Pull your finger out and get a move on Eric Pickles tells fellow minister as he enters debate on Wisbech to March rail line re opening

Wisbech rail. MP Steve Barclay with letter from Eric Pickles.

Wisbech rail. MP Steve Barclay with letter from Eric Pickles. - Credit: Archant

Local government minister Eric Pickles has told a fellow minister to get a move on to bring the Wisbech to March rail line back into service.

In an open letter released this week Mr Pickles disclosed he has told business minister Greg Clark “it would be helpful if we could bring forward the proposed delivery” of the rail line.

In a move designed to reflect strong Conservative support for the line ahead of the General Election, Mr Pickles has asked Mr Clark “if you would confirm your support for accelerating the roll out of this rail scheme”.

Mr Pickles believes the scheme will help unlock Fenland’s potential housing growth, which is needed to help the housing needs of Peterborough and Cambridge.

But the biggest shunt for the re-opening of the rail line is the agreement of the business minister to set a specific test which the scheme needs to meet to progress.

NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay met with Mr Clark on Wednesday to discuss what the government would need for the scheme to proceed.

“I am awaiting official confirmation, and I expect to have it shortly but Mr Clark is prepared to set a specific hurdle for the scheme,” said Mr Barclay. “That test is likely to be the same as that required for High Speed Two (H2S), which is great news.”

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The test is likely to involve the rail-link’s business case known as the Benefits Cost Ratio (BCR) - that is the amount of money the rail-link will generate for every £1 spent.

Early indications from the second round of feasibility studies on the rail-line is the BCR will be 3.7, which is almost one-and-half-times higher than that of H2S, which was just 2.3.

“If we get that agreement then that is tantamount to the scheme getting the go-ahead,” said Mr Barclay. “It means we will be able access a further £10.5 million of government funding for the next phase of engineering studies.”

The new cash will be spent on determining the finer details of the scheme including how the service from Wisbech will link into the current timetable, rolling stock requirements and the number of crossings required along the line.

“If the test is set at 2.3 then that is fantastic because it allows room for slippage if the business case doesn’t come back as high as it is currently predicted,” said Mr Barclay.

He added: “After years of frustration over the Wisbech to Cambridge rail-link residents can now start to believe this scheme has clear commitment from the government. “Having secured £1 million for initial feasibility studies, we now have access to a further £10.5 million that can be used for the rail link and that will take it to a whole new level.

“£10.5 million committed on top of the existing £1 million means the scheme now has a head of steam which will make it difficult to stop.”