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Relief as Cambridgeshire mayor and Combined Authority back Fenland schemes




A leading Fenland councillor said he was "pushing at an open" door when the issue of extra funding for the March High Street project was up for discussion on Wednesday.

Councillor Chris Boden, Fenland Council's leader and a member of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Board, said he was delighted that Mayor Dr Nik Johnson supported giving the scheme an extra £1.1m pledged by his predecessor.

Speaking after Wednesday's board meeting where he made a plea for support of the scheme, which could have been jeopardised if the board had not agreed to give the money, Coun Boden said: "When it came to the March High Street Project I was pushing at an open door, I didn't even really have to push, it just fell right open, and that was a fantastic result."

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)

The March High Street scheme seeks to improve large areas of the town centre including the Market Place, the riverside and Broad Street and secured £6.47m of government funding back in December thanks to a promise of £2m of match-funding from the Combined Authority.

However, only £900,000 of that had been fully secured, with former Cambridgeshire Mayor James Palmer giving a written promise to provide an additional £1.1m - a pledge which was never ratified by the board before May's local elections when he was forced out of office.

Without the extra cash March could have faced either seeing the government withdraw its funding, or cut the amount according to the money available from the Combined Authority, which would have seen the planned improvements, described as a "once in a generation" opportunity, seriously cut back.

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

Wisbech Access Strategy was the other project up for discussion and was in dire jeopardy after the Combined Authority's independent business board had voted to recommend rejecting an application by Cambridgeshire County Council to change the remit of the £10.5m allocated to provide three road improvement schemes.

The county council had applied to be allowed to use the money to complete the design stage of the three schemes, which include a roundabout at the notorious Broad End Road junction on the A47, and to complete necessary land purchases to allow the trio to go forward.

But despite the business board's recommendation the Combined Authority board members agreed in principle to provide a further £1.88m on top of the £2.09m already spent on bringing the schemes, which also include improvements to Elm High Road junction with the A47 and the Elm High Road junction with Weasenham Lane, forward.

This is what Broad Street could look like.
This is what Broad Street could look like.

Coun Boden said: "It means that the schemes can be made 'shovel ready' and then we can go after the necessary funding to get them built. That could mean applying to central government or the Combined Authority.

"But it is subject to a business case being completed, and we will have a special meeting of the Combined Authority board just to discuss Wisbech Access Strategy and the business case for it.

"Cambridgeshire County Council officers are confident they can get the business case together quite quickly as they already have most of the necessary data.

The plans include a stunning transformation of March's river side. (49611992)
The plans include a stunning transformation of March's river side. (49611992)

"All in all it is really good news for Fenland."

Mayor Dr Johnson said: "My commitment to improve the life-chances for the community of Wisbech and Fenland is 100 per cent.

“The direction of travel is clear and I hope the community of Wisbech will breathe a little bit easier now."

Read more: Hanging in the balance - two Fenland schemes in jeopardy

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



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