GEORGE Osborne has pledged to explore a bridge or tunnel to the Isle of Wight – but only if the Islanders want one.

Quizzed by the Southern Daily Echo, the Chancellor intervened in the growing debate about building a “fixed link” by expressing interest in the project.

And he sought to reassure people in Hampshire that his promise to pour funds into creating a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ across the Pennines would not penalise the South.

Mr Osborne said: “Doing more for the North of England shouldn’t come at the expense of any other part of the country.

“The observation I’ve made about the power of city areas is something that applies to Southampton just as much as it applies to Manchester.

“There is a fantastic amount going on in Southampton with the port and – if you take the wider area – there’s an extraordinary amount of exciting innovation in manufacturing taking place.

“I’d be very interested to sit down with local civic and business leaders to see what we can do to support the transport links – including, potentially, the fixed link to the Isle of Wight.

“Of course, we must involve the people of the Isle of Wight in that conversation as well.”

Mr Osborne spoke after the long-running debate was reignited, following the launch of an online petition and plans for a survey.

Two business leaders on the island are testing support, either for a Solent bridge or a tunnel, to end the Isle of Wight’s dependence on “old fashioned” ferries to connect to the mainland.

The pair argue there is growing public support – because of recent price hikes and service cuts on the ferries – and that billions of pounds of Government funding could be available.

They point to the example of the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, where a bridge met opposition but, once built, was popular and had boosted economic output.

In his comments, at a Westminster lunch, Mr Osborne stopped short of talk of funding, but did hint at new cash to improve roads in next month’s Autumn Statement.

He said: “In the South of England, the A27 is not fit for purpose and there are vital transport links that take many hundreds of thousands of cars a month - and we can improve those as well.”

And, on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, he added: “I see this not as a North-South issue – more of a London and the rest issue.

“I don’t want to pull London back, but I do want to pull the rest of the country up.”