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Hanging in the balance - two Fenland schemes in jeopardy



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Two multi-million pound improvement schemes for Fenland are today hanging in the balance with a question mark over their funding.

The fate of both the Wisbech Access Strategy and March High Street Project lies with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority when it meets later today to discuss its funding of the projects.

Both could be lost or seriously impacted if the Combined Authority's board decides not provide extra funding or in the case of the Wisbech Access Strategy refuses to agree to changes in the current programme of work.

A new roundabout at Broad End Road Junction was part of the Wisbech Access Strategy, which could now be lost. (49611947)
A new roundabout at Broad End Road Junction was part of the Wisbech Access Strategy, which could now be lost. (49611947)

Most at risk is the £10.5million Wisbech Access Strategy which includes upgrades to three junctions including the notorious Broad End Road junction.

Last week the Combined Authority's independent Business Board decided against recommending an application by Cambridgeshire County Council to change the scope of the project from design and full construction of the three schemes, which also include improvements to Elm High Road junction with the A47 and the Elm High Road junction with Weasenham Lane.

To instead just completing the detailed design stage citing spiralling costs and other issues including problems over land purchases and redirecting cabling for the change.

This is what Broad Street could look like. (49611989)
This is what Broad Street could look like. (49611989)

It was the second time the county council had applied for changes to the strategy. Last year it asked to reduce the number of schemes from five to three and said the move would guarantee enough funding to complete the trio of projects remaining.

Now the county council says it needs at least another £9.5million to actually build the three schemes and the Combined Authority's business board decided there were too many uncertainties over the future delivery of the scheme to recommend approval of the change - not least where the extra money would come from.

It felt agreeing to the change without knowing whether the additional money would be found was not a good idea and is recommending to today's Combined Authority board meeting that the county council's request be rejected.

Acre Road was part of the March High Street Project, but had to be scaled back to meet a new budget for the programme. (49611974)
Acre Road was part of the March High Street Project, but had to be scaled back to meet a new budget for the programme. (49611974)

If that happens then Wisbech is in danger of losing the £10.5m funding altogether and with it any chance of upgrading the Broad End Road junction which is a notorious accident blackspot.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire County Council said officers have been discussing the business board's recommendation and looking at the implications for Wisbech Access Strategy.

She failed to answer the question over who would be responsible for the failure of these vital schemes if today's meeting goes along with the business board's recommendation, only pointing out that the county council had been asked to come up with a scheme and citing "technical complexities" resulting in extra costs, which she said have been reported back to the business board.

The March High Street project plans include a stunning transformation of the town's river side.
The March High Street project plans include a stunning transformation of the town's river side.

However, in March this year, when local councillors were given a progress update the intimation was that everything was still on course, and whilst work on the schemes which was due to start back in the spring had been delayed, it was expected to start later this year.

Now it is looking very likely it will not start at all.

Meanwhile there are equal concerns over the future of the March High Street Project - dubbed a "once in a generation" transformation when it was first unveiled.

There was jubilation on Boxing Day last year when it was announced the Government had given £6.47million to the project which aims to transform areas around Broad Street, the Market Place, and riverside as well as a breathing new life into the derelict area of Acre Road.

A new roundabout at Broad End Road Junction was part of the Wisbech Access Strategy, which could now be lost. (49611967)
A new roundabout at Broad End Road Junction was part of the Wisbech Access Strategy, which could now be lost. (49611967)

However, the Government's funding is reliant on match-funding from the Combined Authority and whilst it agreed in January this year to give £900,000 towards the scheme, an agreement in principle to give a further £1.1m by former Cambridgeshire Mayor James Palmer in October last year was never ratified.

Originally the total cost of the planned work was £11.33m and it was hoped to receive £9.33m from the government with the other £2m coming from the Combined Authority.

However, when the Government announced it was giving £6.47m in December, Fenland District Council, altered its plans to reflect that reduction by cutting the project in Acre Road to fit in with the new total budget of £8.4m, which included the Combined Authority's £2m, which in turn included the £1.1m promised by Mr Palmer.

An artist's impression of the finished Market Place scheme. (49611984)
An artist's impression of the finished Market Place scheme. (49611984)

Today's meeting will discuss four options on the funding of the March High Street project including standing by Mr Palmer's promise and giving a total of £2m.

Other options include reducing the amount from the Combined Authority to a total of £1.5m - the cut would be in line with the percentage drop in the Government's funding.

Option three is to defer making a decision until designs and costs are produced, with the report stating Fenland District Council has been "reluctant to commit resources developing the scheme until all funding is in place".

And finally option four is to reject giving any more than the already agreed £900,000, which could lead to the Government withdrawing or reducing its funding, and would also mean Fenland would have to cut at least two of the five packages in the programme to stay within budget.



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