Busway overspend blamed for cuts

WISBECH is set to lose out on safety and transport projects in a bid to plug the overspend gap on the much-awaited Cambridge guided bus project, it was claimed this week.

The claims, which have been denied by the county council, have been made by two local Liberal Democrats including newly-elected Fenland councillor for Wisbech Dave Patrick.

He and Lorna Spenceley, the Lib Dems North East Cambs Parliamentary spokesman, explained there were a number of projects in Wisbech that have been put on hold.

These include safety improvement schemes set to cost around 100,000 and a 25,000 scheme for new bus stops.

They blame the loss of these schemes on the county council's need to set aside 1 million to help fund a predicted overspend on the guided bus, which will take commuters from St Ives to Cambridge.

Mrs Spenceley said: "These cuts to the Market Town Strategy Fund have hit Wisbech hard. The biggest single project planned for Wisbech - local safety improvements - has been stopped, as the money is no longer there. Improvements for bus users and cyclists have also been scrapped.

"The guided busway will bring no benefit to this part of the county. Why on earth should our community be footing the bill for it?"

And Mr Patrick said: "It is completely unacceptable that people from Wisbech should be paying through the nose for a busway which has no relevance to them. The projects being postponed might be small, but they matter to local people.

"Wisbech needs safety improvements, as well as better access for cyclists and bus users. But all of these are being set aside to pay for the blundering busway. I'm disgusted that the Conservative county council has siphoned off money from the public purse to pay for this scheme, after three Tory leaders promised not to do this."

However, Roy Pegram, Cambridgeshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Growth, Infrastructure and Strategic Planning, hit back claiming that the cuts in the local schemes were not specifically related to the Busway and were down to a reduction in the amount of money the council has been given by the government.

However, he does concede that the council is setting aside a money from the government allocation just in case it is needed to cover overspending on the Busway budget.

He said: "The Liberal Democrats seem to have very poor memories as they have been told numerous times that these reductions are not specifically related to The Busway.

"They have used a pick and mix approach to the figures they have chosen to fit their claims.

"The reductions are in fact part of the Council's overall budgeting this year which reflects the cuts we expect the Government will make in the amount of transport funding we receive because they bailed out the banks.

"We are taking a prudent approach to managing our finances, which is exactly what the public expect from the administration.

"We are aiming to cover any potentially higher costs of The Busway scheme with developer funding, but we have already openly said that we are also setting aside some of the money that Government gives us for transport projects.

"Should this money not be needed, we will spend it on transport schemes in future years."