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OUR ISLAND IS SPECIAL

By Angela Hewitt

Chairperson of Aflag

The article below was published in the Southern Evening Echo

The Isle of Wight has been my passion ever since I came to live here 38 years ago.

All my friends are Islanders and I feel 100% included. Maybe it is because I believe in the saying, ďwhen in RomeÖ.Ē Nevertheless, I can see many ways in which Island Life can be improved, but, with out destroying its unique character. This is why I am very much against a fixed link to the Island. Our Island status ensures the protection of our special environment and quality of life. The Island is a great place to live and work and in a way we are privileged to live here. No place in England can offer what we have to offer as an Island. The Island and its environment is our economic asset. Experts have been telling us this for years.

Four years ago when I discovered that the Islandís unique character was suddenly at risk by the threat of a fixed link to the Island I founded AFLAG, Against Fixed Link Action Group. A company called Linkland Limited supported by International Accountants KPMG was getting funding from the IofW Council to produce a feasibility study into the viability of a fixed link. Indeed, money willing, the study showed it was indeed viable. The fact that KPMG were involved meant it was a deadly serious threat. They were behind the Bridge Link to the Isle of Sky. The study concluded that any form of Fixed Link would change the Islandís character forever. If people donít think that to be true then there isnít much point in having one. We have around three thousand members and we successfully sent Linkland Ltd away with a flea in their ear. Since then other people have jumped on the pro-link bandwagon. This year a pro-link organisation called FLAG was founded. Of course there is big money to be made by the investors in the building of a Fixed Link so we are always aware that the threat is a constant one.

Unemployment is the persuasive emotional blackmail often used to justify a fixed link. Yet there are areas on the mainland such as Thanet and Hastings and Cornwall that have higher unemployment than the Island. They arenít cut off from the mainland yet we are doing better than they are. According to the most recently published figures (September 2002) unemployment on the Island is decreasing faster than many other areas in the South East despite the increase in its population.

 We donít need a Fixed Link. The idea is Victorian. This is the 21st Century an era of E Commerce, Internet, Intranet, IT, Marketing and leisure. It is a computer led world where more and more people will be working from home or from small business units. We are uniquely poised to capitalise upon this. This will result in a demand for activities that involve socialising within the Leisure Industry Ė something the Island already has on offer. The Island is brilliant at staging events, at tourism, at boat building, and is potentially brilliant at the arts and at marine technology. We should encourage design companies, small component manufacturers, specialist farming, products where ferry charges, which are reduced for companies making regular trips, can be easily lost in the costs. For instance it would be more cost effective to transport asparagus rather than potatoes to the mainland. These are the kind of businesses that will not damage the Islandís unique environment. They are exciting businesses, fast moving businesses, constantly changing businesses, and they need young people, imaginative, creative and lively thinking people to run them. This is the Islandís future.

 On the Island a young person can work hard and still have time to play hard rather than spending half their day sitting in a traffic jam on the M25. If I have any complaint it is with the IofW Council and the Isle of Wight Partnership who do not put enough emphasis on helping young people setting up small businesses on the Island. I firmly believe that it is better to encourage our own local population, who have an interest in, and love for the Island, to develop their business interests here rather than concentrate mainly on bring in inward investment. Companies that are so often hear today gone tomorrow businesses that are only on the trawl for grants and have no real interest in the Island and contributing to its unique culture and way of life.

 Tourism is also an essential part of our economy. But I sometimes feel we have not moved instep with the changing world of tourism. When like Britain the Island was hit with cheap holidays abroad in assured sun the Island failed to adjust in the way the rest of Britain did. Britain now offers a very different kind of holiday selling its cultural cities, its heritage and it landscape. The bucket and spade holiday is no longer the mainstay yet the Island is still heavily reliant upon family holidays in the main season and saga holidays in the winter. While these should still exist I think we would serve the Island better by encouraging up-market breaks offering quality accommodation, good restaurants and first class entertainment. Not just for the British but for the foreign market too. Rather than a fixed link to the mainland I would like to see a feasibility study and investment into a ferry link direct to Europe?

 I see the Island as a land of opportunity. This is a great Island and it can be greater. We donít need a fixed link to be successful. We need imagination, a positive attitude a belief in our own unique abilities. We need the right people to help us, modern people with new visions who understand the meaning of Local Agenda 21 and sustainable development. Who can assess our existing qualities, and who know how to build upon our very special asset and not destroy it.

 Any form of Fixed Link will bring irreversible change to our Island and its environment. It will cease to be special. Is that what we really want? 

Irreversible Change

This speech was made at a youth conference in 2002 Wight2BHeard

Any form of Fixed Link to the Isle of Wight will bring about dramatic and irreversible change. If you donít think that to be true then there isnít much point in having one.

Our Island status ensures the protection of our special environment and quality of life. The Island is a great place to live and work and in a way we are privileged to live here. No place in England can offer what we have to offer as an Island. The Island and its environment is our economic asset. Experts have been telling us this for years.

Either a road link or a rail link will change the character of the Island forever.

A Rail Link will certainly make the Island more accessible. More people will come to live here. This will mean more houses, more cars, more pollution, more damage to our unique and fragile environment. We know this to be true because Portsmouth was once an Island.

Four years ago the Isle of Wight Council to paid for a feasibility study into the viability of a Fixed Link. That study concluded that any form of Fixed Link would change the Islandís character forever. It is now time to spend our money on more important issues that will benefit our future - our further education system for instance.

Unemployment is the issue often used to justify a fixed link. Yet there are areas on the mainland such as Thanet and Hastings and Cornwall that have higher unemployment than the Island. They arenít cut off from the mainland. Unlike us their links are fixed yet we are doing better than they are. Tourism may be a factor. Something a fixed link will damage.

We donít need a Fixed Link. The idea of a Fixed Link is Victorian. This is the 21st Century an era of E Commerce, Internet, Intranet, IT, Marketing and leisure. It is a computer led world where more and more people will be working from home. There will be a greater demand for activities that involve socialising within the Leisure Industry. Furthermore we are brilliant at staging events, at tourism, at boat building, and we are potentially brilliant at the arts and at marine technology. We are uniquely poised to capitalise upon this. These are the kind of businesses that will not damage the Islandís unique environment. They are exciting businesses, fast moving businesses, constantly changing businesses, and they need young people, imaginative, creative and lively thinking people to run them. None of these need a Fixed Link. This is the Islandís future.

The Island residents, not speculators from the mainland, should generate Feasibility Studies. We need a feasibility study into why ferry fares are so high and how they can be reduced, even the possibility of a third ferry company would be a positive step forward, one supported by all Islanders. Why not a ferry direct to Europe?

I see the Island as a land of opportunity. This is a great Island but we can be greater. We donít need a fixed link to be successful. We need imagination, a positive attitude a belief in our own unique abilities. We need the right people to help us, modern people with new visions who understand the meaning of sustainable development, who can assess our qualities, people who know how to build upon our very special asset and not destroy it.

Any form of Fixed Link will bring irreversible change to our Island and its environment. It will cease to be special. Is that what we really want?

 

 

 

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