‘Don’t forget Wisbech rail’ plea

First meeting of the shadow authority for combined devolution at the Abax Stadium. Steve Count, chairman
First meeting of the shadow authority for combined devolution at the Abax Stadium. Steve Count, chairman

The benefits of reviving Wisbech’s rail link must not be forgotten as the campaign to improve the region’s network goes on, politicians say.

The warning came as plans for multi-million pound studies of upgrades to routes around Ely and Soham were outlined at a regional summit in Downham Market on Friday.

Around £8.8 million will be spent on analysis of the work needed to increase capacity of the Ely North junction, subject to approval from regional business leaders.

A further £2.5 million will examine the scheme to dual the track between Ely and Soham, a key route for freight traffic from Felixstowe.

But Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count, who also chairs the new shadow combined authority for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, suggested the talks did not take the ambition to put Wisbech back onto the rail network into proper account.

The idea is part of plans for a new garden town scheme, which could see 10,000 new homes built.

Mr Count said: “The benefits are not just economic. They’re social and they’re worth fighting for.”

A statement read on behalf of North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay, who missed the meeting on government business at Westminster, said he was committed to supporting both schemes.

He added: “After many conversations with ministers, and understanding the close links between the importance of Wisbech rail and Ely junction, their expectation is that both projects should be looked at as individual opportunities.”

The concerns were raised as it was revealed future expansion was likely to be needed at Ely even if the current scheme is completed.

Network Rail officials said the present project was felt to be a “good medium term option.”

But they claimed it was a matter for train operators to decide where extra services would be provided.

Representatives of Great Northern and Greater Anglia argued priority should be given to their plans for extra services from King’s Lynn to London and Ipswich to Peterborough, running through March, respectively, because they have already committed to them in their franchise agreements.

But Mr Count, who also chairs the new shadow combined authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough that is due to begin work later this year, said he may find it difficult to make a financial commitment if he felt the area was not getting a fair share of the benefits.