‘Shovel-ready’ mayor brings key schemes back from the brink 

Dr Johnson said: “It’s a good day for Fenland.” he intervened on two key projects for March and Wisbech.

Dr Johnson said: “It’s a good day for Fenland.” He intervened on two key projects for March and Wisbech. - Credit: Mayor's office

“A good day for Fenland” was how Mayor Dr Nik Johnson summed a vote that will protect multi-million-pound investments for March and Wisbech.  

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Board unanimously supported his proposals to intervene. 

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson at Oasis

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson at the Oasis Centre, Wisbech, with local councillors and manager Chris Stevens. - Credit: Steve Hubbard of Click Therapy CIC

Dr Johnson secured votes from across the political divide to rescue bids for the Wisbech Access Strategy and March High Street project. 

Both had been threatened by a shortfall in funds ascribed to escalating costs. 

“If I had my own shovel, I would start the digging myself,” said the mayor. 

“My commitment to improve the life-chances for the community of Wisbech and Fenland is 100 per cent. 

“The direction of travel is clear and I hope the community of Wisbech will breathe a little bit easier now.” 

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He added: “We’ll find a time in all our diaries and meet with the utmost urgency to decide this properly, through the board”, said Dr Johnson. 

Each scheme faced being scrapped or seriously diminished had the combined authority board not voted as one to provide extra funding for March and agreeing to fund the Wisbech Access project to the design stage. 

Members heard why the combined authority’s business board had rejected a request from the Cambridgeshire County Council for a change in funding for the Wisbech Access Strategy.  

That would have placed the whole project at risk unless the combined authority stepped in with £1.88 million to get the project at least ‘shovel-ready’ instead of seeing it dropped completely. 

A combined authority spokesperson said: “This £1.88 million – on top of the £2.09 million already spent – would take the county council project to the design stage, with all necessary land procured. 

“It puts it in a good position for any central Government calls for ‘shovel-ready’ projects in which to invest.” 

The spokesperson added: “This £3.97 million brings back from the brink the Wisbech project.” 

Funding in principle will be subject to a business case by officers, and to be voted on at a special ‘extraordinary’ board meeting. 

The spokesperson said the meeting will be convened as soon as practicable - so that affected Wisbech landowners know that the project was not being scrapped. 

Mayor Dr Johnson said he had declined to use his mayoral powers to push the final decision through on Wednesday. 

He said it was important for good governance that the business case was made, properly considered by the board members, and followed by a members’ vote. 

The mayor said it was something he felt should not be put through on a decision by him alone. 

But he said the decision would reassure Wisbech that the project was in hand and an extraordinary board meeting would finalise the matter. 

The extraordinary meeting will be held before the end of August.   

Board members also stood with the mayor to stop any downgrading of the ‘once-in-a-generation’ High Street project for March.  

The combined authority agreed to give a crucial £1.1 million requested by Fenland District Council. 

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson proposed from the chair and members voted unanimously to award the money, subject to approval, to help keep it on track.  

Last year, the Government said it was giving £6.47million in future high-street funding to the March project. 

The money will transform Broad Street, the Market Place, and riverside as well as reviving the derelict part of Acre Road. 

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson at Neale-Wade Academy, March. 

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson at Neale-Wade Academy, March. - Credit: Mayor's office

But that government award required match funding from the combined authority.  

The board decided in January this year to award £900,000 but an agreement in principle by former mayor James Palmer to give a further £1.1m was never ratified before he left office. 

The spokesperson said that without the £1.1 million the Government may have cut its award “weakening the whole project and losing the Acre Road development scheme in its entirety”. 

Dr Johnson said: “It’s a good day for Fenland.” 

He said he was grateful political differences and divisions had been put aside “to step up together with solid and practical support for a community which is entitled to expect our help, and couldn’t need it more.”