Time to unlock the potential of the port, the waterfront, the castle, and many other aspects of Wisbech’s heritage

THERE is only one port in the whole of Cambridgeshire, located in Wisbech. Historically this unique selling point was at the heart of Wisbech’s prosperity. It is time to unlock the potential of the port and waterfront again.

THERE is only one port in the whole of Cambridgeshire, located in Wisbech. Historically this unique selling point was at the heart of Wisbech’s prosperity. It is time to unlock the potential of the port and waterfront again.

A redeveloped waterfront hosting the new cinema (currently planned for the out of town Cromwell Road site) and other aspects of Wisbech’s heritage such as the Vaults underneath Wisbech Castle, offer scope for significant regeneration which could be delivered quickly.

Much of the debate around regenerating Wisbech has so far focussed on restoring the railway or improving the A47. Neither is likely to be in place in the next few years. We should capitalise on what is unique in Cambridgeshire – the port and waterfront – and adopt the lessons of successful schemes around the country such as the Newcastle waterfront, Ipswich harbour, or Birmingham’s city centre canals.

Wisbech Waterfront

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Initial work has already been completed on the waterfront, with the Boathouse providing conference facilities and the promenade in place. �2 million of funding from Tesco is also already in place to build a new cinema in Wisbech.

Instead of building this out of town on the Cromwell Road, which will not help local shops, we should build this in the town on the waterfront.

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Locating the cinema centrally will help the shops in the town centre, a short walk away. The cinema will also act as the anchor tenant on the waterfront, attracting restaurants and complementing existing plans for a hotel on this site.

The existing Horsefair car park would be better used in the evening. Such a location is also likely to be attractive to the cinema firm, Light Cinemas, whilst the vacated site on the Cromwell Road adjacent to the new Tesco could be used for other retail opportunities.

People currently going to King’s Lynn or Downham Market would be attracted back into Wisbech if there was a waterfront with cinema, restaurants and an attractive promenade next to the harbour. This would also be an asset when attracting businesses to locate locally.

Wisbech Port

The recent �7.5 million funding to the College of West Anglia to build an engineering faculty provides an opportunity to link graduates from these courses with new businesses locating at Wisbech Port.

Another recent announcement – that superfast broadband will be implemented next year – also offers scope to attract science and IT firms to the waterfront and port. A third opportunity is provided by the renewable energy industry installing offshore wind turbines which will need repairing.

All three opportunities are already happening – not plans for the future which may or may not go ahead.

I have discussed this with the Principal of the College of West Anglia, David Pomfret, as the college is the regional lead college for science and technology. The College is keen to provide bespoke courses for firms locating at Wisbech Port and on the waterfront. One such course would be computer coding, which is at the heart of the successful computer gaming industry and essential to many other growing businesses, and for which superfast broadband opens up new opportunities not available before in the Fens.

The new Cambridge Science Park station due to be built shortly is a further opportunity offering direct links from Downham Market nearby. We need to engage with businesses on the Cambridge Science Park and elsewhere to flag not just the existing benefits Wisbech offers, such as cheaper rent, but also the new opportunities. These include bespoke science and engineering training, superfast broadband, and a new night time economy on the waterfront.

Wisbech Castle

The Castle and Vaults is a hidden gem in the heart of Wisbech which currently are owned by the County Council and losing money each year. There is a restrictive covenant on the castle which requires its use to be educational.

This could be met through unlocking the castle’s rich history, in the same way that has been done elsewhere in the country, most notably with the London Dungeons. Actors could be trained, perhaps by the Angles Theatre or the College of West Anglia, to play similar roles to those carried out at the London Dungeons.

The castle, its beautiful walled gardens and its unique vaults below should not be running at a loss, and nor should it be empty much of the year.

Wisbech Art

A showcase arts event is an idea other parts of the country have used to attract visitors and challenge the perceptions of outsiders. Why should it be just cities that have such artistic opportunities and not the Fens? It is disgraceful that our area has received so little arts funding in recent years, and a major artistic event every other year is deliverable.

I am due to meet Arts Council England shortly on some exciting proposals to put forward locally, on which I hope to report shortly.

Wisbech Housing

In addition to attracting new initiatives to Wisbech, we must treasure what we already have in the form of our architecture. A stronger message is needed on illegal Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) and the selling of alcohol without a licence, which is the cause of much recent anti-social behaviour.

I have already spoken out on this issue and look forward to the actions Fenland District Council have said they will take. There are also a number of key buildings in Wisbech which have been empty for years. I will be pressing for enforcement action where possible.

A number of other buildings, such as Wisbech Institute or the current Probation Service offices, have a rich social history and heritage value which should also be developed.

Wisbech has a wonderful history, built on its location as a port, its attractive architecture, and its resourceful people. The proposals set out above have all been successfully carried out elsewhere. So there is no reason why they cannot be successful adopted in the Fens.

Above all the suggestions complement each other to build a critical mass. This applies whether to locating a cinema on a waterfront development with new restaurants, attracting science and engineering businesses to the port linked with superfast broadband and cheaper rent than Cambridge, using the vaults and history of the castle to attract tourists rather than continue to use it as a county council run building which is losing money, using a major arts event to challenge the perceptions of outsiders, and protecting our heritage by tackling illegal activity more robustly.

I hope this provides a positive way forward, and stimulates constructive public debate.

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