Members of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Board have unanimously supported the mayor’s proposals to step in to save the two improvement projects.
Mayor Dr Nik Johnson and the board voted across the political divide on rescue bids for the Wisbech Access Strategy and March High Street project, both threatened by a shortfall in funds ascribed to escalating costs.
Each scheme faced being scrapped or seriously diminished had the board not voted to provide extra funding for March and to fund the Wisbech Access project to the design stage.
The whole Wisbech project was at risk unless the Combined Authority stepped in with £1.88m to get the project at least ‘shovel-ready’ instead of seeing it dropped completely. This £1.88m – on top of the £2.09m already spent – would take the Cambridgeshire County Council project to the design stage, with all necessary land procured. The board said that this puts it in a good position for any central government calls for ‘shovel-ready’ projects in which to invest.
Johnson and the board members agreed that funding in principle should be found from the authority’s medium-term financial plan, subject to a business case by Combined Authority officers. The funding will be voted on at a special ‘extraordinary’ board meeting – which will be convened as soon as practicable. Johnson declined to use his mayoral powers to push the final decision through yesterday, saying it was important for good governance that the business case was made. But he said that this week’s decision would reassure Wisbech that the project was in hand and that the extraordinary board meeting would be convened with urgency to finalise the matter. The meeting will be held before the end of August.
“If I had my own shovel, I would start the digging myself because my commitment to improve the life-chances for the community of Wisbech and Fenland is 100%,” he said. “I support a move towards ‘shovel-ready status, as do we all, and today we’ve given a clear steer to Wisbech, to everyone who may be waiting on this decision, that we support this in principle, and in fact. The direction of travel is clear and I hope the community of Wisbech will breathe a little bit easier now.”
Board members also rallied behind the mayor to stop any downgrading of the Fenland town of March’s ‘once-in-a-generation’ High Street project, voting to give the £1.1m requested by Fenland District Council.
Last year, the Government announced on Boxing Day that it was giving £6.47m in future high-street funding to the March project to transform areas around Broad Street, the Market Place, and riverside as well as a reviving the derelict part of Acre Road. But that government award required match funding from the Combined Authority. The Board decided in January this year to award £900,000 but an agreement in principle by former mayor James Palmer to give a further £1.1m was never ratified before he left office. The council said that, without the £1.1 million voted through yesterday, the government would likely have cut its award, weakening the whole project and losing the Acre Road development scheme in its entirety.