It is surprising to learn of the concerns being expressed based on the fact that funding is now secured to progress a comprehensive package of both road and rail infrastructure projects for Wisbech. The history and details of the various proposals are fully explained in this statement.
The Wisbech Access Study (WAS) was borne out of the demonstrable need to address known Wisbech highway network shortcomings in the form of congestion and accident black spots aligned to Fenland District Council’s Local Plan adopted in 2014.
The Local Plan responded well to the Government’s growth agenda and allowed for housing and employment growth across the town in strategically allocated sites known as Broad Location of Growth (see the plan below). These are located in the Weasenham Lane area to the South accommodating 350 homes and 30 Ha of employment land equating to approximately 2,200 jobs, East Wisbech spanning the Cambs/Norfolk border accommodating 1,550 homes and West Wisbech to the north of Mile Tree Lane and East of Gadds Lane and Barton Road accommodating 750 homes.
However, the transport evidence base to support the Local Plan determined that a number of locations across the transport network would require upgrading. It was also recognised at that stage that due to low viability in the town that developers would be unable to fund these much needed strategic off site transport requirements.
As a result CCC, FDC and the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) worked together to bid for external funding for these highway improvements from 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.
The feasibility and modelling work was carried out by specialist consultants working with the public partners, resulting in the development of a series of works packages that demonstrated a ‘high’ business case to draw down the £10.5m works funding which had to be spent by 2021.
During the feasibility stage linked to the overall Wisbech 2020 project aspirations it emerged from various public and private sectors for the reinstatement of the Wisbech to March rail line, improving access and travel times to Cambridge and Peterborough. Responding to this the partners allocated funds from the £1m feasibility fund to carry out a series of rail feasibility studies including a Network Rail prescribed GRIP2 study and a level crossing study.
Following the development of the various WAS road packages, these were considered and approved over several months by a cross-member working group. This group consists of CCC, FDC and Wisbech Town Council (WTC) members along with member representatives from Norfolk County Council and Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk which made recommendations for short term (up to 2021), medium term (up to 2026) and long term (up to 2031) highway packages.
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.
This package consists of the following improvements:
- New Bridge Lane/Cromwell Road signalisation
- A new southern access road from the A47/Cromwell Road to open up the Southern employment site off Newbridge Lane/Boleness Road area
- Weasenham Lane junction improvements
- A47/Elm High Road roundabout improvements
- A47/Broadend Road roundabout provision
These proposals will allow the Southern and Eastern Broad Location of Growth areas to come forward enabling 1,900 homes and 2,200 jobs.
Part of the process is to allow the community to view and comment on the outline scheme designs and the overall package of proposals so an extensive suite of information boards were developed and agreed by the member working group. Various venues were booked across the town to host the consultation which is live from Monday 30 October to Monday 27 November 2017 and can also be accessed online at http://www.fenland.gov.uk/wisbechaccess
The Wisbech 2020 Vision identifies how important not only the local road improvements are but also improved connectivity for the town is essential, this includes road, rail and digital.
The current public partners have recognised this from the beginning and are extremely pleased that the newly established Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), led by Mayor James Palmer, has similarly endorsed the importance of connecting Wisbech to the wider Cambridgeshire area. As a result the CPCA has, at its June 2017 Board meeting, approved to fund the following crucial feasibility work:
- Dualling of A47 Business Case between the A16 to the east of Peterborough and Walton Highway to the east of Wisbech (cost £0.5m) to:
- Improve connectivity between Norfolk, Fenland and Peterborough / the A1 and onward to national destinations, reducing journey times and improving journey reliability
- Help to boost economic prosperity, particularly in Peterborough and Wisbech, by reducing transport costs and improving accessibility to national markets for a large part of the east of England
- Support economic and housing growth in Peterborough, Fenland, Kings Lynn and West Norfolk and further east along the A47 corridor.
- Extending the A47 to the M11 (cost £1.25m) - To understand the feasibility, viability, benefits and impacts of connecting the M11 in the Cambridge area to the A47 in the Guyhirn / Wisbech area.
- Wisbech Garden Town Feasibility Study (cost £6.5m) to:
- Enable regeneration of the town, tacking social, economic and deprivation challenges
- Support economic and housing growth in Wisbech and Cambridgeshire, in particular ensuring a pipeline of good quality homes in the Wisbech area
- Provide conditions that improve East-West connectivity and North-South links, improving connectivity and promoting Wisbech as a destination of choice for residents and businesses
- Develop Wisbech as a location for economic growth and inward investment geared towards agri-tech, food research and development and food processing
Recognising the importance of the rail link between Wisbech and March and onto Cambridge, the above 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.
Preliminary scoping work is in progress with Network Rail and it is anticipated that this work will commence in the coming months linked to the wider Garden Town feasibility studies.
Further good news for Wisbech is that the CPCA has indicated the desire to invest to fund a further phase 2 package of Wisbech Access Study on site work. The working group will look to assess the relevant schemes to bring forward to benefit from this funding which will include further consultation with the community at the appropriate time.
In summary there is significant investment in improving the infrastructure in Wisbech with £10.5m allocated (and potentially more from the CPCA) 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, increased infrastructure and most importantly lift the socio-economic future for its community.
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.