The Wisbech Access Scheme involves spending £10.5 million allocated by Government which has the scope to significantly improve local transport. How this money is spent is currently subject to a public consultation by Fenland District Council, which closes on Monday.
I am concerned that constituents are being asked to give views on a transport package when the information appears to be flawed. As such I am calling for the consultation to be paused.
The consultation document states that “The Wisbech Access Strategy is a road based transport project.” Yet the Government has not placed any condition on this funding to restrict it to road based schemes. As such this statement is not correct.
In addition, the Government has made clear that “some of the £10.5 million” could be spent on Wisbech Rail – a key transport scheme many constituents support. It could also be spent on progressing a section of the A47. Yet these options have not been included in the consultation, nor does any work appear to have been undertaken to question the Network Rail cost estimates on the Rail scheme to enable it to be included in this funding.
As the Secretary of State for Business, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP wrote in a letter to me on Wisbech Rail, “some of the £10.5m may be invested in project development work to progress this scheme through the GRIP assessment process.”
Yet this option has been ruled out it appears on the basis that only road schemes are allowed. It is also repeatedly stated by the Local Enterprise Partnership that the business case for Wisbech Rail is not strong enough, despite the Rail Minister confirming to me that he regards the estimated costs as being “gold plated” by Network Rail, including level crossing costs which exceed what the Rail regulator requires.
The current consultation also appears to have a number of other flaws. For example it allows only three and a half weeks for residents to respond, when a consultation of this complexity would usually be expected to last for more like ten weeks. It asks leading questions such as “to what extent do you agree”, and has errors and omissions such as listing the same scheme as a mid term project and a long term project at different points.
The consultation also appears to close off options for Wisbech Rail, such as a possible station in the town itself. This may weaken any future business case for the Rail link.
This all creates legal risk that the consultation could be challenged.
I support using some of the £10.5 million for specific road schemes in this package. This includes the proposed changed to Broad End junction, for example. I am however concerned that constituents are being told that they will lose £10.5 million if they do not approve this package in its entirety, when this is not correct.
A pause in this consultation will also enable our transport plans to be aligned with proposals to be brought forward by the Government in the Budget tomorrow, and with plans the Department for Transport has due to be published in spring 2018 regarding re-opening branch lines, like Wisbech.
We can then take forward a split package, with some road schemes from this consultation together with a second package including progressing the Rail scheme and surrounding roads. Progressing Wisbech Rail will also strengthen the business case for a late night train service from Cambridge back to March, which is also a key local priority.
If you share my concerns please email your opposition to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 27 November so we can ensure this proposal is paused, whilst a better balanced package covering both road and rail is brought forward.