Natural England has raised concerns over works being undertaken by Island Roads on behalf of Isle of Wight Council at a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
The project is being undertaken to provide access through Undercliff Drive as the route is inaccessible following a landslip in February 2014.
The Compton Chine to Steephill Cove SSSI is legally protected as one of the most important sites in the country for its environmental resources, including rare plants and insects, vegetated cliffs and exposed rocky shores. Permission must be sought from Natural England in writing before undertaking any works in these protected areas.
A spokesperson for Natural England said: “Natural England has a role to ensure that any work proposed for this site of special scientific interest avoids damaging its renowned habitat and species and needs to give permission before any work can begin. Unfortunately we were not consulted on this occasion.
“The work potentially involves permanent loss of SSSI land which would need to be properly considered and potentially mitigated. As a result of these concerns, Natural England asked the contractors to halt the work until they can put in place a proper programme that addresses these issues.
“We understand the importance of carrying out remedial work following the landslip last year and met the contractors, Island Roads, and the Isle of Wight Council on site on 8 July to view the damage, discuss the operation and offer our advice on how it can be carried out without undermining the area’s SSSI status.”
The spokesperson added: “We believe that the swift action to stop the work has prevented any lasting damage to the SSSI. Island Roads have agreed that no further work affecting the SSSI will be carried out without first consulting Natural England and agreeing any mitigation that may be required.”
A statement released on behalf of Isle of Wight Council and Island Roads said: “Preparatory works are continuing at the Undercliff and, in liaison with Natural England, some further assents are being sought. In particular, following the site meeting on 8 July, Natural England requested an updated ecology report which is currently being prepared.
“With the approval of Natural England, boreholes are now being sunk along the existing roadway to understand how the underlying geology has been affected by the landsliding in early 2014.
“Limited works involving trees had commenced within the SSSI. This was discussed with Natural England and resulted in the request for the updated ecology report. It should be noted that this particular area of the SSSI, which was discussed with Natural England at the meeting, is within council ownership. Works continue in other areas which are not within the SSSI.”
According to the statement, the overall scheme is likely to be delivered without any significant delay.