Wisbech Transport Consultation

rail17:18 Tuesday 17th June 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[S]UE DOUGAN: A consultation is taking place today and again on Friday at Wisbech on future transport plans for the town. It’s a chance for local people to share opinions on everything from road congestion to the return of a passenger railway. We’ll speak to Simon King who’s Chairman of the Bramley Line Group in a moment. They have long campaigned for the return of the March to Wisbech rail line. But first let’s talk to Jeremy Smith. He’s Transport and Infrastructure Strategy Manager at Cambridgeshire County Council. Jeremy, hello, good evening. There’s a lot for local people to look at and consider. Which proposals and ideas in particular would you like to hear opinions on?
JEREMY SMITH: Well obviously the railway line is one of the big things that are on our agenda at the moment. And work the County Council has done indicates that there may well be a good commercial case for the opening of the line. And one of the key things that will enable us to push that forward with Government and the rail industry is a good response, a good level of support from local people. So we really need to know whether people want this to happen.
SUE DOUGAN: Have they said that to you today then? Have they ventured an opinion one way or the other?

JEREMY SMITH: I think it is fair to say that they have. people who have been to the exhibitions have been keen on the railway. We also know from work that Rail Future have done that there’s a large portion of the public in the Wisbech area have been very supportive in the past. So we’re hopeful that this will be one proposal that we get good support for.
SUE DOUGAN: But this is just one part of the consultation, isn’t it? It’s about more than the possible return of a railway. What other issues are you looking at?
JEREMY SMITH: Well we’re a member of the A47 Alliance with Norfolk County Council, and one of the things we need to know is actually what people would like us to lobby for to be done on the A47, which has a lot of single carriageway spots and congestion on the route between Norwich and Peterborough, in particular around the Wisbech area. But there are also a lot of issues in the town itself, where there’s a lot of growth planned, a lot of new houses. And we want to know what people think of that, and in particular what they would like us to do about it, and what they think of measures we are putting forward for them to hopefully help deal with the impacts of that development.
SUE DOUGAN: Have you been party to some of those conversations today, what local members of the public have been telling you about what they see as the vision for their town?
JEREMY SMITH: Absolutely. Yes. There’s a lot of strong opinions either way. Unsurprisingly there are people who would rather not see growth, but there are also a lot of people who would like us to deal with it positively, and if growth is going to happen, make sure we put in the right infrastructure to ensure that the place doesn’t just get clogged up with cars.
SUE DOUGAN: What are the other key points that you’re hoping the local people of Wisbech will look at and dig deeper into the consultation plans?
JEREMY SMITH: Well there are some big issues around the town. The growth sites are obviously one of them, but there’s also issues around the Freedom Bridge in the centre of town, where, because of the way the road network works, most of the traffic going through the town focuses on. So there are challenging interventions. We might look at a new bridge across the river to the south, and where would that go, how would it work, what would the impact be on the town? Is the price of a new bridge and the new road scheme through potentially some quite sensitive areas worth paying, or do we want to try and improve Freedom Bridge as it is? So there’s a lot of big issues around the town.
SUE DOUGAN: Wisbech is a town of great heritage, and I’m sure that that question has been addressed today and throughout the way, of maintaining a great town of great character, but at the same time turning it into a place that has a place in the future.
JEREMY SMITH: Well absolutely. The big issue for us and the County Council, the District Council with Wisbech is actually just freeing its potential. There’s a lot going for the town, but it’s position on the transport network doesn’t do it any favours. It’s a long way to Cambridge. It’s a long way to Peterborough. It’s a long way to Norwich. It’s a long way to London. It’s how can we actually get improved transport links, and make the town somewhere that people really want to get to, where there’s a real vibrancy to it.
SUE DOUGAN: Which takes us back to the issue of a rail link, or a possible rail link. You’ve talked about how that seems to be possibly the biggest bit of the consultation plan at the moment. I know you’ve done a lot of talking to the Bramley Line Group. We’ve got the Chairman Simon King with us now. Simon, good evening.
SIMON KING: Good evening Sue.
SUE DOUGAN: Good evening. For those not familiar with the story, can you remind us how long you’ve had an interest in this line.
SIMON KING: Well as long as I’ve lived in Wisbech really. And the line closed finally in the year 2000. It had been closed to passenger traffic since 1968, but it was still used for goods. And then finally in 2000 it closed altogether. So ever since that final closure, I have been very keen to see it reopened, as have many people in Wisbech area.
SUE DOUGAN: The plans were previously for it to be reopened as a line for pleasure, for excursions, for days out, for Specials. As Thomas the Tank Engine would say, for special Specials. Now it’s about its viability as a transport link. What do you think? Do you welcome this potential proposal?
SIMON KING: Yes, I certainly do. I’m very much in favour of the reopening of the line, and my preferred option would be to have an agreement whereby the line could be used for, let’s say Monday to Friday commercial use, and then at the weekends and Bank Holidays for heritage purposes. The economic benefits of tourism are well proven, and the value of heritage lines within that tourism offer again is well established. There’s loads of evidence for that.
SUE DOUGAN: Is this one of the questions that you’re bouncing around today Jeremy, that the possibility of what would happen, what use could you make of a potential rail line? Could it have a balance between heritage, railway heritage, and passenger commuter traffic?
JEREMY SMITH: That’s certainly possible. Yes. I think probably from the County Council point of view, our main focus is on getting a passenger service in, and there does seem to be a case for that. But what Simon has outlined is certainly potentially possible, and it’s not something that we would say, no not at all, it’s not compatible. It’s something that we would need to investigate with the Bramley Line Group and hopefully come to a good solution.
SUE DOUGAN: Because you’re of the opinion I understand Simon and the Bramley Line Group, that if there was a heritage hook to this line, then that would be another reason for people to come to Wisbech, or use the line between Wisbech and March.
SIMON KING: Very much so. I agree with really everything Jeremy said, not just about the railway line, but about the other transport issues facing Wisbech. One of the major problems in Cambridgeshire generally is we have a relatively poor north, and a very prosperous south. And we have to somehow improve that link. One of the crucial elements in that is infrastructure. There’s a very good reason why Cambridge is such a prosperous place. It’s got an airport very close by, it’s got a motorway, it’s got a very good rail link, and it’s got a university. Three of those four things are all to do with transport. And if we can get improved transport links to the north of the county, there’s no reason why the north can’t share in the prosperity of the south.
SUE DOUGAN: Simon King, thank you. Simon King from the Bramley Line Group, and Jeremy Smith, thank you, from Cambridgeshire County Council. And you’ve got until 7 o’clock tonight to have your say, or another chance on Friday (20th June 2014) between ten and two at Wisbech Market.