The email sent to all councillors in May 2016

Dear Councillor

You may have noticed that a campaign to have a Fixed Link Tunnel connecting the Isle of Wight to the mainland has been under way since November 2014. Initially this campaign was to gather support for a referendum to reflect sentiment on whether it is required. It quickly became apparent that a referendum was not possible and would not constitute a directional obligation anyway. We have a Facebook Group that you may wish to view? https://m.facebook.com/groups/iowfixedlink/
(The gallery of photos is quite often used to get quick information. Click a photo and the post and thread will appear also.)

PRO-LINK are a committee based group that has been formed to pursue the solution to the cross Solent Transport problems.
We believe that without evolving from 19th century ferry travel, to 20th century road based travel across the Solent, the Isle of Wight will suffer a continuing socio-economic decline in this 21st century. It is clear that Island business, tourism, education and many other facets are suffering due to lack of reliable and fast 24hr, 365day economical ease of transport on and off of the Island.
Dr John Rivers of the CCG has lately announced that further IOW St Mary’s hospital treatments and appointments will now be carried out on the mainland. The IOW Council at present provide the subsidies to patients that travel across the Solent via the ferries. Those subsidy funds are already hard to come by, it will soon become even more difficult:
http://www.mylifeafulllife.com/Downloads/WISR/Time%20to%20Act/Time%20to%20Act_SinglePages.pdf

The IOW County Press have combined with the IOW Council to campaign for government subsidies to help the ailing island via: http://fightforthewight.co.uk/

PRO-LINK believe that a solution is required, rather than never ending subsidies. It is important that the prospect of a better link across the Solent is considered objectively and fully, so that the island can support its population and thrive without taxpayer subsidies.

The following are some key facts which have been carefully researched – we urge you to consider them.

Since 1998, Wightlink’s pricing has increased 20% above inflation – the ferries continue to become significantly less affordable each year. Last year, there were fare price increases on average of over 6% from Wightlink, against a background inflation rate of around 1%. This is unsustainable and continues to push ferry travel and therefore freedom, outside of the budget of ordinary working people living on the Island.
Due to the profit margins required by each ferry business – since 2009, crossing schedules by Red Funnel have been cut by 14%. Wightlink have cut their scheduled crossings by 26%. This has caused much hardship to many and things are set to get worse. The ‘Better Ferry Campaign’ has not been able to implement any measures to lower fares or increase crossings, as the two privately owned ferry companies have no controlling bodies or authorities to regulate these. http://www.betterferrycampaign.co.uk/

A fixed link would improve the ability of the IW workforce to travel effectively to their work around the region – improving our competitiveness and prosperity.
The last census data highlights the economic position the Isle of Wight is in. Our mean income is 25% less than that in Hampshire only four miles away – an average of £8,000 per annum less income on the Isle of Wight, per working person. £26k in Hampshire, as opposed to £18k on the Isle of Wight.

If we could achieve average income parity with Hampshire, the working island population of around 80,000 people would gain a net benefit to the Island of approximately £640million EXTRA income per year. This would generate much higher tax receipts for the IW and reduce costs to the government like tax credits, which are currently significantly higher on the IW due to high unemployment, low incomes and predominantly seasonal work.

The higher labour costs due to an improved market situation would be offset by a better deal for island businesses on cross-Solent travel, with thousands of hours of wasted time waiting at ferry terminals, being saved for a large number of businesses. There would also be more predictable tolls vs the extremely variable ferry fares they are subject to at the moment.

The case to initiate the construction project for the SECOND Mersey crossing was predicated on £61m per year benefit to the 140,000 people in Runcorn and Widnes and a journey saving of 10 minutes on each trip.
A cross-Solent fixed link would yield at least ten-fold that benefit for the Isle of Wight from this single metric alone, while benefiting a similar number of population.
If the improvement of labour fluidity reduces the islands unemployment figure to the SE England Average, that would facilitate the creation of 1100 new jobs on the Island – another huge and extremely likely benefit from a cross-Solent fixed link.

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This below, is the wording from the 1998 Fixed Link Feasibility study

“The Isle of Wight has significantly underperformed the rest of the south-east of England in economic terms for decades. This is evidenced by Low GDP, low wage levels and high unemployment. This appears to be attributed to the fact that the Isle of Wight is difficult and expensive to get to and from.”

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Below is an extract of the letter dated 30th January 2015 from and signed by, the Present day IOW MP Andrew Turner and the Leader of the Isle of Wight Council….Jonathan Bacon, to the Rt Hon John Hayes MP, the previous minister of State for transport:

These are the words of Andrew Turner MP and Jonathan Bacon…

“The Isle of Wight has a fragile economic base and the work of the infrastructure task force will be central and helping the economy to become more robust. Despite the best attempts of the Isle of Wight Council and the local community to rebalance the economy towards private sector employment, the public sector still accounted for 33% of Island jobs in 2013. It is also estimated that only 10% of the working age population travel regularly to the mainland for work.
The level of economic activity is extremely low; in 2011 its GDP per capita was 63% of that for Hampshire and 70% of that for Southampton and 67% of that for Portsmouth, it’s Mainland neighbouring unitary authorities. Gross weekly pay is approximately 88% of the Great Britain and 81% of the South East average figure. Unemployment rates are higher than the south-east and there is a steady increase in International labour organisation (ILO) unemployment the seasonality of work tends to mask some of the underlying employment problems.

The Isle of Wight’s business rate base is very low with the councils 50% share being only £17.294 million. Consequently it’s receives a top up grants of £12.449 million from government. Current projections over the next three years are that the business rate yield is likely to remain static with any increase only attributable to the increase in the multiplier.
Although the island includes some very successful high technology businesses in the areas of marine aerospace and composite’s, the visitor economy remains its primary source of employment underpinning approximately 30% of local jobs. The island is therefore a predominantly a low skilled employment area and less than 30% of the islands working age population are qualified to NVQ level four or above compare it to 38% in the South-East.
It is considered that the security and affordability of physical links to the mainland continue to deter businesses from making step change investments on the Isle of Wight that will improve its overall economic position. Addressing this challenge will be a key focus of the work of the infrastructure task force.
The island has a fragile social base comprising an above average number of older people; 23.83% of its resident population of 65 years of age and older the third highest unitary or county area in England and Wales for this measure. This contributes to its also being an outline for the use of residential and nursing care and the number of clients with learning disability. The corollary is that the islands labour market is very unlike that of the rest of the South East – 59.77% of his resident population is of working age (16-64 years) The third smallest of any unitary all county area in England and Wales against this measure.”
“By delivering an increase in mobility to from and within the island there is an increased likelihood that the Isle of Wight social demography will naturally rebalance reducing the overall financial pressures of the current demographic.”

The island’s two most influential, informed and up to date individuals wrote these words to central government just over one year ago. There appears to be no argument that these facts above are correct.

The islands over 65 years of age demographic has risen to 26% of the IOW population since that letter was written.

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PRO-LINK is confident that if the case is properly examined and the socio-economic benefits are considered, this will be an ideal project to be privately financed. The public money that is needed now, is the seed funding to allow this project to take place. It can be privately financed and properly organised to benefit every resident on the Island and their extended families, who live on the mainland. It should also increase the numbers of tourist visitors and improve the competitiveness of businesses who are here, or are considering locating here.
It is the single biggest transformational project that could yield the largest benefit to the Isle of Wight in several generations. The concerns of house price escalation, traffic management and the environment have all been taken seriously. Proposals to control these matters have been discussed thoroughly, through to concluded solutions.

PRO-LINK have now got to a stage where a considerable amount of information has been obtained surrounding the fixed link issues which enables us to separate fact from fiction. The tide of public opinion has already turned to largely positive regarding the fixed link issue, however a web site is now being produced which will soon be released to explain the information and the up to date background on this campaign. With this information in the public domain we believe the case will be too compelling for it not to be considered.

The reason we are contacting you is that we are now gathering from each councillor who represent the people of their ward on the island, an indication of whether an independent IOW Fixed Link Feasibility Study would be supported by you individually as an IOW councillor or not?
We believe an independent study should be implemented to gain unbiased and expert information with which to make an informed choice for the authorities, of whether a road based IOW Fixed Link Tunnel should be constructed…or not?

The leader of the Council – Jonathan Bacon, has already expressed his personal support for the study.

PRO-LINK has now got to the stage where the Department for Transport is aware of this campaign and is willing to enter into talks with PRO-LINK and/or the IOW Council to consider implementing the study, a study that the IOW Council is very likely not required to fund at all.

The DfT needs the IOW Council, rather than a campaign group, to form a coherent positive request for the study. Once the DfT Policy Team have that official request from the IOW Council, the DfT Project Team will be in a position to continue.

We are asking at this stage for you to a request for a fixed link STUDY, NOT for a fixed link. We believe that it is important for all concerned to have the correct information presented in order to make informed decisions, rather than an uninformed emotive ones.

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If an IOW Council vote was to occur on whether a study as explained above should be implemented at no expense to the IOW Council, could you please indicate whether you would:

1/ Support the implementation of a Cross Solent Fixed Link Feasibility Study and your reasoning why ?

OR

2/ Not support the implementation of a Cross Solent Fixed Link Feasibility Study and your reasoning why?

If your answer is 1/, would you consider assisting PRO-LINK to have the IOW Fixed Link incorporated as an option in the core strategic Cross Solent Transport Plan?

PRO-LINK look forward to your reply.

All the best.
Carl J Feeney

PRO-LINK. (Chair)
Campaigning for the IOW Fixed Link solution.