Blurred vision over bold 2020 plan for Wisbech’s future
Launched in a hail of publicity in 2012 by Fenland District Council and its partners, Wisbech 2020 was about a bold, long-term vision to regenerate the town and raise its profile.
Eight years down the line and with the arrival of 2020 there have been some marked successes with the vision which included a 29-point action plan – but having said that it is difficult to gauge the overall success of the project to date or where it is going next.
At the start of January the Citizen approached Fenland Council for an update on the project, to celebrate its successes and highlight where it was heading in the future.
However, it has proven difficult to gain any firm information on Wisbech 2020 with the number of partners involved being blamed for the lack of a proper, detailed, response.
Overall control of the project, which was initially the brainchild of the district and county councils with added support from MP Steve Barclay, has at some point in recent times been handed to Anglian Water with help from the volunteer group ‘I Love Wisbech’.
Although, Fenland said: “Partners are working more closely than ever to deliver and highlight positive outcomes in Wisbech, as well as thinking differently about how to address issues that remain.”
The most recent significant announcements were in 2018 when it was announced the Wisbech Garden Town proposals had been submitted to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) by Fenland District Council and associated partners in a collaborative bid to secure further government support for the project.
And flood risk studies had seen Fenland Council work alongside Dutch water experts at Royal HaskoningDHV and the Environment Agency to utilise a revolutionary flood management tool to understand the unique nature of flood risk in the Fens with €50k of funding from the Dutch government to help transform Wisbech into a ‘climate change resilient town’ of the future.
In the same year a new training centre at the College of West Anglia was officially opened following sponsorship from Anglian Water.
The water company invested £250,000 in the new facility aimed at training Anglian Water engineers, allowing them to continue in their professional development, as well as providing new skills for the next generation of apprentices.
There is no doubt this investment, which ticks the Wisbech 2020 improvements to education box, has been a success, seeing the training previously undertaken in Peterborough transferred to Wisbech.
According to Fenland this year has seen the training and assessment of delegates on water quality and technical training courses (246), new starter inductions (149) and formal water technician assessment (108 ).
Some of the projects included in Wisbech 2020 are long-term aims. These include improved transport connectivity – such as reinstating the Wisbech rail link and improvements to the A47 – and shaping new and improved health facilities.
Funding has been given to these schemes for various feasibility studies to help them progress.
Fenland said: “Thanks to the work of the Wisbech 2020 Vision team, these potential improvements have been taken on by organisations such as the Combined Authority, who are better positioned to drive forward these positive changes.”
A number of key reports, including on the Wisbech Garden Town project, Wisbech rail and dualling of the A47, are due this year, but the timescale on these is currently unclear, with Fenland Council claiming: “Key to everything is the long-term vision, both in terms of challenge and opportunity. Some of the considerations towards new infrastructure remain aspirational, but a tremendous amount of work has been on-going in the background, particularly since the visit by Prince Charles in November 2018.
“Due to the modelling complexity and innovation being considered, the appraisal work has been low-profile during 2019, but a very important part of the formal process is to ensure all aspects, including viability, are carefully considered.”
The Fenland and East Cambridgeshire Opportunity Areahas also been trumpeted as a Wisbech 2020 success, with the council’s statement saying the initiative has been successful in supporting nurseries, schools and colleges in the area, especially with reading and teacher recruitment. This again ticks the raise education standards box.
The statement said: “Since October 2018 nearly 100 new teachers have been recruited through UK Opportunity Area Projects.”
But it is unclear how many of those are working in Fenland and how many are in neighbouring East Cambridgeshire. Funding has now been approved by Government to continue this work.
One of the 29 focal points is health and well-being and one of Wisbech 2020’s successes in this area has been to address the poor quality in private rental sector housing with over 2,000 properties visited and remedial action enforced where needed.
In 2015 Wisbech 2020 heralded a £300m investment for the A47, including improvements to the Guyhirn roundabout. However, in 2017 the scheme was delayed by two years, and there is still no start date for the much-needed upgrade to the pinch-point roundabout.
The state of Wisbech High Street, and in particular the dilapidated buildings, was also a focus and there has been marked success here with £1.9m worth of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund being used to make improvements.
However, there is no news of one of the key features of this particular project and that is the‘love it or hate it’ proposals to turn the derelict gap at No 24 into a contemporary, multi-functional, community space.
The Gap plans were for a temporary building that would include community space and a viewing platform. But, despite being announced in December 2017, there has been no further updates on the “wow factor” scheme.
Wisbech 2020 also looks at the local economy and Fenland’s statement said: “Much of the work carried out in 2019 on this theme centred on the ‘Growing Fenland’ Masterplan for Wisbech.
The plan, which outlines bold ideas to regenerate the market town, has now been approved by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and will bid for a share of a £5m funding pot in June.”
There is a meeting of the key partners for Wisbech 2020 next month which, according to the council’s spokesman, will look at where the project goes next – so it is a case of watch this space.
More by this authorSarah Cliss