Wisbech Garden Town bids for Government support
Bold and ambitious plans to transform Wisbech into a ‘climate change resilient town’ of the future took a major step forward this week after being submitted to the Government’s Garden Communities programme.
Wisbech Garden Town proposals have 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.
Developed in 2016 as part of the Wisbech 2020 Vision, the Garden Town project seeks to regenerate the town and reverse high levels of deprivation in the area through growth of housing and the economy – with plans for 10,000-12,000 homes over the next 40 years.
Feasibility studies investigating issues such as flood risk, transportation and land acquisition are continuing, alongside the next stage of the Wisbech to March Rail study, supported by a £6.5 million grant from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.
The flood risk studies have seen the council work alongside Dutch water experts at Royal HaskoningDHV and the Environment Agency to utilise a revolutionary flood management tool, TRICO, to understand the unique nature of flood risk in the Fens.
The work, which was also supported by €50k of funding from the Dutch government, has demonstrated that whilst a challenge, flood risk may not make the Wisbech Garden Town unacceptable but could help provide added long-term protection for existing communities.
Partners, including Anglian Water, are now keen to explore how a future tidal barrage – a constant water level through the town – and options for winter flood storage could support wider sustainability objectives and add weight to the ‘climate change resilient’ proposal.
The recently published Cambridge and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) also endorses the flood risk work, recommending that “Wisbech should be seen as a UK test-bed for new flood-resistant approaches to development, and levels of investment in flood defence infrastructure should be substantially increased”.
Now the council is hopeful the work will give the Wisbech Garden Town bid an edge to be included in the Government’s Garden Communities programme.
Councillor Chris Seaton, council leader and Wisbech 2020 Core Vision Group member, said: “The Garden Communities prospectus is a really exciting opportunity for us to secure important government funding and assistance to help deliver a transformational garden community.
“The MHCLG want bids for ambitious, locally led garden communities which support economic growth and have a distinctive local identity. Wisbech Garden Town meets their criteria and will help to regenerate Wisbech with essential new homes, additional jobs/skills, a new multi-functional large country park and road and rail upgrades.
“The flood risk work however, which considers the wider climate change challenges in addition to the economic growth benefits, are what we believe will help the Wisbech Garden Town communities bid stand out from other UK submissions.”
The MHCLG launched its Garden Communities prospectus in August to offer local authorities and private sector partners renewed support for creating high-quality, locally supported, new communities.
Priority is given to proposals comprising of more than 10,000 homes, with successful bids receiving tailored government assistance, including resource funding, advice from Homes England and cross-government brokerage to overcome barriers to delivery.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said that their garden communities programme has the potential to provide over 200,000 new homes by 2050.
He said: “This plan is about the government working with councils and developers to get great homes in keeping with beautiful areas in England. We want to help local authorities build strong and vibrant communities where people want to live, work, and raise families.”
The council’s bid was submitted on Friday, (9) in line with the original deadline date, which has just been extended to November 13 by the MHCLG. Successful garden community proposals will be announced later in the New Year.