The Island story

The Island Strategic Partnership has assembled some baseline information about the Island and what it is now. This is not just what the numbers tell us, but what people have told us about working on, living on and visiting the Island. This provides us with a story of our place that helps us to see the areas for sustainable improvement.

We know about our Island, we are proud of it and each other. We want the Island to continue being a distinctive place that is successful sustainable for the future.

Click on these links to shortcut to the chapter in our story that you are looking for.

Our Island
Our Economy
Housing and Homes
A safe and well kept place
Transport and Travel
Education and skills
Health and wellbeing
Further information

Our Island

The Isle of Wight has a distinctive local identity - underlined by our watery physical separation from the UK mainland by the Solent. The Island relies on sea connections to the south coast of England by passenger and vehicle ferries to the ports of Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington.

The Island has a total area of 380 square kilometres. It stretches 21 kilometres from Ventnor, in the South to Cowes in the North and 37 kilometres from Bembridge in the east to the Needles in the west.

Our largest towns are Newport, Cowes and East Cowes, Ryde, Sandown and Shanklin. Most of the Island’s 142, 000 residents live in these towns in the centre, north and east of the Island. Totland, Yarmouth and Freshwater are the significant settlements to the west of the Island.

The Island has a wide variety of natural, rural and urban landscapes. A distinctive range of chalk downs extends east from the Needles to Culver Cliff. The Medina Valley and its river run from the centre of the Island to the north coast and contains the Medina River.

There are also sites of internationally and nationally important geology and the Island is home to a rich variety of important habitats and species with 70% of the Island protected by UK or European environmental designations. This natural, historic and built environment is a major asset for residents and visitors. More than half of the Island is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (51%), whilst most of the coastline is also designated

The natural environment is one of the key attractions for visitors to the Island who come here for our rich and accessible historic environment, but we do know that the Island’s measured Ecological Footprint is three times greater than is recognised as fully sustainable. This means that we need to recognise and understand the ecological strains on our Island and the globe.

The Island has a complex geology within a small land area and is considered to be of outstanding geological and earth science significance. There are thirteen award winning beaches and a wealth of important flora and fauna.

However, there are risks from climate change. We also need to recognise that sea level rise may lead to increased erosion of the Island’s coastline, landslip and flooding and an increase in the area of land that cannot be developed.

Population increases and the increasing numbers of visitors to the Island could place considerable strain on the landscape and biodiversity of the Island if they are not properly managed. Increases in the levels of car usage have led to a rise in nitrogen and CO2 levels and there are water shortages especially during the summer months.

The rich natural and historic environment of the Island attracts both tourists and environment enthusiasts. Tourism is one of the main industries on the Island with the population more than doubling during the busy summer holiday season between July and August. The unique nature of the Island and its reputation as a tranquil and beautiful place has also drawn many retirees and second home owners.

The Isle of Wight shares many characteristics with the South East of England region. It has a growing population and an increasing reliance on the service sector. However, beneath the headline statistics there are characteristic differences that distinguish it from the mainland:

  • The Island has a large a large retired and ageing population often attracted by the natural environment and quality of life
  • Health, retailing, education and tourism dominate the local economy far more than in the rest of the South East
  • Based on measures such as wages, productivity, and educational attainment, economic Gross Value Added (GVA) contribution to the economy per head and unemployment, the Island ranks below the regional average.

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The highest level of local administration on the Island is the Isle of Wight Council, a unitary local authority. The Council was rated in 2007 as ‘fair’ and is striving to achieve an ‘excellent’ rating. The Island also has a thriving network of Town and Parish Councils; several of which have achieved the Quality Parish Mark and there are a growing number with detailed Parish Plans.

The Island also has a unique Primary Care Trust that both commissions and delivers Island health services. The healthcare services provided by the Trust were rated in 2007 as ‘good’.

A full range of government services are available on the Island through local offices giving access to important national public services such as Job Centre Plus, the Dept of Work and Pensions and the Environment Agency.

Famously, the Island is also home to three prisons near its principal town of Newport – all with a significant land use and workforce.

The Island Strategic Partnership brings together the key organisations and community interests of the Island, providing a forum for working together and developing an influence for positive change. The partnership includes the public sector, business and the voluntary and community sectors. The partners focus on common approaches to delivering a prosperous and sustainable future for the Isle of Wight.

The public sector is one of the largest employment and investment sectors on the Island, more so than in most other South East England communities. The total of national and local public spending on the Island is estimated to be as much as £1bn per year. The economic multiplier effect of public spending on the Island is estimated to mean that for every pound spent on the Island, it will change hands here between 4 and 5 times representing a hugely significant economic impact.

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There is consensus on the Island that a stronger economic base is needed if we are to have the levels of prosperity and opportunity that will help us to meet our social and environmental goals.

The Island’s economy also has some distinctive features.

The population of the Isle of Wight is growing at a faster rate than both the rest of the South East and the UK, with working age population levels comparatively low. The Island’s population has relatively high numbers of retirees, an ageing population and a consequently a significant number of people not in education, employment or training.

Unemployment on the Isle of Wight has declined significantly over the past 15 years. However, it is still higher than the South East and the UK. Economic productivity is also much lower than both the South East and the UK levels.

Educational attainment and workforce skills on the Island are also not as high as the English average and this is recognised by employers as a local disadvantage to opportunity and enterprise. This results in the Island ranking within the most deprived quartile of local authorities in the South East.

Small businesses (1-10 employees) represent 83% of the total number of businesses on the Island with Public Administration (including Education, Health and Defence) representing the biggest sector on the Island with regards to both output and employment

Manufacturing is, after the public sector, the biggest sector on the Isle of Wight by output. This sector represents high value to the Island’s economy.

A fall in the number of jobs in some manufacturing sectors together with a rise in productivity, has confirmed that the manufacturing sector is important in developing the economy by improving productivity and raising the Gross Added Value of the contribution people make to the Island’s economy.

Farming as a proportion of the Island’s economy has been declining, with a resulting concern for the future management of the countryside.

Tourism remains however one of the main industries on the Island, generating £360 million of direct expenditure and supporting over 20% of all jobs but the tourism industry on the Isle of Wight tends to have low skilled and low paid jobs.

The Island has a number of economic strengths:

  • The Island has an attractive landscape and natural environment that appeals to managers and business people who own or set up businesses on the Island, not to mention tourists.
  • Significant environmental qualities and features such as habitats, beaches, deep marine water quays, marinas and the built environment enhance the potential of a number of key sectors such as marine related industries and tourism. The Island also has a good reputation as a location for hosting major international and national sporting events and festivals.
  • Composites and materials, marine technologies, rural industries and tourism and hospitality have all been identified by local and regional partners as significant local business clusters and therefore development opportunities on the Island.
  • Coupled with this, there is an emerging high-tech, niche manufacturing and advanced engineering economy linked to the wind energy, marine, automotive and aerospace sectors.
  • Following on from this, the Isle of Wight has also been identified as a Priority Area for Economic Regeneration. There is a good supply of potential employment land, a large proportion of which is understood to benefit from a lack of physical or planning constraints. There is also an availability of employment sites with deep-water frontage suitable for marine related activities.
  • Significant environmental qualities such as natural habitats, landscapes, coastlines including beaches, marinas and deep water quays and a high quality built environment, enhance the potential of a number of key sectors such as marine related industries and tourism. The Island also has a good reputation as a location for major international and national sporting events and festivals.

However, the Islands economy faces a number of challenges:

  • The first is a narrow but recently diversifying employment base which is limited to a small number of sectors with 60% of the workforce concentrated in five sectors. There is also a perceived deficit between the supply of skilled local labour and the requirements of industry.
  • There are also below average earnings, especially among males and a low representation of households classified as higher and lower managerial occupations. As a result the Island’s poorest people suffer from a combination of high unemployment, seasonal work and low wages, which commonly traps them into benefit dependency.
  • Being an Island also weakens our competitive position in attracting and retaining business investment because of higher costs in delivering goods and services.

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Tourism is a long established industry on the Island. It remains one of the main industries, serving people attracted by the unique natural environment and location. It has a significant impact on the Island its economy, public services, employment, infrastructure and services. It is also widely regarded as a low wage industry with a traditionally low but improving skills base.

The “Island” factor creates a perception of a unique, distinct but still largely British holiday environment although there is growing interest in special interest holidays, ‘green tourism’ and the overseas market.

The Island itself benefits from high-quality scenery with thirteen award-winning beaches and iconic landmarks and landscapes such as the Needles.

Visitor interest in the Island’s environment is important. The reality of this perception is reinforced by 70% of the Island having international, national and local nature conservation designations. The geology and coastal scenery of the Island is of international significance, particularly with regards to fossil and dinosaur finds, drawing scientists and enthusiasts from far and wide. This also makes for an unusual variety of landforms and landscapes, soils, plants and wildlife and microclimates – contributing to the Island’s reputation as the “Garden Isle”

The Island has a wealth of attractions including the Isle of Wight Zoo, Dinosaur Isle, Brading Roman Villa, Ventnor Botanical Gardens and many others. There is also a strong heritage sector including several important English Heritage properties such as Osborne house and gardens and Carisbrooke Castle.

As well as the attractions, there are over a hundred events on the Island each year, ranging from big strategically important events such as Cowes Week, the Music and Cycling Festival, to small parish events that play an important role in local communities.

Visitors can stay in a wide variety of accommodation, including bed & breakfast, hotels, self catering, caravans, seaside guest houses, farm houses and holiday parks, and camping sites. However, the quality and range of accommodation, while improving is not considered adequate to meet the needs of the new and emerging market for higher quality products which the Island is trying to attract.

Interest is growing in activity and outdoor activities. But the Island is still largely reliant on the traditional family holiday market and low spend coach and school groups.

The Island has a comprehensive and well-maintained network of footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes. There is all year provision and opportunities for a wide array of new outdoor activities such as walking, cycling, sailing, watersports, horse-riding, country sports and golf, all ideal for green and activity based tourism.

Following on from this, there is a need for investment in tourist accommodation on the Island that will sustain new forms of tourism and activities. There is also a significant need for improvements to cultural and visitor assets such as museums.

During the peak season, the volume of visitors’ also causes significant strain on the Island’s infrastructure and environment. In recent years there has been investment and a new focus on creating opportunities for an all year tourism market that will reduce the pressure on the Island during peak seasons.

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Housing and homes

The Island has a deserved reputation for having a high quality of life because of its unique and beautiful environment. There is a strong residential property market with high and sustained values.

Sufficient residential land sites have been identified to meet the Island’s current requirements through to at least 2011. But this brings its own problems. The attractiveness of the Island results in significant levels of in-migration from wealthy households from the mainland. This serves to limit the supply of housing for local residents and artificially inflates local house prices – in common with other tourist areas such as Devon and Cornwall

Above average segments of the Island’s housing stock are large detached or bungalow type properties. There is also a mismatch between the oversupply of this type of housing and the increasing requirement for smaller units driven by changing trends in life-styles.

Currently, there is a shortage of smaller affordable dwellings, especially those with one or two bedrooms. There are a large number of homeless families on the Island, some of whom are homed temporarily in B&B accommodation. It is difficult to find accommodation for them to move to which is both affordable and available. Many of the Island’s housing sites are also relatively small and fall below the existing thresholds for securing new affordable housing.

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A safe and well kept place

The Isle of Wight is amongst the safest places in the UK to live, work and visit.

Despite being one of the safes places in the UK, the Isle of Wight suffers from a disproportionately high fear of crime which affects people’s quality of life.

Over 2 million of people visit our Island every year, but levels of crime such as vehicle crime and burglary remain very low. In 2006/07, domestic burglary rate on the island was only 3.75 per 1,000 household compared to 7.3 in Hampshire and 13.4 nationally. Theft from a motor vehicle rate was 3.9 per 1,000 population compared to 8.4 in Hampshire and 9.4 nationally. In 2006/07, robbery on the island was just one fifth of the rate in Hampshire and nationally; wounding at 0.09 per 1,000 population was at half of the rate in Hampshire and one third of the national rate.

Recent information on ‘problem drug use’ estimates an Island population of about 503 “problem drug users” aged 15 – 64. Rates of treatment for drug users are high and increasing.

Residents say that the look and feel of their surroundings are a very high priority for improvement. Litter bins, dog waste bins, clean bus shelters and street furniture, clean beaches, less fly tipping, improving local roads and pavements and better public facilities are all asked for by people and communities who want to feel better about their local area. Residents tell us that improving their neighbourhoods will engender a sense of community pride and contribute to the local economy by attracting visitors and tourists.

There is a strong sense of community engagement on the Island with over 1800 voluntary and community organisations and a willingness to participate in community projects and initiatives. Voluntary and community sector organisations are building their capacity and there is a growing willingness to work in partnership to improve the Island. The community sector is looking to the public sector commissioners of services to help them provide more and better community services.

The Isle of Wight Rural Community Council is acting to increase volunteering opportunities and the capacity of the voluntary sector and rural communities to influence their local areas which will increase local voices and enable people to take a greater part in community life.

At a local level, nuisance from young people is often raised as an issue by residents. It affects the quality of life in some communities. The rates of low-level violence such as common assault, alcohol related disorder and criminal damage are in line with those for Hampshire, but slightly above the national average. However, recent research has also suggested that police data often reflects increases in policing activity against violence rather than measuring changing levels of actual violence - something that can have significant influence on the perception of crime in a small community.

Support from residents has resulted in an extensive CCTV network for public places with plans to grow this in 2008/09.

Tackling Domestic Abuse is also a key issue for the Island, with a significant number of recorded cases each year now being dealt with by Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs).

Thankfully, the number of road accidents is relatively small, but accidents and injuries, particularly involving children, are a great concern to the Island community. Although accident deaths have been reducing, the number of injuries has been variable from year to year. A road safety partnership is focussing on reducing speeds, particularly outside sensitive areas like playgrounds or schools.

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Transport and Travel

The Island has a 833km (517mile) road network which radiates like the spokes of a wheel from Newport, the Island’s centrally located County Town. This means that during peak period’s traffic congestion occurs in some traffic hot spots, notably Newport in the town centre and Lake, where main roads intersect on the Islands south east coast.

Our limited highway network means that problems occur when roads have to be temporarily closed. This can result in hold ups and traffic being diverted onto more minor routes.

The Island is not affected by through traffic and congestion is as a result of locally generated journeys. The main traffic generators are therefore home to school and home to work journeys.

On average 52.8% of journeys to work on the Island are less than 5km (3 miles) long, yet more than half of the Island’s workforce travel to work by car (54.2%). We also know that at peak times nearly 80% of cars entering Newport are single occupancy vehicles.

There is an increasing move towards transferring freight by road. Larger lorries and “just in time” deliveries mean that the movement of freight can be an issue where many of our roads are narrow and rural in nature.

The Island’s roads are recognised as being in need of improvement with a backlog of work required on Island roads. A lack of funding has led to poorly maintained minor roads and the Council has recently won £325m of PFI funding to improve the condition of our local roads.

Some major roads are in locations which may not be sustainable in the long-term as they are vulnerable to the effects of coastal erosion, instability and the impact of climate change.

Public transport

The Island has one of the best rural bus services in the country and the majority of the Island’s rural households are covered by an hourly or better bus service. Buses can offer a real alternative to the car and some services between key towns are now running at 10 minute intervals.

Extension of the national free travel scheme and discounted travel for scholars has seen numbers of journeys by bus and rail increase dramatically during recent years. A total of 5.8million passengers travelled by bus in 2003/04, rising by 26% to 7.3million in 2006/07.

An 8 mile railway links Ryde on the north east corner to popular coastal holiday resorts of Sandown and Shanklin, offering good connections between this part of the Island by fast ferry to Portsmouth and mainland destinations beyond. This route carries in the region of 1.2m passengers per year and helps provide an alternative to car use. However, the Island has one main bus operator with the result that there is very little fare competition.

Recent timetable revisions and investment by the local operator in new vehicles have increased the numbers and frequency of local buses. The service can however still be stretched at peak times when some local buses are used to transport children to school.

Walking and cycling

The Island has 827km (514 mile) mile public rights of way network providing access across the Island for those travelling by foot, bicycle or horse.

The Island has an extensive cycle network, the majority of which uses flat hard surfaced disused railway lines. Developed in partnership with SUSTRANS, National cycle routes NCN 22 and NCN 23 cross the Island giving off road “coast to coast” access, using predominately disused railway lines from Cowes through Newport to Sandown and a mixture of quiet roads, dedicated paths and the old rail route from Ryde to Newport. Another cycle route 3.7km (2.3miles) links Yarmouth to Freshwater

Cross Solent travel

Access to the Island is by a high number of frequent passenger ferry and passenger / vehicle ferry crossings. The fastest crossing (10 minutes) is by hovercraft from Southsea (Portsmouth) to Ryde. Services operate throughout the year, every day of the week and over 9 million foot passengers cross the Solent every year

Crossing the Solent is perceived by some as being expensive and a barrier for those seeking mainland employment/education opportunities, or requiring access to secondary health facilities currently not provided on the Island. The Island’s position as a popular tourist destination also results in congestion which can occur at some of our main ferry ports, particularly during peak tourist season.

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Education and skills

In 2008 there are 69 LEA maintained schools spread throughout the Island with several primary schools in rural areas. There have been year-on-year educational improvements but there is concern that greater improvement is needed in educational standards.

There is an active learning skills partnership working to improve adult skills and the transition from schools into employment. The Island is helped by having a Further Education College which is rated as ‘excellent’.

However, the Island has lower than average GCSE results and relatively poor achievement and standards across LEA provision. There is also a low proportion of the population with level 4/5 educational attainment. Those seeking or with higher educational qualifications tend to leave the Island.

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Health and wellbeing

The Island has a unique Primary Care Trust that both commissions and delivers healthcare services to the Island.

There are 18 GP practices on the Island with secondary healthcare provided at St Mary’s District General Hospital in Newport.

The quality of the Island’s environment is a factor local people rate highly in relation to their health.

Health and social care services at the primary and secondary care level are increasingly joined up for patients and there is still much to do to modernise the patient and carer experience.

A relatively high proportion of residents report that their health is ‘not good’ and the life expectancy of men of working age is not as good as might be expected. There are also continuing high suicide rates.

Some hospital treatments are not available on the Island, and need to be carried out on the mainland. This is a cause of concern for many Island residents. Residents can find travel to mainland hospital difficult. The unit cost of providing some services (e.g. maternity) is high because of the relatively small population of the Island and there is difficulty in recruiting to some specialist posts (e.g. mental health). This means that many services are not viable to provide on the Island.

Only 34,000 residents are registered with an NHS dentist, despite a number of new dentists being appointed.

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The richness of the Isle of Wight’s cultural diversity is reflected in the provision of an estimated 380 leisure and visitor centres and attractions on the Island by public, private, not-for-profit and voluntary organisations. Both English Heritage and The National Trust are active on the Island, with Osborne House and The Needles Old Battery being of notable interest.

The Island has a rich infrastructure mix of both indoor and outdoor sports and leisure facilities. All of these facilities are easily accessible to Island residents, visitors, schools, businesses, clubs and groups.

Arts and theatres are also well supported across the Island. The principal facilities are Ryde, Shanklin, Apollo and Trinity Theatres, together with Quay Arts and Medina in Newport.

There are more than 250 parks, gardens and open spaces, together with 35 playgrounds and 1100 public seats. 64 miles of coastline are managed, and there are 11 miles of award winning beaches.

Ventnor Botanic Garden consists of 22 acres of maintained garden containing 8000 plant species, plus a plant production facility and visitor centre. Residents, visitors, researchers, schools and businesses all use the Garden.

The Islands communities are served by 11 static and 2 mobile libraries and records over a million visits per year (the fifth highest per capita among unitary authorities).

The Island has four public museums, including the popular Dinosaur Isle, which all together attracts 120,000 visitors a year. 5,500 school children and other groups visit the museums each year, as well as national and international researchers. There are another 25 museum related organisations on the island including Carisbrooke Castle Museum.

There are also a host of events on the Island each year, running into the hundreds and ranging from big strategically important events such as Cowes Week, the Isle of Wight Music Festival, Walking Festival, Cycling Festival and WhiteAir; to small parish events. Many of the events are organised by voluntary organisations and community organisations, of which there are a very large number, spanning all aspects of cultural activity.

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The Island has a strong sense of local ties and identity in the Island population with a strong network of town and parish councils.

Parish plans are in place for many areas but people say that rural isolation still affects access to public and community services, often making people feel that their communities may not be sustainable. Many businesses that people feel are vital communities, such as pubs and post offices have retreated from villages in recent years, contributing to shifts in the social mix in rural communities.

The lower per capita income on the Island compared to other parts of the region, also leads to relative deprivation, especially concentrated in some communities.

Despite a network of sometimes frequent public transport on major routes, some communities have more limited access to regular affordable and accessible transport. This also affects their access to services, to affordable healthy food and to networks of social support.

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Further information

The Eco Island website has a role in making information about the Island available. It will also provide information about the changes that take place as a result of Eco Island.

An information observatory is planned by the ISP. This will bring many sources of data together to improve the way that Island services work. It will also provide public information.

In the meantime a set of summary baseline information can be found by contacts page.

Last Updated: 17/03/2009 13:00:47