‘Good day for Fenland’ as Combined Authority members unanimously back Mayor’s support for Wisbech and March
Members of the Combined Authority Board have unanimously supported the mayor’s proposals to step in to save key development projects in the Fenland market towns of March and Wisbech.
With the fate of two multi-million pound improvement schemes on the table, the Combined Authority, led by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, voted across the political divide on rescue bids for the Wisbech Access Strategy and March High Street project, both threatened by a shortfall in funds ascribed to escalating costs.
Each scheme faced being scrapped or seriously diminished had the Board, comprising Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat members, not voted as one to provide extra funding for March and agreeing to fund the Wisbech Access project to the design stage.
Members heard why the Combined Authority’s Business Board had rejected a request from the Cambridgeshire County Council for a change in funding for the Wisbech Access Strategy – placing the whole project at risk unless the Combined Authority stepped in with £1.88 million to get the project at least ‘shovel-ready’ instead of seeing it dropped completely.
This £1.88 million – on top of the £2.09 million already spent – would take the Cambridgeshire County Council project to the design stage, with all necessary land procured, putting it in a good position for any central Government calls for ‘shovel-ready’ projects in which to invest.
This total spend of £3.97 million brings back from the brink the Wisbech project, an important key to desperately-needed growth in jobs and housing for the most deprived community of Cambridgeshire.
Mayor Dr Johnson and Board members agreed that funding in principle should be found from the Authority’s medium-term financial plan – subject to the Combined Authority Board agreeing the business case – so that affected Wisbech landowners know that the project was not being scrapped. This business case will be proposed by Combined Authority officer’s and voted on at a special ‘extraordinary’ Board meeting which will be convened on the 25th of August.
Mayor Dr Johnson declined to use his mayoral powers to push the final decision through yesterday, saying it was important for good governance that the business case was made, properly considered by the Board members, and followed by a members’ vote – not put through on a decision by the Mayor alone. But he said today’s decision would reassure Wisbech that the project was in hand and an extraordinary Board meeting would be convened with urgency to finalise the matter.
“If I had my own shovel, I would start the digging myself because my commitment to improve the life-chances for the community of Wisbech and Fenland is 100%. I support a move towards ‘shovel-ready status, as do we all, and today we’ve given a clear steer to Wisbech, to everyone who may be waiting on this decision, that we support this in principle, and in fact. The direction of travel is clear and I hope the community of Wisbech will breathe a little bit easier now. We’ll find a time in all our diaries and meet with the utmost urgency to decide this properly, through the Board”, said Mayor Dr Nik Johnson.
The extraordinary Board meeting will be held before the end of August.
Board members also rallied behind the Mayor to stop any downgrading of the Fenland town of March’s ‘once-in-a-generation’ High Street Project, voting to give a crucial £1.1 million requested by Fenland District Council.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson proposed from the chair and Members voted unanimously to award the money, subject to approval, to help keep March’s development plan on track.
Last year, the Government announced on Boxing Day that it was giving £6.47million in future high-street funding to the March project to transform areas around Broad Street, the Market Place, and riverside as well as a reviving the derelict part of Acre Road.
But that government award required match funding from the Combined Authority. The Board decided in January this year to award £900,000 but an agreement in principle by former mayor James Palmer to give a further £1.1m was never ratified before he left office.
Without the £1.1 million voted through yesterday by the Combined Authority Board members, the Government would likely have cut its award, weakening the whole project and losing the Acre Road development scheme in its entirety.
However, the Board unanimously voted through the £1.1 million, asked for by Fenland District Council, making an overall Combined Authority contribution of £2 million and ensuring March does not lose out.
Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough:
“It’s a good day for Fenland and I’m very glad the Combined Authority Board members have been able to cooperate in this way, putting aside political differences and divisions to step up together with solid and practical support for a community which is entitled to expect our help, and couldn’t need it more.”