Railway vision of Wisbech is of dormitory town for migrants and Cambridge commuters - we prefer dualling of the A47
Even if the proposed rail link between Wisbech-March-Cambridge is just a politically motivated pre-election pipe dream, it’s worth looking at the arguments of the experts supporting it.
Earlier this year, Cambridgeshire County Council spent £54,600 on studies favouring a rail link by Atkins and engineering firm Mott MacDonald. They are most revealing.
For whereas we have been repeatedly assured by our MP and local authorities that a railway line would generate more businesses, more homes, more jobs and better incomes in Wisbech, Mott MacDonald’s detailed study describes a somewhat different aim and purpose behind the project.
Having first established that about 35 per cent of Wisbech’s population of 33,000 are foreign migrants working in the agri-food industry, the study then notes the high concentration of unemployment and pockets of severe deprivation among those who have become marginalised within this self-contained low-waged labour market.
It also refers to the continual leakage of skilled and semi-skilled school leavers quitting Wisbech in search of jobs elsewhere.
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The study therefore concludes that a rail link to Cambridge will encourage business investment and growth, thereby reducing local unemployment and drift.
But is this a realistic scenario? If the multi-national industries in Wisbech have prospered over the past decade through paying their migrant workforce a pittance, then any amount of business expansion will only mean more of the same - but on an even larger scale.
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However, there is apparently one overriding need for a rail link to Wisbech, but again it is not primarily for the benefit of the local populace. Let Mott MacDonald explain:
“The key assumptions in this study is that, given the housing challenges for Cambridge where there is a lack of supply and continued house price increases, towns such as Wisbech (if better connected) can market themselves to the labour force serving the key growth hubs.
“A rail link would make Wisbech a more attractive housing development prospect. In the future, given the pressure on the Cambridge housing market, it is feasible for Wisbech to increase its housing offer towards workers from Cambridge who would consider it as a location to commute from.
“This would be particularly true of workers within the median salary band bracket who are likely to be squeezed out of the Cambridge housing market.
“There is substantial growth pressure on the area, particularly in terms of providing enough housing to support the economic expansion of Cambridge ... A commuter service from Wisbech direct to Cambridge would bring Wisbech into the area of search for Cambridge workers looking for places to live.”
So there you have it. A railway vision of Wisbech as a dormitory town for migrant workers and Cambridge commuters.
Better for local people and businesses if they just build us proper roads and dualled the A47.