Statement explains why Wisbech Access Study has gone ahead in its present form - but MP remains unhappy at rail delay

PUBLISHED: 17:23 22 November 2017

Plan showing improvement areas of Wisbech

Plan showing improvement areas of Wisbech

Archant

Three of the organisations involved in the Wisbech Access Study say they are surprised by concerns raised by MP Steve Barclay because funding was secured to progress both rail and road projects for the town.

Fenland Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said they had worked together to obtain funding for highways improvements through the Government’s growth fund.

“It was successful in achieving £1m for detailed feasibility and modelling works to establish the actual needs based on future traffic flows along with the allocation of a further £10.5m to implement the works subject to an acceptable business case,” said the statement.

The short term package was developed to utilise the £10.5m “and achieved an acceptably high business case to draw down these funds and implement the works”.

Part of the process was to allow the community to view and comment on the outline scheme designs in a consultation that ends on Monday.

All three said there is “is significant investment in improving the infrastructure in Wisbech with £10.5m allocated (and potentially more from the combined authority) for actual local highway works and a further £1.75m for more strategic highway connectivity studies and £3.2m for the GRIP3 rail connectivity study.

“Furthermore the vision of the Wisbech 2020 partners to investigate the potential of expanding Wisbech by way of a Garden Town will bring more economic prosperity.

“This ‘perfect storm’ situation should be collectively embraced and advanced to benefit from the funding that is available in this relatively short window of time as to hesitate or deliberate further will see opportunities missed and funding allocated elsewhere.

“In the past there has been criticism that Wisbech was not getting the attention or funding it deserved, this has now fundamentally changed.

“So let’s move forward together and allow the existing and future generations of the community of Wisbech benefit from these exciting initiatives.”

The statement adds that recognising the importance of the rail link between Wisbech and March and onto Cambridge, the Garden Town funding allocation includes £3.2m to carry out the next feasibility study known as GRIP3 which will complete the process to the preferred option stage.

MP Steve Barclay said: “What it is not saying is that the package for Wisbech from the combined authority will not progress the rail until after the garden town work ie for several years.

“Nor does it defend the claim in the consultation that we lose this £10.5 million if we do not agree this package for roads only. Yet that is what residents have been told.”

County and district councillor Steve Tierney said: “The Wisbech Access Study Team was told that we could not spend the money on the railway.

“We were also told that if we refused to agree the whole roads package, we would lose the £10.5million for Wisbech. You could say we were stuck between a rock and a hard place; we decided to ask the people what they thought and did so in the consultation which is currently ongoing.”

Cllr Tierney said the terms of consultation put to Wisbech councillors implied that that unless the current study went ahead there was a danger of losing the entire funding.

He felt the proposals being discussed through the access study did not risk future prospects for a rail link but “they simply mean that the railway scheme would have to be on the far side of the A47.

“This is quite likely anyway given the additional costs of a bridge and Highways England’s reluctance to allow new level crossings over major A-roads.”

Cllr Tierney believes the current situation is not ideal but he is confident that the road improvements planned for Wisbech do not prevent in anyway a rail link “just limit the options a little”.

He added: “I wouldn’t want to lose the road schemes that are being proposed because they are good schemes. Councillors and officers who were appointed to the Wisbech Access team can only make decisions within the parameters they are given.”

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