MP says new study showing benefits that re-opening of Wisbech to March rail line would bring is a ‘game changer’

PUBLISHED: 12:59 08 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:59 08 April 2014

Steve Barclay with Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin discussing the Wisbech to March rail line

Steve Barclay with Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin discussing the Wisbech to March rail line

Archant

The campaign to restore the Wisbech to March rail line took a dramatic twist today after a new study revealed it would have wider economic benefits that at first thought.

NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay described the fresh evidence as “a game changer” and he is meeting Cabinet Minister Greg Clark today to discuss the possibility of funding a £250,000 feasibility study.

The MP said an earlier report by Atkins, the consultants employed by Cambridgeshire County Council, was too narrow in its scope.

By only looking at the benefits that re-opening of the line would have on Wisbech and March it failed to take account of the effect it could have on the wider economy.

“That basically meant it was a complete non-starter,” said Mr Barclay, who approached Cambridgeshire County Council leader Martin Curtis to carry out a wider benefits costs ratio study.

“As a result Mott MacDonald looked at the wider benefits of reconnecting Wisbech to the rail network and its findings concluded that there is a benefit costs ration of 3, which is higher even than that of the HS2 rail link, which stands at 2.3.

“A benefits costs ratio of 3 means that for every £1 spent the line is expected to return £3 in benefits, giving the re-opening a strong value for money case.

Mr Barclay concluded: “This report is a game changer. For the first time in four decades we have an independent report which shows the wider economic benefits to Cambridgeshire of reopening the Wisbech line.

“We must ensure momentum is maintained, and move forward from this report with a detailed cost assessment by Network Rail.”

Mr Barclay said the capital cost of re-instating passenger links between both towns, including a station, is expected to be in the range of £50-70million.

“This is the cost of between half and three quarters of a mile of tunnelling for HS2,” he said.

He believes the housing potential that Wisbech has to offer will also help to deliver “best value” for the £1billion City Deal announced recently for Cambridge.

“The average house price in Cambridge is £357,639 and the average price in Fenland is just £138,064,” said Mr Barclay. “Improved local connections will begin to address this stark imbalance.”

Wisbech would also be better connected to key regional hubs allowing the town access to improvements as a result of the City Deal.

“A direct line would take 48 minutes between Wisbech and Cambridge for example compared to the one hour 10 minutes it takes at off peak times by road,” he said.

The line closed for passenger services in 1968 but continued to operate for freight until 2000.

Network Rail says a feasibility study, if agreed, cold begin in July and take six months to complete.

If funding becomes available work on restoring the line could begin as early as 2016/17.

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