17:38 Tuesday 11th March 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Parliament has been hosting a summit today about the future of the Wisbech rail line. The MP for North East Cambridgeshire Steve Barclay organised the summit. It involved transport bigwigs, council leaders, train operators and most importantly of all perhaps, the Transport Minister Steven Hammond. Let’s find out what’s happened. The County Council Leader Martin Curtis was there, and he joins me on the line now. Hello Martin.
MARTIN CURTIS: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Still down at Westminster. How did it go? What’s the news?
MARTIN CURTIS: It was very good. What we had today was first of all a commitment from Stephen Hammond to say that this is the sort of local project that they are looking to invest in. And then we had a good round table discussion about firstly, the importance of this, and a very high level discussion about how we can make it happen. The project is definitely definitely moving forward.
CHRIS MANN: So what does that mean exactly?
MARTIN CURTIS: We’re progressing with the project. We can’t guarantee it will be delivered, but the one guarantee you will get is that with guys like Stephen Barclay behind it, us as a county council, we’ll do everything we can to make it happen. And there is a really good case to explain why it needs to happen as well, both from a Wisbech perspective, but also from a Cambridgeshire perspective as well.
CHRIS MANN: Why is this so important?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well first of all we all know that we’ve got within the Cambridgeshire area, and if you include Peterborough with that, we’ve got two of the fastest growing cities in the country. And what we need to be doing now is finding a way of connecting up the rest of the County to see that they benefit from that, and in fact the wider economic area as well. So the Wisbech to March rail link, one of the things that it will do is as we have that growing Cambridge economy, it will pull Wisbech into the travel-to-work area for Cambridge. But also the reverse side is true as well. It will unlock the tourism potential of Wisbech as well. So that’s why it’s important.
CHRIS MANN: Now, at the end of all of these things, someone’s got to pay for something, and it’s got to be worth it. Can you justify the cost?
MARTIN CURTIS: Absolutely. Well first of al, the estimated cost of the rail line is around about the same cost as half a mile of tunneling for HS2. So that puts it into context. And what it does is deal with a very important area of the County that needs to be linked better in order for it to thrive. So I think all that is there. All the evidence says that if we can make the rail line happen, in terms of the capital investment put in place, it will wipe its feet operationally. So it will work operationally. We know there’s a case there. It’s about pulling that together into something that sells itself well enough for somebody to say they’ll invest in it. And that’s the bit we’ve got to do now.
CHRIS MANN: At one time Wisbech had two railway stations, and the last one was open for freight as recently as 2000. Who makes decisions like this?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well ultimately it will be a national government decision alongside Network Rail, and hopefully .. well we know, with a lot of pushing from Stephen Barclay, with a lot of pushing and a lot of cooperation from us as a county council, and from Fenland District Council as well, because of course Alan Melton was there, Leader of the District Council today as well.
CHRIS MANN: Give us a time frame then.
MARTIN CURTIS: I don’t have a time frame at the moment. But certainly by the end of this month we will have started to put the big things of a business case through our LEP economic strategy to say, this is what we want to do to Government, and put that through to Government. And that will be subject to challenge over coming months.
CHRIS MANN: Martin Curtis, thank you for joining us. The Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.