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Question mark over future of Wisbech Access Strategy schemes including Broad End Road junction

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Upgrades to three busy junctions including Broad End Road on the A47 in Wisbech could be in jeopardy after spiralling costs and other issues meaning the original £10.5million budget has nearly doubled.

The Wisbech Access Strategy project was awarded £10.5million of local government funding in November 2018 to complete a package of five road junction improvements.

But this time last year the Combined Authority agreed to Cambridgeshire County Council's request to reduce the scope of the project from five junctions down to three, along with a reduction in the funding allocation from £10.5million to £6million, with the resulting funding gap of

£4.5million being filled by other Combined Authority funding.

The A47 Wisbech bypass looking towards King's Lynn from the Broad End Road junction.. (49387838)
The A47 Wisbech bypass looking towards King's Lynn from the Broad End Road junction.. (49387838)

Now Cambridgeshire County Council has applied to the Combined Authority for approval to reduce the scope of the project from design and full construction of the three schemes, which include a new roundabout at the notorious Broad End Road junction on the A47, to just completing the Detailed Design stage for the trio.

The council's 'project change request form' was discussed behind closed doors by the Combined Authority's business board on Monday, but the results of those discussions are not due to be made public until 5pm today (Tuesday), despite requests by the Citizen to find out what was agreed.

Whatever the decision, it will now go to the Combined Authority's board meeting on July 28 to be discussed and ratified (or not).

Wisbech Access Strategy started with five schemes, but was cut to three last year - now they could all be shelved.
Wisbech Access Strategy started with five schemes, but was cut to three last year - now they could all be shelved.

There were nine potential options listed in the change request these included delivering all three projects with an extra £9.5million being needed to cover the work, completing only one or two of the schemes, or stopping work on the projects completely and the county council handing back any funding left after settling outstanding debts.

Of the nine options put to the business board the council's preferred one was to complete the Detailed Design for all three junction projects, including land procurement work and seek other procurement routes to deliver the three schemes, which also include improvements to both Elm High Road junction with A47 and Elm High Road junction with Weasenham Lane.

Work was due to start on all three schemes this year, but in March the county council announced delays blaming issues with land purchases, negotiations with utility companies and design issues.

Wisbech Access Strategy is aimed at ensuring efficient transport links to promote more economic growth in and around Wisbech and are being funded by the Combined Authority.

The update given in March explained that as the design evolved for Broad End Road junction the council had identified the need for more land than was originally anticipated and it was working with a land agent to secure the extra land needed.

The Elm High Road junction problems involved works on utility company pipes and cables under the ground or overhead and blamed UK Power Networks, which owns the cables for taking longer than expected in coming back with what work they required to enable the scheme to go ahead.

With the Elm High Road junction with Weasenham Lane the county council was working closely with land agent to purchase the land and property required for this junction improvement scheme, but Covid restrictions were affecting progress.

The county council said in its change request that going with option nine is likely to delay the start of construction work on the projects by three to six months.

However, it warns: "It should be noted that ongoing market pressures including inflation, Brexit, the pandemic, government infrastructure and a buoyant housing market appear to be increasing pressure on resources. Materials, especially where these are imported, are seeing vast cost increases and significant delays.

"This has been compounded by the impact of the Suez canal blockage earlier this year. There is also a notable increase in the number of deliveries stuck in ports, such as Harwich and Felixstowe, with insufficient UK HGV drivers to move containers and the material they hold. This is impacting construction projects both across the UK and regionally and could lead to further increases to construction costs and programme when re-tendered."

And adds: "The risk of allowing further spending of £3.97m to complete the design and land purchase stage is that even though the project becomes off the shelf ready the project never actually gets taken forward at some point in the future to be delivered because construction costs continually rise exponentially."

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