Councillor explains why claims of re-opening Undercliff Drive are extremely premature

Former Executive member, Phil Jordan, who has an indepth knowledge of the situation on Undercliff Drive, explains why the Leader’s claims of reopening the road are extremely premature.

Undercliff Drive

Last week, Leader of the Isle of Wight council, Dave Stewart, revealed that he’d commissioned another feasibility study on Undercliff Drive, adding to his statement the previous week that ‘they’ [the Conservatives] would ‘get Undercliff Drive reopened’ to through traffic.

Cllr Phil Jordan – the former Executive membstewer overseeing Highways PFI – had been involved with the project since September 2014 and has an indepth knowledge of the case. In response to Cllr Stewart’s claims he left a detailed and informative comment.

OnTheWight felt it would be helpful to readers who might have missed Phil’s comments to hear more of the background here.

Prof Denness’ involvement
Phil started by saying,

“I had spent a good deal of time over this issue and had already agreed with Cllr Stewart that we *could* at least take the Bruce Denness suggestions further, to the point of looking at a possible feasibility study, dependent on costs involved.

“I understand that Bournemouth university may well conduct this ‘research’ but I cannot say to what depth and extent the scope of the research might be.

[This is very important to know and understand as costs of the study will directly impact the level of understanding of the problem and the better informed solutions/decisions thereafter].

“I had a preference for Southampton because we have, as an authority, a good working relationship – and contacts through our Public Health team – which I had discussed could be used to facilitate a study.

“I believe we spoke about sums of money for the study/research/report (alone) at approaching £25,000 [I *think* Niton Parish Council may hold some correspondence (from me) on this very matter though costs were discussed with myself and Cllr Stewart in person].

Premature claims by Leader
He went on to say,

“Let’s be clear. The claims by Cllr Stewart that he is ..”going to open this road….” are very, very, very premature.

“The first step in any process in this matter – which will take at least five years to undertake and evaluate – is to carry out the proposed scheme of ‘de-watering’ the entire upper level of the Undercliff area.

“So, the feasibility study which should be of a sufficient complexity and interrogation as to deliver detailed and well researched ‘probabilities’, has to be carried out first.”

De-watering scheme could cost > £400,000
He went on to add,

“If that research/study *indicates* that the possible ‘scheme’ to de-water the Undercliff is, on balance, positive, then a consideration of implementing the de-watering scheme could take place. The initial estimates for a [five drill hole] solution was given to me at between £250,000 and £400,000.

“The next step would be to monitor (as we do now, anyway) the water levels over a sufficient period of years to conclude that the scheme had *stabilised* the Undercliff area from any future movement.

“I think the period of monitoring would have to wait until years had passed that included ‘exceptional’ rainfall during the winter or, at the very least, higher than average rainfall levels.”

Through road in excess of £20m
Looking ahead to the possibility of the through road being rebuilt, Phil added,

“At some future point after this, a consideration could be made on re-building a road in this area.

“It would, in my view, have to be demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the Undercliff land movement had been stabilised and remedied before risking what is likely to be, at that time – between seven to ten years hence – a cost in excess of £20m.”

IWC already met twice with Prof Denness
As pointed out in OnTheWight’s article last week, Prof Denness – who has been commissioned to carry out the study – has already been involved in discussions with the IWC.

Phil explained,

“The Authority has met with Bruce Denness (at least twice now) when he presented his idea for a scheme and we were in the process of further discussions tied into the idea that we would consider undertaking an ’independent’ study into the proposals.

“In a broad principal, I am not against the idea that we should consider proposals to stabilise the Undercliff. Whether that be for safeguarding property, maintaining the area or for the future possibility we may have an opportunity to build a road here (again).

“However, that is a very, very long way from talking about re-building the road.”

He added,

“Let me say that the proposal that we are considering here (not the feasibility study, that is a separate issue) is not a given. It is a ‘desk top’ theoretical scheme proposal that does not guarantee anything whatsoever.

“We cannot know for sure if we can get to the water table(s), if the real problem is the excess water levels (the last slip occurred when measurements of water levels indicated they were not up to ’emergency alarm’ levels), if we can pump away enough water to stabilise the area, control water levels (for too much drying out also risks land movement in times of unexpected heavy rainfalls) and a few more ‘imponderables’.

“I have concerns that the five drill hole proposal (unless that has been, or will be, modified) is insufficient to cover the entire upper Undercliff area leaving other areas towards Ventnor and Blackgang exposed to further movement (already we have signs of land movement to the East of the current landslip) and the costs of the scheme (without any guaranties remember) will mount as we try to deal with the overall excess water issue further up the cliffs.”

Cannot be rebuilt under present conditions
He went on to say,

“To summarise, you cannot and should not try to re-build this road under present conditions, at the costs involved and on an entire landslip area, still prone to movement, at costs of anywhere between £10 – £20m… The road WILL fail again. I cannot say when, but it will fail.

“The scheme to stabilise the area is a theoretical scheme – though it is possible it may work – but will need anything from £250,000 – £400,000 to undertake and a minimum of around five years thereafter to monitor water levels and land movement (or lack of!).

“A realistic estimate would be that we *might* be in an informed position to make a decision about the possibility of re-building a road in about seven to ten years time IF the scheme took place and IF the scheme was successful. None of this is a given.”

Proud of current solution
Finally, Phil confirmed the cost of the works carried out to reinstate the access road for the residents from the West came from monies set aside within the original PFI geo-technical schemes contract.

He went on to say,

“Can I just say that I am quite proud that we have managed to get at least a solution for residents and visitors to the area alike by the work carried out here. It’s not a through road but it works and has restored some functionality to the area.

“I hope some of the above comments explain why the idea of a re-built road is not a practical consideration at this time (and why I had agreed we should consider a longer term solution approach) and why the current solution is the best ‘immediate’ solution.”

Election time
Phil finished by saying,

“I hope this helps to understand, in a very small way, the very real problems that the Undercliff poses and why there is no quick, easy solution (if at all) to it.

“Of course, if you are seeking to be elected in three months time as a Ward Member for Niton it’s easy to get carried away with yourself.”

Tuesday, 21st February, 2017 6:04pm



Filed under: Island-wide, Isle of Wight News, Niton, St Lawrence, Top story, Ventnor

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14 Comments on "Councillor explains why claims of re-opening Undercliff Drive are extremely premature"

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I’m relatively new to the island but do remember the road as existed prior to the recent landslip.
Can anybody tell me how long the previous road had been in existence and whether there were any issues in that timeline.
Also, were there any studies done prior to the building of the existing road.

Robert Jones
Well, I certainly can’t – but hundreds of years, anyway. It has long been known that this area is prone to movement, this is true of the entire coast. When you say “the existing road”, you’re presumably meaning the original construction – and there was a great deal more land between the route and the sea back then. Googling the Undercliff will probably fill in most of… Read more »
Robert Jones
I do like the sting in the tail. “Of course, if you are seeking to be elected in three months time as a Ward Member for Niton it’s easy to get carried away with yourself.” Re-opening Undercliff Drive is not an immediate or even medium-term prospect. Many will wish it was, because of the impact the loss of the road is having on businesses and properties in… Read more »
Philip Hawkins
Keeping Undercliff Drive open would have been easier before Island Roads embarked on their grandiose scheme – the “patch when required” philosophy had worked for many decades. The current state has left things both better and worse than they were before. To begin to understand the problem, you have to realise that there are two distinct zones of movement, and that the solutions required are not the… Read more »
Robert Jones

Big ‘ifs’ there, but thanks for the very useful background information.

Alan Bennett

So, 5 years just to evaluate and look at. Why not repair now and have the road open for the next 5 years whilst people earn consultancy fees to top up their pensions. Consultant, Wikipedia should list the job under licence to print money.


Why is Cllr Jordan referred to as a matey ‘Phil’ yet Cllr Stewart given his full formal title?

I would be happy to be disabused of the view but it looks suspiciously like a cosy-up between Cllr Jordan and the editorial team at OTW if you ask me.

Sally Perry
The suggestion of a cosy-up is ridiculous. Dave Stewart is referred to twice in the article by myself, once as ‘Dave Stewart’ and once as ‘Cllr Stewart’. Had there been more references I probably would have referred to him as ‘Dave’, as I have done in other articles (and been criticised for by ‘electrickery’). It appears that I can’t win. (PS. As can be clearly seen in… Read more »
Robert Jones

I wouldn’t worry about it – whatever you do, you’re going to be blamed by someone for doing it: such are the joys of social media.

Mark dunsford
This sounds like something that could be in the script for yes minister. “We need to set up a feasability study to look into the costs Of setting up a feasability study to investigate the findings of the previous feasability study with a view to setting up a study into the feasibilty of reasearch int….” Sounds more like a career than anything likely to produce actual results.… Read more »

when all we needed were the army to rapidly construct a crossing…

John Nash
Sorry, but I’m afraid this all calls to mind a radio show where the panel guests had to announce amusing arrivals at a stately ball. The funniest was “Mr Capability Brown and and his partner Feasibility Brown”. None of the proponents are mentioning the constraints. Here is a fairly large one from the Environment Agency’s 2013 Isle of Wight Abstraction Licensing Strategy 2013: Section 4.2 is headed… Read more »
Many many years ago in a land that time forgot a road was built so that people could get from A to B. This conveneince enabled the concept of travel between two places and led to trade between those places and allowed the road users to seek employment elsehwere and thereby improve their prospects. The road lasted a very very long time (best part of 80/90 years)… Read more »
Those questioning why everyone isn’t just getting on with it would do well to nip down to the end of the old Blackgang Road outside of Niton and have a look across to where the disconnected other end of the road is, which still remains there. When they’re looking across to the other bit of road, they should have a little think about how anyone would build… Read more »