‘Wisbech is not the poor relation of Cambridgeshire’ - Councillors speak out at pre-cabinet breakfast

PEOPLE who look down their nose at Wisbech as the “poor relation of Cambridgeshire” were condemned by council leaders this morning.

Councillors Nick Clarke, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and Alan Melton, leader of Fenland District Council, announced an “ambitious vision” for the town at a business breakfast hosted by the Wisbech Standard.

Town, district and county councillors joined Fenland business leaders and Standard readers at The Boathouse ahead of the county council’s cabinet meeting today.

Cllr Clarke decided to accept the invitation of Standard editor John Elworthy and bring the meeting to Wisbech - mirroring a similar stunt in 2010, when Prime Minister David Cameron took his Cabinet to Bradford.

Cllr Clarke said: “As long as I am Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council I will not tolerate suggestions by some parts of the county that Fenland is somehow separate.”

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The council leader criticised a Daily Mail article which portrayed Wisbech as a town “terrorised by the Baltic Mafia” and said he was impressed by the spirit of the Fenland communities.

He said: “I am sure we have heard jokes about the area and the attitude that some people who like to look down their noses seem to have.

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“Like the most recent Daily Mail story on Wisbech, these are the opinions of the ill-informed. Let me make this clear, this is not a view I share. Quite the opposite.

“The county council must do all it can to bring prosperity to all its residents and where we have deprivation, we target it.

“Today the county council is in Wisbech to hear from your communities about the issues that they face. The issues that we can help tackle with you.”

But Cllr Clarke admitted there were problems in the town and highlighted the ugly road and hoardings which surround The Boathouse.

He said: “This is a prime site in Wisbech - a fantastic facility. But currently, it’s like driving through Beirut.

“We are going to find some pennies in the coffers somehow to sort that road out, because at the moment it looks like a war zone and that’s not conducive to attracting businesses into a building like this.”

The council leader also said he would be delighted if his team got “nine out of 10” decisions right, adding that they must not be afraid to change their plans if they are incorrect.

He said: “If my political opponents say to me ‘you’ve done a U-turn’, I’ll say ‘yes, you bet your smart arse we have because we got it wrong’.”

Cllr Clarke and Cllr Melton hailed the millions of pounds invested in Wisbech, in schemes which included flood defence work, superfast broadband and a new engineering block at the College of West Anglia.

Cllr Melton said: “It gives me no satisfaction that in Cambridgeshire, Wisbech is perceived as the poor relation. I want to see Wisbech in the same league as March, Ely, Huntingdon and St. Ives.”

Cllr Clarke thanked the Wisbech Standard, and its parent company Archant, for hosting the breakfast and praised the newspaper for championing the district.

He said: “The willingness to promote and champion this area is what the press should be about, as well as nipping at my heels when things go wrong.”

Following the breakfast, councillors remained at The Boathouse for the cabinet meeting before departing for lunch at The Oasis Centre.

This afternoon, the county council will be given a tour of the town by Wisbech Mayor Jonathan Farmer before finishing with a final meeting at Wisbech Castle.

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