Floating Bridge: ‘This isn’t ‘teething trouble’, it’s an unmitigated disaster’

A list of what’s wrong with the Floating Bridge, described as ‘Multiple catastrophic bridge problems identified that cannot be rectified, or be fixed without penalty’ was presented to East Cowes town council last night. OnTheWight has the details.

floating bridge

Angela Booth, owner of Valu-4-U, shares this latest with OnTheWight about the Cowes floating bridge. Ed

At last night’s East Cowes Town Council Meeting, East Cowes residents and businesses issued a paper to the Town Council through Public Questions, outlining numerous permanent problems beyond the prows and electrical system that cannot be fixed or to resolve them would mean that the bridge will slow down to a crawl.

This isn’t ‘teething trouble’; this is an unmitigated disaster. We were promised an Efficient, Larger (including pedestrians), Reliable, Faster and Customer-friendly (including pedestrians), and those criteria have failed to be met, and instead of a bespoke bridge, we got a wonky banger that is slower, more dangerous and completely unfit for purpose.

We refuse a floating bridge that does not meet these needs and those promises.

Council officers and councillors were warned
Not only we and the East Cowes Town Council were not consulted properly, but also quite a few members of the public went out of their way to warn Council officers and Councillors of these potential problems – many of which were common sense that did not require advanced engineering skills – and now those problems that were ignored by the IW Council, including Health & Safety problems, have come home to roost.

We are angry, and this bridge is unacceptable. As usual, the Council will try to attach plasters and then ‘normalise’ this to preserve their damaged reputation, but we will not allow it.

Many other problems
Beyond the obvious issues experienced so far with the prows and the electrical system, there are many problems that appear that they cannot be resolved due to the design of the bridge or without severely slowing down the bridge, including:

  • Dangerous queuing on the East Cowes north pavement (warned to the Council in 2010, 2012, 2014 and onward), including too many people in too little space, “Death Corner” traffic, difficulty crossing to Ferry Road for abled and disabled pedestrians, and no room for lorries to turn down Castle Street coming out of GKN or generally down Ferry Road
  • Removal of the slipways’ flood barriers which will cause more regular flooding in Cowes and East Cowes and a rise in flood insurance for local businesses and residents
  • One inside pedestrians’ hold – reduced sheltered pedestrian capacity with limited disabled access
  • Crossings or river traffic may have to stop more and/or for longer at low tides due to bridge length
  • Potentially more changes to infrastructure, particularly the East Cowes slipway and pavements on the north side, causing other delays and costs
  • Cold, exposed queuing on the north side of East Cowes pavements
  • Slowed crossings with separate (non-simultaneous) offloading of pedestrians and of vehicles, especially as older and disabled people feel rushed to get on to and off of the floating bridge
  • The “double decker bus” effect: slow pedestrian exiting due to one exit and two levels of pedestrians trying to exit through one door , and since there is only one pedestrian exit now.
  • Any slowing of the bridge will cause attrition of pedestrians and vehicles and become a barrier to island road traffic and pedestrians (and direct impact on traffic in Newport)

Even if they slow down the crossings to a crawl, this will not fix problems such as, for example, the fact that the bridge has only one sheltered pedestrian hold. The only way to mitigate problems with the pedestrian walkways is to offload pedestrians separate from cars, and let them walk towards the south side of the slipway and up, but this will slow down the bridge, and we were promised simultaneous offloading (as one can see in the design of the prow now), which they could have done if they had had two holds and weren’t so obsessed with trying to charge pedestrians.

Negative impacts for charging pedestrians
The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership awarded the Isle of Wight a grant to purchase the floating bridge. However, according to statements made by IW Councillors at the time as well as discussions around the need for a floating bridge consultation, allegedly the IW Council introduced the charges to demonstrate to the Solent LEP that they raise much more money and would ring-fence all floating bridge profits.

It seems that the IW Council may not have explained the potential negative impacts for charging pedestrians at the time, or possibly since, the losses to their pensioner bus passes and other problems with charging.

Fares not being ring-fenced?
Allegedly, according to the last few IW Council budgets, even the vehicle fares have not been ringfenced to secure the future of a future floating bridge, as we were led to believe was being ‘required” by the LEP.

Is the Solent LEP aware of this? We will be writing letters to the LEP – as will the East Cowes Town Council, agreed by motion last night – to find out how satisfied they are with how their money has been spent.

Pensioners using buses costing the council
Additionally and importantly, as the East Cowes public has pointed out for years now, charging pedestrians is losing the Council profit because of the pensioner bus pass use on the bus, where the Council has to pay Southern Vectis a lot of money for pensioners going around by bus, and other expenditures not accounted for in the IW Council budget.

The charges haemorrhage money from the IW Council for multiple reasons from ticket collectors, to pensioner bus passes to attrition. Why do something that is costing your business money? Even if it were to gain a few pounds, the damage that it is doing to the local economy – which is ALSO the responsibility of the IW Council – is massive.

We are demanding:

  1. full disclosure of the feasibility study/studies, Health and Safety risk assessments of the bridge, slipways, and affected roads and pavements, all contracts and all legal documents, specifications (and rationale for prioritisation), tender assessment, contract management, acceptance criteria, final takeover conditions and penalty clauses, including how much of the contract payment has been paid out based on performance testing and how much retention payment is held by the Isle of Wight Council
  2. Immediate IW Council meetings with members of the public, East Cowes Town Council (as passed by motion at last night’s ECTC meeting)
  3. the immediate cessation of pedestrian charges on the floating bridge
  4. full disclosure of conversations with the Solent LEP regarding procurement of the floating bridge
  5. All information about who was responsible – for the design and all of the related ‘sign-offs’
  6. other requirements as outlined in the document submitted to the East Cowes Town Council

Compensation for loss of turnover
The impact on our businesses is no joke. This has been going on for the better part of six months now, and there is no resolution that will make the bridge as fast as the old one. Some members of the East Cowes Business Association are demanding compensation from the IW Council for massive losses of turnover.

Originally the IW Councillors promised a bridge by March 2016 when talks happened with the Solent LEP.

Incredibly late, substandard atrocity
Then instead of making the floating bridge the same size as it always had been, someone decided to make the bridge too big and that required the bridge being out of service much longer than if it had been a proper replacement.

Now we have a incredibly late, substandard atrocity sitting out there when we would have been better off with a bridge the same size but with internal improvements to the engine etc. It appears that the East Cowes Town Council wishes to get to the bottom of this and who is responsible, and the public also wants to know exactly who made these decisions.

‘Heads should roll’
As the saying goes, ‘heads should roll’ with this inexcusable mistake, and no apathy here – we won’t stop demanding it until this problem is solved.

Attached below: East Cowes’ public’s document to the East Cowes Town Council, 18 May 2017, that includes more demands for information and action of the IW Council and others.

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Friday, 19th May, 2017 12:25pm


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Filed under: Cowes, East Cowes, Island-wide, Top story

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Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.


  1. What rubbish. According to Phil Jordan “The provision of the floating bridge was a success for the Independents”.

    Phil, of course, is the former member previously responsible for overseeing large contracts so he couldn’t possibly wrong could he?

    • Phil Jordan

      19.May.2017 10:17pm


      you are so often wrong with your understanding and comments I hesitate to comment…. but….to be clear. personally, I had very little to do with the floating bridge whatsoever.

      It was nothing to do with “large contracts” and I was not responsible for “overseeing large contracts” in any event…. but your continued trolling is noted.

  2. holdmyheadinmyhands

    19.May.2017 12:52pm

    Getting the funding was a success of the island independents unfortunately they are not responsible for actually building it and doing the tests

  3. I am not expecting them to have shot the rivets but they should have made sure the contract signed delivered a vessel that was appropriate for its surroundings. They have failed to do so. Its a balls up however way you slice it.

  4. Braveheart

    19.May.2017 1:20pm

    It surprises me to note that people are still applying the blame to the actual floating bridge structure, as this is as the name suggests a floating craft that will rise and fall with the height of the water level in the Medina.

    This can be likened to car carrying ships loading and unloading at the Southampton Docks, the only difference being the dockside has straight sides and the Floating Bridge is governed by fixed concrete slipways.

    These slipways govern how close the Floating Bridge is able to get to the road by acting as a jack, keeping the craft held up and not allowing it to find its own level which it would do if there were just water beneath it.

    Another example of less complicated loading and unloading can be seen at both ‘Red Funnel and Wightlink Car Ferry Terminals’ again this is simplified, by having no slipways thus allowing the craft to self level on the water height.

  5. Shoulda built an immersed tube tunnel…

    But the Bacon-led Council had a complete aversion to tunnels of any sort.

  6. Braveheart

    19.May.2017 1:38pm

    I for one cannot see any substantial change happening with the loading and unloading the new Floating Bridge until someone has the courage to order the removal of the concrete slipways.

    Then adopt the same loading and unloading principal as the Car Ferries, keeping the abutting area of riverbed on either side clear of silt thus allowing the ‘Chain Ferry’ to get nearer the actual road.

    This would also help with the flooding problems!

    • The slipways have always been in use ever since the first floating bridge was installed in 1859. To dispense with them would mean that there would have to be hydraulically operated link spans installed to compensate for the rise and fall of the tide which can approach a difference of 15 feet. I suggest it would be a lot more economical to give the old one, (which I believe is still in Portsmouth Harbour), a lick of paint and an oil change and get it back here as soon as possible. At least it did the job!!

  7. It is unfair at this stage to refer to the ferry system (infrastructure and craft) as substandard.

    The standard is determined by specification. If all specifications have been met then, no matter what problem may arise, even if the system is non viable, it is to specified standard and so fault is with the team that created the specification. It’s their work that would be substandard.

    As the article says there have been demands to see the specifications, speculation is invalid. If the specifications are released and the design / construction of infrastructure and / or craft do not meet original specifications, it can be said to be substandard unless such variation has been seen, discussed and agreed as a new specification by all parties.

  8. eastcowes

    19.May.2017 4:25pm

    Hear, hear, Angie! A lot of these problems can’t be fixed, like having only having one ‘inside’ pedestrian hold on the floating bridge. And they NEVER should have started using the bridge with the very dangerous queuing on the East Cowes side!

  9. And once again total silence from those responsible. That’s the Indies for you – accountability when it suits them.

    • Phil Jordan

      19.May.2017 10:24pm

      I’m still here tyke….. and if we are going to start talking ‘accountability’ then lets do so.

      Starting with Pugh… and eight years of total shutdown and the ‘new’ administration beginning to carve out total shutdown of democratic process.

      The floating bridge was and is a success. Had we not obtained funding through the hard work and persuasive manner of the then leader, Cllr Stephens, this service would no longer exist. It’s as simple as that.

      All of the detractors can espouse their opinions but you are faced with a very clear outcome – the one faced by the Independents coming into power in 2013 – there was no future provision for this service. No funding and no plan for its continuation. The Independents ensured the service would continue for at least another 25 – 40 years. That’s the success.

  10. silverhealer

    19.May.2017 7:25pm

    Floaty McBrokeface, clearly. Just at as well it hasn’t been named after the Blyskawica yet – that would have looked bad…

  11. Phil – what has everyone’s favourite Boogeyman Pugh got to do with the price of fish?
    And as a matter of fact, the Conservative administration had committed capital expenditure for a new floating bridge before they were, rightly I might add, turfed out. Google it.
    As for transparency and accountability, I go back to my original point. Is it right that the indies facilitated – and finance – unelected, self-appointed quangos to influence economic and transport policy? And why are we not allowed to see the waste contract?

  12. Phil Jordan

    20.May.2017 2:01pm

    final comment on this.

    The context of mentioning Pugh is that the accountability, openness and transparency were non existent in that administration and the current one is heading in the same direction.

    I will repeat again that in May 2013 when the Independents took over from the failed Pugh administration there were NO plans for the floating bridge and there was no money set aside. In short, they lied to the electorate that plans and capital funding had been set aside. It hadn’t.

    I have no idea why the waste contract is not available online to view. Why not ask the current conservative executive member directly?

  13. I’ll do that, Phil. It’ll be a nice change to get a straight answer.

  14. Phil Jordan

    20.May.2017 3:15pm


    do post it when you get the answer … thanks

  15. Seems the bickering politicos have taken over here. Now for a helpful suggestion. Turn the chain ferry round so that the passenger hold is to the south. East Cowes passengers and vehicles can embark simultaneously and can disembark simultaneously on the Cowes bank. Load the Cowes foot passengers who have been waiting on the North side of the road and then load the vehicles. Disembarking on the E.Cowes bank can happen simultaneously, foot passengers to the South.

  16. wightsquatch

    21.May.2017 11:01am

    How do they have the brass balls to keep charging, and at the increased rate too, for this lousy excuse of a service.

  17. Unfortunately, turning the bridge around is not necessarily a fix (but may be a possibility). It will expose the cyclists and the large disability scooter users directly to the elements of the prevailing southwesterly winds. I *think* that one of the reasons that the driver’s seat is to the north is because of visibility issues with the harbour which is more of a danger in terms of traffic unfamiliar with the floating bridge, and obviously flipping the bridge around would make the drivers even further away from the harbour.

    Obviously none of this stops the issue of the longer period of time it will take pedestrians to unload from the pedestrian hold – an ‘open top double decker bus’ out of one exit! Who in the world thought that one pedestrian exit and stairs were a good idea??

    And if there is any queuing whatsoever on the north side of the East Cowes pavement, there is still danger of cars turning and lorries coming from the town needing to mount the pavement to turn right onto Castle as they always do! If everyone loaded and unloaded on the south side in East Cowes, it would be crowded.

    The MCA needs to review all of this, but many of us would like to know where (physically) their authority stops and the Council’s starts (e.g. is it the top of the slipway?) Whilst mandatory queuing and separate loading and unloading of pedestrians would seem to be safer, in practice it may be less safe.

    Liability goes up if you require people to stand somewhere and then they get hurt. In fact, if the man who hit poor Theo had been at the stop in East Cowes and then hit the petrol pedal, he could have killed people in the queue! Sometimes the safer option is to let people pay attention and spread themselves out.

    Human behaviour also plays a large role in embarkation and disembarkation. Since the new rules on the old bridge, more cars drove off of the bridge more quickly because they were irritated by the waiting time, and sped too quickly around the corner in East Cowes and up the road in Cowes. Pedestrians felt rushed (which is difficult for older people and people with disabilities going up slipways). If the cars had been given priority in both directions, many pedestrians wouldn’t take the bridge because the wait in the cold would be too long. When we used to come on and off the bridge all at the same time, everyone paid attention and went at a reasonable pace.

    Regardless of all of this, you can see that there are major system design flaws and a lack of true communication between the Council somewhere, the MCA, and the designers. Too much of the Council’s agenda has been driven by wanting to charge pedestrian fares – which does not raise the profits that they claim because the pensioners going around by bus cost the Council massive amounts of money. Maybe they can see that whilst the MCA might require that pedestrians and vehicles need to board independent from each other if they cannot get past that, it doesn’t mean that we have to queue on the pavement etc.

    So there are multiple reasons to stop the charging as we all pointed out since 2010! Again not the least of which is that it makes the Council lose money…

    • Turning the chain ferry around will protect the cyclists and mobility scooter users from the cold North wind. The reason for the helmsmans position being on the North side was indeed for a better view of the harbour. Since the mid 1980s’ VHF radios have been introduced and all commercial vessels radio the chain ferry giving their positions and intentions. Although the chain ferry has right of way the master/pilot of the commercial vessel and the helmsman on the chain ferry sort out the situation themselves. Whilst it would be nice for the helmsman to see the harbour it is no longer necessary. I have never seen a vessel pinned to the North side of the chain ferry by the flood tide, but have seen quite a few pinned to the South side by a spring ebb. Having the helmsman on the South side will give him/her a clearer view of vessel trapped alongside and to act accordingly. There is also a door and external steps, midships, on that side that could be used to remove crew from vessels trapped by the tide if necessary. With no passenger hold on the North side of the ferry, there is little reason for people to queue at the North side of the E.Cowes slipway. Passengers may need to be informed where to queue initially but will soon understand the reasons why. I have a car which is low at the front. When using the old chain ferry I always boarded and disembarked at an angle getting one wheel lifting the car before the other. In the photographs cars were grounding when driving straight off. Has the angle of the slipway changed or does the new chain ferry need longer ramps? Seems to me there are too many people whinging and not enough people looking for solutions, even if it is a compromise.

  18. eastcowes

    21.May.2017 6:11pm

    davee, almost everyone is looking for a solution. I agree that turning it around the other way *MAY* be a solution although I’ve seen boats on both sides get stuck. The answer is probably non-mandatory queuing initially and then going down the left both sides of the river (as many of the public initially recommended). The problem with the bridge in terms of the ramp may be that the drivers did not move in far enough (there appeared to be a little wiggle room there but not much) which, of course, is very difficult for them to see from the middle of the bridge! That could be resolved by training. However, they had built the ramps longer in order for the bridge to be ‘un-beachable’, however that clearly will not be the case if they move any closer than they were last week. Many cars were able to drive off directly on the old bridge, and even some of those who took it at an angle slowly etc. were scraping; the angles were very wrong. Taking it at an angle also may prevent simultaneous pedestrian unloading of course as well. Keep talking it out – we might find some type of solution. It still doesn’t negate the point that we were promised a much more efficient bridge with more crossings per hour, and we’re on track for something a lot less. Re: bicycles etc. – the north winds are always colder (surprisingly!) and the southwesterlies are prevailing and can be nasty too. Oh for the peaceful western wind!! ;-)

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