’ and that about half of the ferry traffic occurs in the four months of summer.

Also noted is that the current ferry traffic, even at the highest level is well within the capacity of a single lane carriageway.

There are two different toll strategies considered – a high toll strategy and a low toll strategy and the report (being funded by a development council) assumes that the profits from operating the toll would be re-invested in the regeneration of the Island.

The report also considers the necessary infrastructure improvements needed to support the traffic from a fixed link, both on the IOW and in Hampshire.  It briefly mentions the potential for a light railway as part of an integrated transport solution, but suggests that buses are most likely to be the best/easiest forum of public transport on the fixed link.

The issues that are covered off around the construction of a fixed link are discussed as not being insurmountable and include:

  • A bridge would need a record-breaking span to effectively cross the Solent whilst allowing marine traffic to continue unimpeded.
  • Because the underlying geology is sedimentary (crumbly and mostly not solid rock) it will be difficult to build stable piers for a bridge.  Conversely this would mean it’s not at all difficult to excavate a trench for a ‘cut and cover’ immersed tube tunnel, although extensive modelling would be needed for the coastal and environmental impacts of the construction of an immersed tube tunnel.
  • The bored tunnel option is noted as needing at least 20metres of depth above the tunnel crown.  It’s highlighted as the most expensive option, but also the least environmentally disruptive option.
  • The construction costs for an immersed tube tunnel between the eight different routes are quoted with a ±30% margin of error.  They range from £208-306m, depending on the route.

Environmental issues are considered in the report.  It is remarked that all of the routes pass over, or close to locations which are designated for their ecological, archaeological and landscape values.  The eastern routes are less sensitive, compared to the Western routes.  A bridge proposal is highlighted as having a very high visual impact, as well as causing environmental disruption.

Finances are considered in the report, although it notes that it’s a relatively simple model that is used and additional work is needed to gain more confidence in the figures.  Based on the simple model that is used, the report assesses that many of the options would be financeable and should not be a barrier to further investigations of the project.  Financially the immersed tube options are assessed to be the most attractive.

When considering the socio-economic issues, the report notes that the largest industry on the IOW is low value, high volume tourism, that a third of the manufacturing workforce is employed by two businesses, making defence-related products.  It also observes that given the IOW’s proximity to the prosperous SE of England, the poor economic performance of the area must be partly attributed to the poor accessibility via the ferries and that a fixed link would create new opportunities for inward investment and thus increased employment.

The 1998 report also significantly notes that without a fixed link there will be continued departure of skilled workers, causing economic stagnation and further departure from the expected indicators associated with the South East Region.  It suggests that the arrival of more retirees to the Island and the rising cost of this sector of the population will add to the stagnation and departure of economic indicators.

The effects on businesses on the Island are specified as being largely positive – a brighter future for the stronger businesses, but a shaking out of the weak businesses.  Longer term the overall impact of a fixed link are described as having an invigorating impact on the local economy.

The commentary on tourism is interesting, with a potential for the net creation of up to 1,200 jobs being countered with the potential for the net loss of 300 jobs.  Either of these impacts are highlighted as being associated with the end of the Island’s dependency on low value, high volume tourism.

Overall it is suggested that the cost of labour would rise, as well as accelerating the integration of training and education in the region, improving the overall education of Island’s residents.

The rise in labour costs is detailed as being coupled with a rise in house prices.  The residential properties near the landing of the link may have their values depressed, whilst  commercial properties near the landing may rise in value because of the convenience.

The final conclusions of the report are:

  • There would be a significant and positive effect on the IOW economy
  • A link is technically feasible
  • An immersed tube tunnel is the cheapest option
  • There would be certain infrastructure improvements needed if a link was built
  • Ecological and archaeological impacts are complex and needed further investigation
  • A link would be self-financing and could generate additional funds which could be used to provide further funds for investment into the Island

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