Island Roads carried out work in SSSI without seeking permission. Natural England stop them

Natural England were so concerned that Island Roads had started work in a legally-protected SSSI area without permission, they’ve told them to stop. We’ve got the detail.

Undercliff Drive SSSI site July 2015 after trees cut down

The long-discussed plans to finally give some sort of access – even if it is just a footpath to start with – through Undercliff Drive, after its disastrous collapse in February 2014, has come to a grinding stop … just as soon as it started.

Told to stop work
Island Roads had to pull their contractors off site after it became clear that they hadn’t sought the correct and legally required permissions to carry out work in a SSSI area.

Had they not stopped, the situation would have become “Very Serious,” Natural England (NE) told OnTheWight.

NE – the official body that is charged with protecting England’s nature and landscapes – is sufficiently worried about the situation that they making an official visit to the site this week.

Legal requirement
SSSI land (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) is highly-protected, in law. Permission to carry out work must be sought in advance before it’s started. Following that, the minimum required is an ecological report, sometimes a ‘watch brief’ (an ecologist present while the work is be carried out).

Draft plans for this scheme have been in circulation since August last year, although it’s understood the Isle of Wight Council has only recently instructed Island Roads to start.

Trees already cut down
Last week a contractor was instructed to go into the SSSI site and cut down a number of trees, including one that was 120 foot tall.

Matthew Taylor from Natural England told OnTheWight their general rules are that trees cannot be felled in an SSSI area at this time of year, as the trees “support wildlife” and often have nesting bird in them. Given this, it’s usually the end of August or September before felling can occur.

Tarmacking of SSSI area
The cutting of the trees was just the start of the planned actions. Island Roads had intended – before being stopped by Natural England – to remove all of the vegetation from the area and to cover the SSSI area in tarmac.

Asking Matthew about this, he said this is “A big ‘No No'”, especially without consent.

In the eyes of Natural England using the area would be seen as a “Net loss of SSSI” that would need its own survey and importantly “Mitigation” – that being a similar area of land would have to be found nearby that could be suitable as a SSSI area. Without this Natural England would view the SSSI area as lost.

Ownership of land also uncertain
It’s believed the land where all of this work is being carried out is not owned by the council and that neither the council or Island Roads have gained permission from the owner to carry out the work.

Without permission from the land owner, this could be viewed as criminal damage.

Inadequate response from council and Island Roads
OnTheWight has posed a number of questions to the Isle of Wight council and separate ones to Island Roads. What has been received in response doesn’t answer those questions. Pointing this out has led the council to refuse to answer those questions. More on this later.

Location map
View the location of this story in Ventnor, England, United Kingdom.

Tuesday, 7th July, 2015 7:46pm



Filed under: Isle of Wight Council, Isle of Wight News, PFI, St Lawrence, Top story, Ventnor

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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. It’s also important to know what vegetation and trees to cut down – or not – in areas like Undercliff, because the vegetation soaks up water that could prevent further landslips! Has IR carried out a survey of that?

  2. garageelfiniow

    7.Jul.2015 7:58pm

    Another example or “IR Menality’ sod everyone else and what they think – where are the professionals in this organisation that **should know** where the SSI areas or ANOB areas or any other protected are are on the Island ? if they don’t know basics like this what else are they doing wrong ? what other corners are being cut ?? what other things are going to creep out from the woodwork ??? the council (Phil Jordan) really do need to get a grip of this – PFI contract or not it basic stuff that anyone in a managerial role withing highways maintenance should have a deep insight of and understanding of the relevant rules. Someone in IR on the Island should be accountable and be able to provide answers to this.

    • phil jordan

      8.Jul.2015 6:29am


      The contract stipulates that the service provider obtains all necessary permissions for schemes being undertaken.

      The Council manages the contract, it does not micro manage the contractor operationally.

      There are penalties within the contract if service delivery is not compliant with the contract.

      We should expect compliance and a quality of service delivery that demonstrates confidence and credibility in the provision.

      Having said all of this, rest assured I am going to deal with this from my perspective at an appropriate level very swiftly….

      • garageelfiniow

        8.Jul.2015 7:48am

        but the simple consequence of ‘whoever’ being incompetent means that the proposed works will stall and the residents and therefore cannot be moved foward in favour of the residents

        so it begs the question
        ws this the desired outcome ? did the people at IR engineer this to stall the project so the don’t have to actually do it and therefore send any money ???

        Its difficult for a simple person like myself to conclude otherwise and I am sure there will be large numbers of people on the IOW that are similarly as simple as mean that think the same.

        • garageelfiniow

          8.Jul.2015 7:48am

          sorry about the spelling

        • phil jordan

          8.Jul.2015 9:24am


          There is no conspiracy here, I am afraid.

          IR are not spending money….they are earning it!

          IR need to have consents in place… if they havn’t then they need to get them.

          Until the meeting with NE goes ahead later this week we won’t know what delay is involved. I am hoping it wont be extensive.

      • If the IW Council has delegated its responsibility to a private company, the Council still has some type of responsibility regardless. Just because the IW Council chose to delegate a critically important public service delivery – infrastructure – it still needs to ensure that there is quality control of that public service delivery.

        Island Roads and the Council – indeed anyone – cannot repair loss of vegetation and trees by making more asphalt or other man-made materials or solution…

        Again, no offence to issues about natural beauty – but if they just destroyed the plants and trees that are the main thing keeping that land dry and solid as it can be so it doesn’t slip further, there may be some very serious, irreparable damage (for years until the vegetation can grow back) that they may have just done.

        Why would anyone go into an area like that an act without thinking about consequences?

  3. On the basis that Island Roads seem to be singularly unable to identify the differences between backsides and elbows, what hope did they ever have of being able to understand the impacts of sending someone into a Site of Special Scientific Interest?

  4. retired Hack

    7.Jul.2015 9:04pm

    A report to the IWC Executive in November 2014 set out in detail the options for restoring access to properties on Undercliff Drive, and it spelled out the potential encroachment onto SSSI land of each of those options.
    It’s therefore hard to see how the IWC, or Island Roads, could be unaware of their statutory responsibilities vis-a-vis the SSSI. And it’s certainly the case that those responsibilities were raised very loudly – by the IWC – when the Undercliff residents decided to build their own road.

    • phil jordan

      8.Jul.2015 6:16am

      john nash:

      Any permissions required for ANY scheme carried out by the service provider MUST be obtained by the service provider. That includes acquiring land if necessary.

      Hope that helps.

      • John Nash

        8.Jul.2015 8:41am

        No it doesn’t help. The Council is ultimately responsible for all that has occurred here. It should be transparent and accountable and hold a proper enquiry into the failed scheme and its consequences. You cannot hide behind the PFI contract.

      • phil jordan

        8.Jul.2015 8:58am

        john nash:

        The contract is very clear about how the responsibility falls upon the service provider to obtain ANY and ALL consents needed.

        No one is hiding behind any such thing.

        I am commenting on the current scheme not the previous scheme.

        • John Nash

          8.Jul.2015 9:14am

          It’s all one. An ill-conceived poorly designed scheme, recklessly implemented, with disastrous impacts on the residents, the beautiful landscape of The Undercliff and its protected habitats.

          • phil jordan

            8.Jul.2015 9:33am

            john nash:

            No its not… the current scheme does not even restore a through road.

            Indeed, the encroachment outside of existing road onto adjoining land is fairly minimal. A small number of yards.

            There is no connection between the two schemes.

            Would you prefer the work was not undertaken at all….?

          • Phil Jordan

            “Would you prefer the work was not undertaken at all”????

            I’m sorry, but it’s comments like that from Councillors, whether in forums or in the press, that I feel are inappropriate. Stating a fact that a service is non-statutory (for example) is fine. But the number of times that we have all heard these past few years comments like “we don’t have to provide this service” or “we don’t have to do it”….or what you said with the implied tone, making it sound like critical infrastructure that is affect real people is optional is not appreciated.

            It may be encased in a question, even said in a “polite” way, but it sounds flippant in writing, full well knowing that everyone wants – needs – this to be fixed and fixed properly.

            It happens too frequently nowadays, as if we all should be eternally grateful that our Council tax and other Central government taxes are always spent correctly, and that we have no say in how things are being managed or mismanaged.

            Never mind that even when the Council does make an error like with Cowes Enterprise College, it appears to be “forgiven” despite the tremendous cost to the people of the island and even further cuts in public services.

            When will the Council stop fighting with the islanders and instead put its full energy on securing grant funding (EU or otherwise), because we are a poor and rural area that will ALWAYS be more dependent on public services and will always have services that are more expensive to administer (as a mere consequence of being poor, rural (with fewer people but great service needs) and an isolated island?

            That’s the kind of language I want to hear from Councillors – people trying to do something to get money for services and taking a lead in quality control, not having the Council absolve itself of its responsibilities, morally if not legally.

          • John Nash

            8.Jul.2015 10:11am

            Phil Jordan. I understand that Natural England will be investigating ALL the damage that has been done, including the abortive engineering scheme which was carried out without SSSI consent.

            The sustainable through route between Ventnor and Niton has been in constant use now for over 14 years – inland via Whitwell. This is the reality.

            Yes, residents need an access solution, but please get it right!

          • phil jordan

            8.Jul.2015 10:32am


            With the greatest of respect it is not clear that all residents want this solution.

            Secondly, it is not clear at all that the wider population are supportive of this capital investment.

            I, along with steve stubbings, have fought hard to get a solution here but there are many others who are both vocally and discreetly objecting.

            I have no idea if the poster in question is one of them.

            I too, like you, am very concerned that we get value for money in our services.

            In this case, we must hold to account under our contractual arrangement – if that is the case – any shortfall of service delivery.

            Once again, as I have said here before…the problem we face is the contract itself and the way that impacts on service delivery.

            We are working on that right now….

            Btw, I am not aware of “fighting” Islanders…far from it. I work very hard indeed to deliver my role as an elected Member and will continue to engage, listen, understand and absorb views and comments from residents…. that is, after all, my job.

    • phil jordan

      8.Jul.2015 6:17am

      retired hack:

      …and laid potentially contaminated materials in the SSSI without consent…..?

  5. The inability to efficiently coordinate the excessive consumption of alcohol in a place where beer is brewed springs to my mind.

  6. John Nash

    7.Jul.2015 9:57pm

    Apparently, IWC did not even apply to Natural England for SSSI consent for the main scheme which failed so disastrously. The damage done is not just the clearing of vegetation. The failed scheme entailed massive earthworks in an even more sensitive portion of the SSSI as well as the removal of many trees. This is significant habitat damage, and all for an ill-conceived scheme.

    I have asked twice on this blog if SSSI consent has been obtained and Phil Jordan has simply ignored the question.

  7. The Sciolist

    7.Jul.2015 10:31pm

    I know they employ Gavin for PR, but does anyone actually MANAGE Island Roads?

  8. Maybe I won’t bother with that planning permission after all for my extension. I’ll draw up a contract for my architect and builders so that they are responsible for getting the necessary permission. It is after all only a small extension with minimnal incursion into an SSSI. Therefore the planning department couldn’t possibly hold me ultimately responsible? Watertight….I think not.

  9. Ann thwaites

    8.Jul.2015 5:19pm

    Another example of the council and island roads inability to comply with their own and other peoples statutory responsibilities!

    How much more can this go on! They have continually failed to carry out the required the works, but insist that any individual complies with their rules. They continue to be a law unto themselves, without any regard for the residents predicaments( of which we are but one).

    When are the council in particular and Island Roads going to realize that people are involved with this and have lost financially to a great extent.

    Mr Murphy Head of Contract Services, denies all responsibility for anything that has happened, why is he not being taken to task as opposed to being recently promoted?

  10. joseyorange

    9.Jul.2015 1:01pm

    I really can not believe that this is the situation as it stands. This is utterly intolerable.

    How long do the residents have to wait in limbo whilst all parties concerned in the restoration of some sort of access stall and are unable to carry the project out to a professional standard. Getting the right permissions – This is basic guys!!!! It does supplicate the thought that this may have been a deliberate ploy.

    I fully understand that only a relatively small number of residents are directly affected, however the wider community, who rely on public transport and through access along the Undercliff need there to be a tangible, real and effective solution to this situation.

    The communication and PR from the IR and the Council about their proposals for this project have been diabolical, there have been more than a few inconsistencies……..

    I am at a loss as to what to say any more. My thoughts are with those who have directly lost out from this whole sorry episode.

    William Spindler would be turning in his grave if he saw how this area of the Undercliff has been left to ‘rot’.

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