By Reniera O’Donnell, assistant director of regeneration, Isle of Wight Council.
It’s been two years since the Council made the brave decision to establish a regeneration team. It was daunting for me; coming in to help create a new department and kick start a programme that was tasked with plugging the big black (or is that red?) money hole. So I am indulging in a bit of a reflection on where we have gotten to thus far.
For me, the biggest change has been the rising enthusiasm both locally and from future investors and partners about the Island. The number of bids we got for taking forward the Newport Harbour masterplan was an indication that the wider development world is interested in our little Island. As well as this house prices in Ryde over the past year have seen highest rise in the country! Add to this the expansion of MHI Vestas with hundreds of new jobs; the investment going in to some of our hotels (the Priory Bay as an example); and the success of smaller businesses like Wyatt & Jack and Russell Ince’s Christmas Imaginarium and you start to see that the things are definitely shifting.
Regeneration on the Island started as a way to use council assets better, and make money to help ease the financial pressures the council will continue to face. But regeneration has become a wide programme of activity that’s not only about new development but also about changing the perception of the Island and ensuring it is a place that people want to live, work, grow up and visit – and of course to invest in!
Building new homes, shops and workplaces was one of the first objectives of the regeneration programme, but it hasn’t been the first thing that you see happening. This can seem frustrating but the development world is not a particularly quick one and it takes time to ensure the work we do is done well, and brings the investment and benefits we need.
However, there has been significant progress towards new bricks on the ground. Work is well and truly underway on bringing the extension to Ryde’s business park at Nicholson Road forward as a future employment site with a planning application expected to go in in the first half of 2019. The Newport Harbour masterplan team are now here and will be working with stakeholders to come up with a plan that we can then take to the market. This will attract some serious money to invest in the Island’s county town. Sandown’s Battery Gardens has received a big financial boost so the National Poo Museum can finally establish a permanent home and breathe life into an old monument.
Add into this the work that Newport Town Centre Manager Claire Kennard has been taking forward to bring the Shaping Newport plans to life; and the fact that we are in active dialogue with potential future partners for taking Dinosaur Isle to the next level and you will start to see that quite a lot has been going on over the past two years.
With the recent Council decision to head into the world of house-building, 2019 will be the year we will see all these plans begin to take shape as new homes, new businesses and new opportunities to attract wider investment to the Island.
I’m feeling that the Island is starting to shed its image of forgotten seaside towns of yesteryear, and is being seen as a place that is open for business and worth investing in. And shifting that image is as important to the regeneration of our Island as the delivery of new bricks on the ground!