COLUMN: ‘My plans to invest in Whittlesey go beyond Kings Dyke’ says Mayor James Palmer, writing exclusively for the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard

Mayor James Palmer writes exclusively for our papers on how Whittlesey and the Fens can look to rece

Mayor James Palmer writes exclusively for our papers on how Whittlesey and the Fens can look to receive major improvements in coming years. - Credit: Archant

I can fully understand why people who are routinely delayed at the Kings Dyke level crossing when travelling between Whittlesey and Peterborough had become tired of waiting for action on the proposed new road crossing.

So I was delighted that the authority I lead, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, agreed to provide the funding needed to finally get construction started on the new crossing.

We can now move forward at pace, with building starting in early spring 2019 and completion in late 2020. The Combined Authority and the county council will now work together on this and I will be ensuring that those timescales are met.

The Kings Dyke level crossing is a key bottleneck to the economic potential of Whittlesey and I understand there had been some complexities on the project, with costs higher than anticipated, but now really is the time for delivery.

But my ambition for Whittlesey does not just start and end with Kings Dyke. I’m a firm believer in the contribution of our market towns in making Cambridgeshire and Peterborough a great place to live and work, but they need fresh attention and investment in all areas.

Whittlesey is no different and there are a range of other things I am doing as Mayor to deliver real improvements for the town.

Better transport links will obviously be crucial, and while the Kings Dyke crossing will be a significant road upgrade, additionally the Combined Authority and Peterborough City Council are contributing to funding the improvement of the A605 junction at Milk and Water Drove, Stanground, to improve access between Whittlesey and Stanground.

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Whittlesey has a rail connection which has the potential to offer so much more. That’s why we are investing in the station to make it a more attractive travel option for people. The town’s station will benefit from a £9 million package of funding from the Combined Authority that will regenerate its facilities, along with other Fens stations at March and Manea.

The first upgrade of that programme has already been delivered, with 70 solar powered lighting studs installed to illuminate the previously dark path between Station Road and Platform 2. But that’s just the start. At Whittlesea Station we are progressing plans to upgrade the car park, as well as embarking on a platform extension and new pedestrian bridge project.

Delivery has already started with the lighting, and the work on all these projects will continue through to 2025.

But the impact of the upgrades will be limited if there are not enough trains serving the station.

It is vital that Greater Anglia meets their franchise commitment to provide an hourly instead of two-hourly service on its Ipswich to Peterborough route, which would also mean hourly stops at Whittlesea Station.

I’m campaigning to help Greater Anglia deliver this as soon as possible.

Additionally, and together with local councillors and North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay, I’m campaigning for later running trains to Fens stations including Whittlesea station, so that people can enjoy the culture and nightlife of Cambridge while still returning by rail in the evening, particularly around weekends.

The health of our high streets is constantly in the news, and market towns seem to be particularly under pressure with high rents and rates, and competition from the internet. I was pleased that the Chancellor in his Budget recognised this by announcing a £650 million high street regeneration fund and a cut in business rates paid by smaller firms by a third.

This dovetails with the work the Combined Authority is progressing to develop masterplan strategies for our market towns, including Whittlesey, to deliver targeted investment to foster renewed growth and prosperity in these important centres.

Our masterplan for Whittlesey will be delivered by the end of March 2019, in collaboration with representatives in the town, identifying the direct investments we can make to help Whittlesey continue to thrive.

We have already delivered a Masterplan for St Neots as our pilot scheme, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the plan for Whittlesey develop between now and March.

It is now vital that all of these projects come to fruition in a timely way and I’ll be keeping up the pressure to ensure that they do.

Whittlesey has great potential, and with the right investment and focus, the town can thrive well into the future.