Forget dualling the A47 through the Fens, conference told, but re opening of the Wisbech rail link? A completely different possibility

Wisbech 20 20 update

Wisbech 20 20 update - Credit: Archant

Any likelihood of money being available to dual the A47 between Thorney and West Walton is wishful thinking, a conference heard today.

David Rudlin at the Wisbech 20 20 Vision update

David Rudlin at the Wisbech 20 20 Vision update - Credit: Archant

Graham Hughes, Cambridgeshire County Council’s director for economy, transport and environment, said that experts’ initial findings on this stretch of the A47 shows the scheme is too costly and does not offer enough economic benefits to make it viable at this stage.

He pointed out the A47 was in competition with other roads which had a better business case in their favour.

But while road improvements were, effectively, left in the sidings the conference heard it was full steam ahead with the re-opening of the Wisbech rail link.

MP Steve Barclay, who chaired today’s Wisbech 2020 Vision meeting at the Boathouse, spoke about the positivity so far achieved especially with the rail line with ministers urging speedier progress.

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He said: “We had a low hurdle set in terms of the Benefits Cost Ratio (BCR). That is the money we get back for every pound spent. That will help make the project more able to clear the necessary bar to go forward. This is a clear signal from government that they want to see this rail line opened. We need to take full advantage of that.”

The MP said the recent first meeting of the East of England Conservative MPs was on the A47 and the concern it is simply not progressing quickly enough and they would be looking at bringing it forward. He said there was a strong political will to see the whole route made into dual carriageway.

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Mr Hughes said so far as the rail link was concerned, the county council’s consultants had completed the second round of engineering reports and were due to publish their findings at the end of this month.

Network Rail must then sign it off so that Grip 3 – the third round of engineering studies – can hopefully begin by late October.

However, Mr Hughes warned it was not the technical process that is likely to see the project sent to the buffers but finding the necessary funding might if there was no money available when it was needed.

Peter Simpson, chief executive of Anglian Water, strongly believes Wisbech needs to extend its vision beyond the end of the decade if it is to create a thriving town for the future.

He said Wisbech 2020 has already created real momentum in delivering better infra-structure and regenerating the town, but there was still lots to be done and it was time to think about where the community wants to see Wisbech beyond 2020 and even further into the future to 2040.

With that in mind David Rudlin, one of the world’s leading urban designers spoke about the need to decide where Wisbech is going and what its best route to survival was.

He said the town needs to consider how it markets itself, to make itself stand out and what it can offer.

Mr Rudlin, the 2014 Wolfson Economic Prize-winning designer, said there are a variety of options including becoming a commuter town for places like Cambridge and Peterborough and said there was nothing wrong in making that an ambition.

He pointed out the town could thrive in that way by “sucking in money” from the cities where people go to earn their cash.

However, he warned for that to happen the town needed better infra-structure especially a railway, which would put it back on the map.

Mr Rudlin, who praised the town’s spectacular Georgian architecture, said Wisbech needs to grow to survive and people should not be afraid of development in the ‘greenbelt’ area.

He urged planners to think about the town as a whole when it comes to planning: Where people are going to live, shop, work and enjoy their leisure time. And suggested there should be a proper vision of what the town will be like in the future.

His speech so impressed the audience that Fenland District Council leader John Clark said he would consider utilising Mr Rudlin’s expertise in helping to design a Wisbech of the future, but said he would need to discuss this with the council before fully committing to such a step.

The meeting saw the launch of a new longer term vision “Wisbech: beyond 2020”, a follow-up to the ‘Infrastructure for Growth’ initiative launched in January, and to report on the progress made to date.

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