Plans to re-open Wisbech rail-link took another step along the track to becoming a reality this week when it was revealed the business case is now almost double that of HS2.
This is a sensational announcement and will help the scheme to progress faster than previously anticipated.
The announcement that the economic case for the project had gone up from a return of £2.30 of benefit for each £1 of cost, to a return of £4 of benefit for each £1 of cost, was made at an infra-structure update meeting which I chaired at Wisbech Boathouse, and which was attended by representatives from key organisations including Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, Cambridgeshire County Council and Anglian Water.
Initially the business case, that is the amount of return for every pound invested in the scheme, had been just 60p, which was deemed unviable.
I pushed for that to be re-evaluated when I pointed out the need to include the benefits the rail line would bring as it would link Wisbech not just with neighbouring March, but also with Cambridge and Peterborough.
Consultants have since carried out a further evaluation giving a figure of £8 but that was challenged after being considered too optimistic.
The new figure of £4 of benefits makes the case for the rail link extremely strong and means that work can now progress on the next phase of essential documentation known as Grip 3.
We have come a long way in the past two years when the rail line was still considered a ‘pipe dream’. I have held many meetings with the Department for Transport and have hosted a rail summit to discuss the issue.
It means we can proceed straight to Grip 3 without the need for the current Grip 2 study to be completed, because we know the scheme is viable. It will now help escalate momentum further and I am meeting with various officials from the Department for Transport this week to push the case further.
The government has announced they have provisionally awarded £10.5 million to be allocated between 2016 and 2020 for further work on key aspects such as the location of the new station, which was agreed at Friday’s meeting should be within Wisbech rather than off the A47. I now want to see that money being brought forward to 2016 rather than left until 2020.
We have also agreed to keep both freight and electrification as options and these will be considered in the Grip 3 study. Cambridgeshire County Council and the LEP are due to ratify the decision to proceed with this essential foundation work this week.
I could not be more delighted that the rail link is now building a full head of steam and is well on track to becoming a reality within the next few years.
Peter Simpson, Anglian Water’s CEO, said: “It was a very positive and progressive meeting. The updated cost/benefit ratio and business case was really encouraging and there is a now the strongest case yet for the rail scheme. There is still lots of hard work to do, but this is an excellent example of the public and private sectors joining forces with a common objective.”