Undercliff – the road to nowhere?

By David Newble

Friday, March 7, 2014

 

Undercliff – the road to nowhere?

The landslip in 2001 closed a stretch of Undercliff Drive for 18 months but it was re-opened.

WIGHT LIVING

Has the death knell finally sounded for Undercliff Drive?

That’s the key question on everybody’s mind after the dramatic events of the past few weeks.

As anxious residents and the IW Council look for further signs of landslip along the Island’s most beautiful road, it looks increasingly likely it could be abandoned as a through route along the south coast of the IW.

It’s not as if we have not been here before.

The unstable geology of the Undercliff, which stretches from Blackgang in the west to Ventnor in the east, is well understood by experts and several dramatic collapses have occurred during the last 100 years.

Back in 1928, a huge landslide forced the closure and diversion inland of the original Blackgang Road between Chale and Niton and in 1994, a giant 40-metre section of the park fell into the sea.

The last major landslip along Undercliff Drive, which runs for nearly four miles from Niton to Ventnor, took place in 2001, when fears were first raised the road could be closed for good.

It took 18 months before a diversion was built and part of the road remained a single-lane carriageway, right up until the latest landslide occurred.

Consistently, the landslips have occurred after prolonged periods of heavy rain. And after the wettest winter since records began, it is little wonder the Island’s unique topography is getting up to its old tricks.

Internationally renowned geology expert and the IW Council’s former coastal manager, Prof Robin McInnes said the IW Council needed to undertake a thorough geological survey of the affected area before the ultimate fate of the road could be decided.

He said: "The survey would look at the relationship between the surface and the underlying geology. The need to understand the extent of the damage as a result of the very bad weather, what are the implications of that and what might happen to the ground at various sites in the future. They need to have that understanding before they can determine whether anything further can be done or not."

Last Thursday, evacuated residents, whose homes are under threat following the latest landslips, met with planners and highways bosses from the IW Council.

Barry and Ann Thwaites’s retirement dreams turned into a nightmare when their £650,000 home became unsafe due to the landslip.

Speaking after last Thursday’s meeting, Ann said the couple had been left in limbo until the landslip came to a halt.

She added they were now living at a friend’s house in Chale, which had been for sale but was taken off the market when Ann and Barry’s friends learned of their plight.

She said: "Our home has now been affected inside. The council said it could take between three and four months for the landslip to stop because the water that fell takes three to four months to penetrate through.

"The council are looking at putting a footpath through. That’s no good for vehicle access. Or they could put two turning circles at either end and make people walk. They were going to do the work ten years ago but it all fell through.

"We are very grateful to our friends in Chale. They have let us live there as long as we want."

Dominica Minns, 38, her partner Bryan Coleman, 46, and Bryan’s seven-year-old son, Spencer, are now living in a flat in Ventnor after they were advised to leave their £300,000 home.

The couple were due to complete the sale of their house on March 1 but it now stands empty. Dominica said: "We were supposed to have completed on Saturday. We should have been in our new home and living a new life. Everything is now completely up in the air. It is a massive, massive nightmare."

Also at the meeting was the IW Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Steve Stubbings who confirmed the current landslip could continue for months because of the prolonged winter rain.

He said: "Right at the moment, we are not in a position to make any long-term speculation about the future of Undercliff Drive. We had a meeting which was very helpful to both parties. Residents were able to see that we are on their side. Anything we can do in the short term and the long term to help, we will do."

Turning to the future of Undercliffe Drive itself, Cllr Stubbings added: "There is not a long-term prognosis at present. We have to wait until we know what else is happening. The fact is, it is still moving and likely to move for a few months yet. The water levels are still rising, which is due to the significant amount of rainfall. Clearly, it means we have an expectation this incident is not over.

"I recognise Undercliff Drive is perceived to be a very important link from one place to another and it has value as a tourist attraction. It is a wonderful area.

"Obviously, that will form part of the investigation that we will make into any proposals that come forward as to how to resolve the situation.

Cllr Stubbings said the IW Council would be putting in a bid for government cash.

"Right now, however, we are still in a situation where the thing is moving. We don’t know where we are going to end up in the short term.

"We are responding to immediate needs and will be responding in due course when we have confidence that the situation has stabilised."

Reporter: davidn@iwcpmail.co.uk

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