Lib Dem leader proposes delay for Kings Dyke crossing replacement and Ely bypass

Kings Dyke crossing.

Kings Dyke crossing. - Credit: Archant

The leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridgeshire County Council provoked a backlash by suggesting a £15m replacement rail crossing at Whittlesey and the £30m Ely southern bypass- might have to be delayed.

Ely Bypass. Rail bridge visualisation from south.

Ely Bypass. Rail bridge visualisation from south. - Credit: Archant

Maurice Leeke, the party’s leader since the May elections, said the proposed bridge at Kings Dyke and the Ely pass are schemes the county council “would like to see happen, but if we haven’t the money for them we are just going to wait a bit longer”.

But council leader Martin Curtis, and also a Whittlesey councillor, hit back claiming the business case for the Kings Dyke scheme was “high to very high”.

He said: “I know what the people of Whittlesey would say to him”. He said the replacement crossing was part of an essential package of vitalinfrastructre improvements,

“These are not ill thought out, spraying money around proposals. We cannot sit here and languish with poor infrastructure,” he said.

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But Mr Leeke told the BBC: “We just don’t have the money to afford all of these projects.”

He felt it was sensible to go ahead with a new railway station to the north of Cambridge which “will pay for itself over time and we will get the money back” but others might have to “wait a bit longer”.

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He said the county council would need to get the money from somewhere and local enterprise partnership might help.

“But as we have seen nationally you cannot go on borrowing and borrowing – you have be realistic,” he said.

Mr Leeke said the council was facing uncertain times and had to balance between affording the things “we would like to do but don’t have to and there are the things which are likely to fall off the list.”

Of the capital programme plans that include the Kings Dyke crossing and the Ely pass he said”whether we vote against it depends on what is proposed”.

He suggested consideration should be given to selling off the council’s Shire Hall headquarters perhaps for use as a luxury hotel and finding somewhere elser smaller and efficient to run.

Former council leader Nick Clarke said the county had been waiting for more than 30 years for major improvements and the rail crossing in Whittlesey was one project where “communities are cut off for weeks at a time each year”.

Cambridgeshire, he said, not only deserves these infrastructure improvements but needs them.

A council study showed the ¬crossing on the A605 carries 12,000 vehicles per day and delays caused by 120 train movements – expected to grow substantially in coming years – was between eight and 25 minutes in any hour.

Last year, North Bank, to the north of Whittlesey, was closed for 55 days on 10 occasions which added ¬thousands of extra vehicles to the A605.

Mr Curtis said the reaction of the Lib Dems was “really disappointing and (Mr Leeke) shows himself to be slash and burn”.

A recent peer review of the county council was positive but it remained the case that Cambridgeshire’s infrastructure was the biggest challengfe.

“I make no apologies for being ambiutious for the people of Cambridgeshire,” said Mr Curtis.

In a separate blog, Mr Crutis admitted that is “one area of concern is that we may be over ambitious, in particular around our capital programme because of the impact on revenue in future years.”

He hoped a Government ‘city deal’ would bring in additional funding and this could affect future spending.

“But people need to be aware that much of our capital programme is about delivering infrastructure that will help our economy- so if we have to rein in our ambitions because the Government’s don’t give us the full ‘city deal’ we will have to slow down infrastructure development and, in turn, slow down economic growth.

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