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.
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.