Wisbech to March rail link steams ahead

Steve Barclay with the letter
Steve Barclay with the letter

Hopes of re-opening the Wisbech to March railway line are steaming ahead after a significant breakthrough.

MP Steve Barclay received notification that the Government will release £10.5 million to push the project onto the next phase providing the business case proves value for money.

To qualify, the business case must prove that there will be £1.50 in benefit for every £1 invested in the scheme under the benefits to cost ratio.

Mr Barclay says a draft report of a technical report, which will be released in June, shows the project will produce £1.90 to £3.70 in benefit for every £1 invested.

The rail link, which is expected to cost £50 to £70 million, could boost the local economy by £13 million and a coalition of private companies and local authorities was launched last year to lobby the Government.

Mr Barclay says this is now a “tipping point”. He said: “People can now seriously believe in this scheme.

“The Government is not going to allow up to £10.5 million to be spent on a transport initiative that it did not see as being hugely beneficial to the area.

“The confirmation from the cabinet office is a hugely significant moment. It means we can access the £10.5 million from this June rather than waiting until 2020.”

The low bar was set at £1.50 for the benefit to costs ratio during a letter to communities secretary Eric Pickles from Greg Clark, minister for universities, science and cities.

Mr Clark confirmed in the letter that the £10.5 million could be invested in project development work to progress the scheme through the assessment process. He states: “I hope you agree with me that this demonstrates momentum on this important project which has the potential to help address the housing needs of the area around Cambridge and Peterborough.”

Mr Clark was responding to a letter from Mr Pickles, which expressed support for the scheme to help unlock the housing growth potential in Fenland to meet the housing needs in Cambridge and Peterborough.

The GRIP 2 study will be released in June and Cambridgeshire County Council has commissioned the GRIP 3 study which will go into greater detail.

Further good news for the project is that the line could be included in the 2016 rail franchise negotiations.

Mr Barclay added: “This is a tipping point. We have cleared a hurdle in the study.”

The news has been welcomed by traders and councils in Wisbech.

Vice-president of Wisbech and District Chamber of Commerce, Sharon Mace, said: “It is fantastic that the Wisbech rail link is moving on to the next stage.

“If it comes to fruition it would be great news for the town and its residents.

“Not only will the rail link create jobs in the town itself, it will also provide better access to jobs in nearby cities, particularly Cambridge, where the travelling time is expected to halve.

“I also believe that the re-opening of the rail link is likely to attract more visitors to Wisbech, providing a boost to local businesses.

“The link will also make travelling further afield more accessible for residents who do not have access to a car.”

Leader of Wisbech Town Council David Oliver has also welcomed the announcement.

He said: “It is good news and shows there is value to opening the line.”