An improved transport link between March and Wisbech has taken a step closer after a report into reopening the old rail line says it would boost jobs, housing and the economy.
The latest report which looks into the wider economic benefits of a transport link shows the impact of a scheme could be large in terms of helping diversify and modernise the economy and creating jobs and prosperity.
Initial reports show that the investment in the link could bring around a three fold return over the cost of the investment. The whole of Fenland would also benefit from the better transport links to the Greater Cambridge City Deal area which would give access to a thriving jobs market while stimulating housing and economic growth in Wisbech.
Cambridgeshire County Council has been exploring the case, working with partners Steve Barclay MP and Fenland District Council on potential for reopening the line. The latest report is the second of a series of vital steps necessary to scope the potential to reopen the link.
Results at this early stage of investigations indicate that costs for the station and reopening of the line are expected to be in the range of Â£50million to Â£75 million depending on what options are taken forward.
The benefits of such a link would include reduced journey times which will bring about significant wider economic benefits for Wisbech. With such a link in place, Wisbech could provide housing to support the high level of demand for employment at key centres like Cambridge where average house prices rival those in London. This in turn could provide further demand for local services and amenities creating employment and supporting the regeneration of Wisbech town centre.
More work needs to be done to investigate further, and partners are asking Government to help fund a crucial Â£250,000 study that would look in more detail at key options for the line and suggest which is the best one to take forward.
The latest report shows:
"¢ The expected Wider Economic Benefits for a scheme with a station in Wisbech are Â£81.22m and for a station south of the A47 these are Â£59.98 million
"¢ Average journey times between Wisbech and Cambridge of 58 mins could be expected under a heavy rail service between Wisbech and March compared to an average of one hour and 30 mins on peak by road (depending on traffic this can be much worse). It would result in Wisbech entering the search area for Cambridge workers looking for places to live.
"¢ The proposal could have a significant impact on the local economy of Wisbech. It could become feasible for Wisbech to provide housing to support the high level of employment demand in the area. This in turn will provide further demand for local services and amenities creating employment and contributing to the regeneration of the town centre. This would help tackle longer term economic challenges, such as high levels of unemployment and social deprivation. Given the unique nature of the town's economy, which is dominated by agri-food processing, the impact of the rail service could be fairly radical in terms of helping diversify and modernise the economy.
"¢ Secondary indirect benefits through further land utilisation (than already allocated in Fenland's Core Strategy) due to higher economic growth with the rail service than without leads to the following benefits:
o 392 additional houses built over the Core Strategy period
o Â£39.2m of capital expenditure associated with the house building
o 161 additional FTE jobs over the Core Strategy period
o Â£9m of additional GVA benefits per annum once all jobs come forward
Cambridgeshire County Council Leader Martin Curtis, said: "Opening up the existing rail line between Wisbech and March and onto the wider network has been an ambition of Wisbech 2020. We have been working hard with partners to investigate the potential costs and benefits, and I welcome the findings of the reports showing the positive potential of reopening the link. These reports show there are much needed benefits to the local community by creating jobs, supporting the building of homes and improving the quality of life for residents. We have had some very positive talks with Government and we are now looking to them to take this onto the next crucial stage to pay for a study to find the best option to take this forward."
MP for North East Cambridgeshire Steve Barclay, said: "This report is a game changer. For the first time in four decades we now have an independent report which shows the wider economic benefits to Cambridgeshire from re-opening the Wisbech line. I will be discussing its findings with the Cabinet Office Minister Greg Clark MP. We must ensure momentum is maintained, and move forward from this report with a detailed cost assessment by Network Rail to being in July."
Fenland District Council Leader Alan Melton said: "Better infrastructure and transport links are vital for economic growth not just for Wisbech but for Fenland as a whole and pushing for them is a key element in the Wisbech 2020 Vision. We have been working hard with Steve Barclay and the county council on this and the prospects for reopening this line now look better than they have for years. However, all the options and potential costs need to be examined in detail before further progress can be made. So I hope the Government will come up with the funding we need to carry out this essential study."