Last Friday, following the Isle of Wight council’s decision to remove the new floating bridge from service, Paul Topping at Isle of Wight Radio managed to grab a ten minute interview with Cllr Ian Ward, the Cabinet member for Transport.
The decision to suspend the floating bridge had a mixed response from Islanders, but for those who rely on the bridge to cross the Medina for work, school or shopping, the greatly reduced foot passenger service being provided caused outrage (no service between 10am-1pm weekdays or after 7pm Mon-Thur, as well as no service between 10am-5pm Sat/Sun).
Ward: Ebb tide “only just come to light”
Cllr Ward explained the reason for taking the bridge out of service was due to the “the water height above the chains at ebb tide”.
He claims the ebb tide issue only came to light last week – this is despite a floating bridge being in operation at the site for 158 years. The Cowes Harbour Commission lodged a formal complaint last month.
Should passengers pay?
Given the reduced service, Paul asks whether Cllr Ward thought foot passengers should pay. The Cabinet member replied,
“My personal opinion is that it probably would be unfair, but I will have to check that.”
One week later and the Isle of Wight Council (IWC) are still charging foot passengers to use the reduced launch service.
When suggested by Paul that the floating bridge had been introduced into service with a fanfare, but then became an embarrassment for the Island, making the Island look totally incompetent, Cllr Ward replied,
“That might be your interpretation.”
The issues have been highlighted in the local, regional and national press.
Reduced passenger service
Paul went on to raise the concerns of those working on shift patterns, parents wanting to collect children from school and others, who will be affected by the reduced passenger launch service.
When asked why the IWC weren’t providing the same service with the Jenny Boat they had before, Cllr Ward – the Cabinet member for transport – replied,
“I can’t answer that question, but I will find out and let you know Paul, OK?”
Cllr Ward excuses his lack of knowledge on the fact that “he doesn’t run the daily operation”.
Residents paying for someone else’s mistake?
Paul suggested the residents of East and West Cowes were being punished for somebody else’s mistake.
Cllr Ward said,
“We are trying to do the best we can, we literally can’t do more than that.”
He went on to claim that finances, “and that”, was not their first consideration. Leader of the IWC, Cllr Dave Stewart, had previously stated when announcing the reduced passenger service, “I also need to look to the council’s financial position”.
Ward: Floating Bridge “effectively” handed back
In the interview, Cllr Ward explained the “crew and the staff have been working hard to solve the problems” with the manufacturers, “there have been snagging works, all sorts of stuff”.
He went on to explain,
“We’ve got to the point now where we have two problems that are affecting the consistency of the service and nobody seems to want to take responsibility. From the agencies they are are all sort of pointing the finger at each other.”
Cllr Ward added that the council had “effectively” handed the floating bridge back. He doesn’t say whether that’s to the designer or the manufacturer, but once “they” have sorted the problems out, the IWC will take it back.
Ward: “Whoever is responsible is not the issue at the moment”
Paul suggested that someone had messed up on an epic scale, to which Cllr Ward appeared to try and shift the blame onto the previous Island Independent administration.
When he was checked on that by Paul – who pointed out that it was not councillors who were involved in drawing up the plans – Cllr Ward quickly makes the point that “whoever is responsible is not the issue at the moment”.
Ignorant of the facts
When challenged as not knowing very much about the situation, Cllr Ward excuses himself by saying that Cabinet members deal with policy, but that officers have been briefing him on what is happening on a daily basis, suggesting this has only happened in the last couple of days.
Cllr Ward didn’t reference the four+ months wait for the new service at the beginning of the year, and the three+ months of on-off service since May.
To listen the interview in full, head over to the Isle of Wight Radio Website and scroll down the page to see the audio player.
Image: © With kind permission of Allan Marsh