The Isle of Wight Council has this afternoon (9th July) reaffirmed its commitment to protect local jobs and help safeguard the future of ship building on the Isle of Wight by agreeing to proceed to the next stage in purchasing Venture Quays.
Members of the council’s Cabinet agreed to support the £1.3 million acquisition of East Cowes’ historic Columbine site – famous for its huge Union flag doors – subject to contractual agreement.
Investing in the prime waterfront site will not only protect at least 150 marine manufacturing jobs, but preserve key employment land for generations to come.
It will also give confidence about the future at a time when Coronavirus (Covid-19) has created some uncertainty for local people and businesses.
Stewart: Represents significant financial and social value for our Island
Council leader Dave Stewart said:
“Having completed our financial review following the impact of Covid-19, I am satisfied this acquisition still represents significant financial and social value for our Island.
“I am also satisfied the council remains financially viable and subject to the detailed financial terms being agreed by all parties should proceed with this investment in one of our prime waterfront sites.
“I say this because I see the 150 or more jobs this investment will protect; I also see the extensive opportunities for housing and business development in marine manufacturing we will be able to preserve and regenerate going forward.
“Many Islanders are already aware of the significant historical background that East Cowes generally, and Venture Quays in particular, has in terms of marine Engineering – from flying boats and shipbuilding, through to the highly skilled aluminium welding and construction involved in the catamarans of today which are built and sold across the world.
“This is a truly international investment opportunity on the Island for the Island.”
In talks since July 2019
The acquisition has been the subject of talks with Homes England since July 2019 and includes three other nearby sites for potential regeneration.
The sites are collectively known as Venture Quays – and as well as Columbine, include the Victoria Barracks building, the Albany warehouse, and a Maresfield Road site currently used for car parking.
By acquiring the sites, the council will be able to maintain marine and associated industries at Columbine and potentially redevelop the Victoria Barracks site for leisure and public realm use, and the Albany and Maresfield Road sites for housing.
Whittle: This is not a commercial acquisition
Councillor Wayne Whittle, Cabinet member for regeneration and business development, added:
“This is not a commercial acquisition as we have made in other areas of the country.
“There our objective has been to generate income for the council and we have an agreed strategy that underpins these investments.
“This purchase falls outside of the strategy but falls very clearly within our aspirations to regenerate the Island’s economy and protect some of its key employment sites now and for future generations.”
Seely: A long time in the making
Isle of Wight Conservative MP, Bob Seely, said,
“I’m delighted that the IW Council has agreed to proceed to the next stage in purchasing the East Cowes Waterfront sites. I welcome this decision and I fully support Councillors taking this decision despite the financial situation.
“This decision is a very important one and has been a long time in the making. I have been working with the Council since being elected to bring about positive change that will safeguard jobs for Islanders. It is to the Council’s credit that they are ending a level of uncertainty about the future of shipbuilding on the Isle of Wight.
“It has taken SEEDA and Homes England 15 years to dispose of this site. That is far too long. I hope the lessons will be learned from the process. The original scheme negotiated by Homes England was not in the interests of the Island, and I said so at the time, but we were contractually obliged to stick with it. It would have undermined the future of shipbuilding at the site.
“Since then we have worked hard to ensure Homes England did the right thing by the Island. We have had some frank calls with them, but I am delighted that, thanks to Sir Edward Lister’s intervention when he was Chairman of Homes England, we were able to take a new negotiating approach. In addition, and working together to make our case, we were able to secure the site at a price that the Island could justify. We obtained the site at our valuation.
“I am writing to ministers to inform them that we intend to use this site to create jobs and new industries for East Cowes and the Island.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for the Council to preserve part of our economy and enable companies to grow by giving them certainty, particularly given the serious impact of coronavirus on our economy. Not only will this decision serve to protect jobs and diversify our economy, but it will also bring forward brownfield housing sites for development and lessen pressure on greenfield sites.”