The private finance deal that sees the Island's roads maintained for the next 25 years has been officially signed.
The agreement between the Isle of Wight Council, Vinci Concessions, and French investment company Meridiam - unveiled as a partner earlier this year - was signed in London.
According to the Isle of Wight Council, the contract will see the Island's highways network being brought up to, and maintained at an unprecedented standard for 25 years. However, a number of vocal critics say the contract ties Island taxpayers into a lengthy and expensive deal with a private company which could become a millstone around our childrens' necks.
The local authority said that £260m (today's value) of government funding will be used to carry out the biggest engineering project ever undertaken on the Island. They have repeatedly stressed that the grant is not a loan, and will not need to be repaid.
The IW Council released a statement marking the official signing of the contract stating: "It will mean that not only will every stretch of adopted road, footway, pavement and cycleway be upgraded, street cleansing, roadside and winter maintenance, the CCTV network, street furniture and road signs as well as all street-lighting will also be improved. The PFI will also include a number of schemes to stabilise the highways at some areas prone to ground movement, including the Military Road and the Undercliff at Niton.
"Because these services will be delivered under one single new agreement, the cost of doing so will be cheaper - by around £1 million in the first year alone," the statement continued.
Vinci, through its partner Ringway, and using the local name "Island Roads" will start work in April next year, when 65 IW Council staff will transfer to the company's employment.
Councillor Edward Giles, cabinet member responsible for highways and transport, said: "This marks the final milestone in what has been a long and complex procurement process. Now the emphasis will be entirely on getting ready for the huge task ahead: that of bringing the Island’s road network up to the standards residents expect.
"We know that improving our roads is a high priority as far as residents are concerned and this unprecedented level of investment will give us a network of the highest quality for decades to come.
"What’s more, this new improved network will be delivered and maintained in a way that provides the very best value for council tax payers. Through the contract we will be getting better roads for less money which will help the council balance its books and protect services in what remain challenging financial times.”
Now the contract is signed, meetings will also be staged across the Island to explain more about the scheme and what it will mean to residents and businesses in the six geographical areas into which work will be divided.
Stuart Love, the council’s director of economy and the environment, said: "The Highways PFI will not only greatly improve our roads, this massive inward investment will also bring with it huge opportunities for local business.
"It will also leave us with a quality infrastructure that will help us attract new enterprises to the Island," Mr Love concluded.