The Railway from Wisbech to March; who will deliver it?

addenbrookes

Site of the proposed new station at Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge

cambridge_north

Cambridge North Station under construction in April 2014 [photos: Network Rail]

The WisbechRail reopening project has been progressing for a relatively short time. It started when the Association of Train Operating Companies issued a report called Connecting Communities. This listed every significant community of 15000 people and over in the UK that did not have a railway station and ways in which they could be linked to the national network. Wisbech is on that list; indeed with a population of over 30000 the town is one of the largest in the country without a station. With a mothballed railway already leading into the heart of the town, the project should be one of the simpler one to achieve success with.

So far WisbechRail has been a project that has been developed by Cambridgeshire County Council (County Council’s are one of the few organisations apart from the devolved governments, the Department for Transport and Network Rail that are allowed to develop rail projects).
To enable the Council to go forward the project had to be adopted by its Local Transport Plan 3, a legal document. After that the people of Wisbech and district signed a petition in great numbers organised by Railfuture members who delivered a leaflet to each house in the district.
In 2014 the petition, that expressed the desire of many thousands of people in Wisbech to have a railway reconnection to the national network, was formally delivered to the full County Council. Since then the County Council and its consultants have exhaustively studied the project with the conclusion that the project is viable with a good business case.

In the meantime the project has gathered support from the Member of Parliament for NE Cambridge Mr Steve Barclay, all other local authorities as expressed through the “Wisbech 2020” project, Cambridge City Council and the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership.

The business case is that the railway will deliver great benefits to the Wisbech economy and that by providing a service directly to Cambridge it will hugely benefit the economy of that city too, along with Ely and March. March has just one overcrowded service to Cambridge an hour. The extra two trains an hour the business case for the Wisbech line is predicated on will give March a massive lift in capacity towards Cambridge.

The next step towards the reopening could become clear with the announcement of the East Anglia Railway franchise winning bid in mid-June. The three companies in the competition for the East Anglia Railway franchise are Abellio, First Group and National Express. The process is long and exhaustive. All the three bid teams met Railfuture East Anglia, the local authorities and Wisbech 2020. Informal word back from the bid teams is that case they heard for reinstating the railway to Wisbech is impressive, and there is scope in the bidding process to embrace projects such as this reopening.

We expect the shortage trains will be addressed with the franchisee announcing a new and larger fleet. If the trend being set by other franchises in the country, these could well include “bi-modes”. These are trains that can draw electrical power from overhead electric wires where they exist say between Cambridge and Ely and use under-carriage Diesel engines where there are no wires say between Ely March and Wisbech, hence “bi-mode”.

In the mean time the new Cambridge North station, serving the massive north Cambridge hi tech business area, is due to open in May next year (2017). It is well under construction. A second new station in Cambridge will soon be approved. This will serve the equally vast bio-medical research centres around Addenbrookes Hospital. Wisbech could be just 35/40 minutes by train from Cambridge North, 3 minutes longer from Cambridge Central and just 2 more from Cambridge Bio-Medical-Addenbrookes station!
Additionally Network Rail will soon start resignalling the railway from Ely through to March Whittlesea and Peterborough. This will allow an increase in line speeds and the state of the art signal system will allow more trains to be operated. However, the very real problem of dealing with remodelling of Ely North Junction to allow more capacity has yet to be addressed.

The cost of the Wisbech project is said to be in the region of £70m-£100m, a lot more than originally expected. However these figures do include a government imposed ‘contingency’ which can be up to 60%. The project does now include double tracking all the way to Wisbech and reinstatement of disused platforms at March. These are sensible provisions as a single track section would be operationally a hazard in that it could cause increased delays and cancellations right across the network. The network is now incredibly busy in a way not envisaged even when the project first began. The Kings Lynn – Ely railway has long single line sections that cause delays all the way to London when the timetable is perturbed.

Recently there has been a flurry of activity based on the realisation in government of what the railway can achieve even before it is built, hence the new town proposals. It has been made clear that the railway will go ahead without the new town but the new town cannot go ahead without the railway. Lessons have been learned about how the velocity and volume attributes of the railway together with its absolute safety, cannot be matched by other modes.
Government Minister Mr Greg Clark visited Wisbech on March 30th and went on a somewhat spectacular walkabout of the town.
This is how the local press reported some of his comments:

Local Government Secretary of State Greg Clark pledged on a visit to Wisbech today that support for garden town status and the prospect of re-opening the rail line to March did not depend on Cambridgeshire signing up to the Chancellor’s devolution deal.

He was asked whether Wisbech deserved to be regarded as a special case for the Government and was it fair for local councils and the MP to press for that outcome.
“Every place is unique and part of my approach is to get to know places and to recognise the issues,” he said. “You need to understand them to do something about them.”
And he argued that people should see the rail link “as an investment not as a special favour to Wisbech. It is an opportunity to invest in the prosperity of our country”.
Mr Clark said he very much hoped the current feasibility study and underwritten by the local growth funding “will be positive”.
On the prospect for the rail re-opening, he said the link to March would “make more jobs available, a greater choice of jobs, higher paid jobs, and would help people who may want to work in Cambridge to live in Wisbech.”
Newcomers would bring “vitality and spending power” to the area and create investment opportunities.

A little earlier this year the Transport Minister the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin spoke to a conference in London about the Government’s commitment to expanding the railway. Here is an extract of his speech, with its reference to Wisbech. The full speech can found at the DfT website.

www.gov.uk/government/speeches/george-bradshaw-address-2016

…….“Working, too, with powerful city regions that can take the responsibility of shaping their transport systems far more effectively than Whitehall ever could.

That’s the way, for instance, that we have seen a reversal of some of the Beeching cuts.

Finding ways to bring trains back to towns that should never have lost them and whose growth requires them.

Like the Chase Line project did for Rugeley, Cannock and Hednesford.

Or for places such as Tavistock and Wisbech, which have well-advanced plans.”

 

Wisbech could become garden town with guarantee of rail reopening

Wisbech could become ‘garden town’ with 10,000 extra homes, an enterprise zone, a retirement village and guarantees of rail and road improvements if Government agrees

www.wisbechstandard.co.uk/news/wisbech_could_become_garden_town_with_10_000_extra_homes_an_enterprise_zone_a_retirement_village_and_guarantees_of_rail_and_road_improvements_if_government_agrees_1_4392018

An audacious bid to change the face of Wisbech – with 10,000 extra homes, a retirement village, enterprise zone, new schools and delivery of a rail link- are unveiled today.

Behind the scenes negotiations – that have included a visit to the town by a top Government adviser- could lead to the setting up of the Wisbech Development Corporation to deliver the project.

Subject to detailed negotiations and ministers agreeing up to £800,000 to fund the corporation, building work could start as early as 2019.

A briefing note sent to Fenland’s 39 councillors says the report follows on from devolution discussions taking place between representatives from across Cambridgeshire/Peterborough and Government.

Blue shows where the current Local Plan shows new housing; red indicates where the extra 10,000 homes will come fromBlue shows where the current Local Plan shows new housing; red indicates where the extra 10,000 homes will come from

Last week a Fenland Council delegation – headed by council leader John Clark and chief executive Paul Medd -attended a devolution event” to further understand what opportunities might exist through devolution.”

The briefing note says that “Fenland is playing a lead role in helping to develop the document that sets out the additional powers and funding, which the area hopes to agree with Government following future negotiations.”

Councillors will be invited to hear more “of what is being pursued, and what this might mean for Fenland.

“The main purpose of this briefing note and attachment is to draw your attention to an idea of a potential ‘Garden Town for Wisbech’.

“It must be stressed that this is still at a very early stage, with much more work required to further test the case, and potential support from Government as part of our devolution discussions, for such a bold proposal.

The proposal makes clear that in order to deliver such ambitious new housing numbers, as part of the Government’s commitment to housing we would require their full support for a range of essential infrastructure improvements i.e the rail link.”

However it emerged that a mix of partners – including Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, the Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership and Anglian Water- has commissioned a viability study.

That work will be carried out by urban designer David Rudlin who in 2014 won the Wolfson Economics Prize for his work on re-invigorating communities across the country.

Steve Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs, accepts the creation of an hugely enlarged project dwarves both the scale and ambition of the Wisbech 2020 Vision which he co founded four years ago.

And he is delighted with the clamour by private enterprise to get involved in expanding Wisbech.

“The Government wants to see things shaped by business- regeneration must come from working with business too,” he said.

Mr Barclay said it had always been a “driving passion” of his to deliver better outcomes for people in NE Cambs and he felt “real progress is being made”.

He agreed housing was central to the project but it was vital sustainable and quality homes were built and to high standards to attract buyers.

Councillor Virginia Bucknor, who represents the Waterlees ward of Wisbech, said she was “very excited at these proposals”.

She said: “.Of course we need the infrastructure to go hand in hand with the homes – roads, schools, railway, health centres.

“We are extremely fortunate to have one of the world’s leading urban designers, David Rudlin and his specialist team at the heart of making it a success.

“We need to ensure their recommendations are not watered down by bureaucracy or developers.”

Cllr Bucknor added; “This could be a new era for Wisbech. It also needs the focus and genuine commitment and drive by the decision makers to ensure it happens and we need our local councillors to genuinely support and help drive it forward”.

Fenland District Council describes what is proposed for Wisbech is ‘a game changer’ that fits with the Government agenda of delivering new homes on a scale way and beyond that earmarked in Local Plans.

The council believes the Government’s commitment to provide “nationally significant infrastructure projects” to support new housing on the scale envisaged could lead to a commitment to re-open the Wisbech to March rail line.

And they also believe it could speed up dualling of the A47 from Thorney to Peterborough, both transport schemes opening up Wisbech and Fenland to a new breed of commuters.

With house prices in Cambridge three times those of Wisbech, the council is confident of attracting quality housing and skilled workers once transport links are improved.

The council says Fenland’s deprivation levels “are getting worse – we are now ranked the 80th most deprived local authority out of 326” where 1 is the most deprived; in 2004 the district was ranked 142nd.

“Our proposal is a new Garden Town for Wisbech, delivering 8,000-10,000 new homes,” says the report.

These would mainly be “market sale” homes for people who have been priced out of living in and around Cambridge but the council promises opportunities for local residents to take advantage of a housing boom/.

To capture local interest, the council proposes incentives for those wanting starter homes and those wanting to self build but the council insists there would be no traditional affordable rented homes.

The report insists Wisbech has the skills to work with the Cambridge Regional College and the College of West Anglia to tailor a work force ready to deliver its ‘garden town’ vision.

It also believes building a retirement village will attract those from London and the south able to release equity in their properties to enjoy country living, in more spacious surroundings and within easy access of the Norfolk coast.

Also central to the proposals is a local enterprise zone, including manufacturing start up businesses from ideas originating on the Cambridge Science Park with factories for building offsite construction homes.

Cambridgeshire County Council is also backing the proposals and looking for a massive windfall from using vast tracts of land it already owns in Wisbech for new housing.

The report says: “Our proposals could be used as model across the country for market town growth.”

WISBECH DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

Its prime requirement would be to co-ordinate planning issues to include bringing together land owners including not only the county council and private companies and individuals but also a “significant” amount owned by the Church Commissioners.

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) would seek special powers from the Secretary of State to ensure delivery of the overall scheme “and deal with planning approval for the Wisbech Garden Town”.

A governance body could be created locally made up of the HCA, businesses and seats for local members.

A limited liability partnership would be created “to ensure the speed of delivery is achieved,” says the council report.

THE IMPACT

A 10 point guide to the impact of the scheme on the wider community

1: New transport links would drive forward investment and tackle deprivation

2: National housing growth targets would be supported

3: Housing pressure in and around Cambridge would be eased

4: Better links on the east west corridor would have a wider economic advantage.

5; Major retailers would be attracted to the town

6: Local jobs for local people through construction skills training

7: Significant investment would come to the area

8: The Government would bolster tax receipts through business rates and the council would benefit from the New Homes Bonus

9: It would become a model for other towns to follow

10: House prices locally would increase but these would “stabilise Cambridge basin prices, which have reached the same levels as central London”.

EARLY DAYS

The HCA described the initial proposals as “sound and well thought out”, a view shared by the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Its chief executive Neil Darwin has given it an “in principle” nod subject to board approval.

The county council also says it is working on boosting transport links to Wisbech and Jackie Sadek, special adviser to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has been to Wisbech.

Fenland Council says “she supports our approach”.

CONDITIONS

Fenland Council says its commitment to growth in Wisbech is conditional on Government investment, notably rail and road infrastructure.

Central is the re-opening of the rail link to March and onwards to Ely and Cambridge, creating a travel time into the city of 45 minutes.

The estimated £111million cost has been endlessly debated in recent years with viability assessments and Government funding allowing the scheme to be progressed through a series of appraisals.

Fenland Council also believes postponed rail improvements at Ely need to be carried out as soon as possible to offer certainty of possible commuting times.

And there is also the not so little matter of finding an estimated £430 million to improvement connectivity to Peterborough by upgrading the A47 to Thorney, to the north east of Wisbech.

The council also wants £6 million funding for a college to develop “smart life modern methods of construction”.

Once a limited liability partnership is put in motion, a central Government funded development corporation with a team of six staff will be in place to deliver the scheme.

2020 VISION

Wisbech 2020 Vision

Set up in 2012 and launched in January 2013, it offered a 29 point ‘action plan’ to begin the regeneration of the town.

Successes include

• A further £6million investment for the College of West Anglia with new facilities that opened last September

• Wisbech Market Town Transport Strategy developed and adopted by Cambs County Council

• Successful first-round bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £2million to improve the High Street.

• Operation Pheasant’s award-winning success in tackling migrant exploitation, rogue landlords and problems with Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

* Large part of the Nene Waterfront Site sold to local developer which will create 70 homes, including 24 affordable homes

* Creation of a new horticultural skills centre

Outline Business Case shows high value for money

wisbech_grip2Cambridgeshire County Council have published the GRIP 2 study for the reopening of the railway from March to Wisbech.

For a preferred option of two trains an hour from Wisbech to Cambridge, the Outline Business Case and GRIP2 documents show a Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.27 to 1, representing high value for money. When wider economic benefits are taken into account, the BCR could rise to around 4.41.

The Outline Business Case and GRIP 2 study can be downloaded here:
www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/info/20006/travel_roads_and_parking/68/transport_funding_bids_and_studies/3

“Current investigations into the case for reopening the railway between March and Wisbech commenced in 2012.

Following on from the initial work (detailed below), on 29 July 2015, we published an Outline Business Case and a GRIP 2 feasibility study. These documents demonstrate a positive case for investment at this stage of scheme development.

For a preferred option of two trains an hour from Wisbech to Cambridge, the Outline Business Case and GRIP2 documents show a Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.27 to 1, representing high value for money. When wider economic benefits are taken into account, the BCR could rise to around 4.41.

However, without additional work in the Ely area, it is unlikely that this service pattern could be achieved. A fallback option of one train an hour to Cambridge and one train an hour to March would be possible without further work at Ely. This option has a BCR of 1.37 to 1 (representing low value for money), rising to 3.37 to 1 when wider economic benefits are taken into account.

The figures quoted above assume a Town Centre Station; they increase slightly for a station south of the A47 due to the reduction in costs due to the removal of the cost of providing a bridge for the A47 over the railway. However, a town centre station would provide a greater level of wider economic benefits for Wisbech.

Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) is Network Rail’s management and control process for delivering projects on the railway, and has eight stages. The GRIP 2 Feasibility stage has now been completed for the March to Wisbech reopening.

The GRIP 2 study looks at potential scheme costs in some detail. Including risk and optimism bias (a factor allowing for an inherent tendency for scheme costs to be underestimated at early stages of development), the cost of reopening the line between March and Wisbech is estimated to range between £70m and £111m. The costings from the GRIP 2 study informed the Outline Business Case.

The next stage of the project is for a GRIP 3 Option Selection study and a Full Business Case for the scheme to be developed. This work is currently planned to commence in the autumn of 2015.”

Wisbech to 2020 and beyond

Reopening of the railway line between Wisbech and Cambridge is a key part of the plans for Wisbech to 2020 and beyond as described in a newly published document “Wisbech: beyond 2020…a place of great expectations”.

wisbech2020plus

“The overall proposed project of reopening of the current mothballed railway line between Wisbech and March to allow direct access to Cambridge, and onto Peterborough, Stansted Airport and London would make a significant contribution to the local economy of Wisbech and the surrounding areas. Furthermore, significant value is placed by residents on having access to both social and economic opportunities through the proposed rail service. Depending on the most suitable station location the benefit-cost ratio is looking favourable.”

 

 

The document can be downloaded here:
wisbechrail.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/wisbech2020v2.pdf

Response to Network Rail’s Long-term planning process

Anglia Route Study Consultation ResponseThe coalition of businesses in the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership area have responded to Network Rail’s Long-term planning process consultation to stress the importance of reopening the Wisbech to March railway. The response outlines the Strategic case, economic case and commercial case and can be downloaded here Anglia Route Study Consultation Response 030215

East Anglia rail franchise consultation

franchise_consultation

The Department for Transport are running a consultation for next East Anglia franchise; a valuable opportunity for local residents to express their support for the reopening of the Wisbech to March railway.

Question 3 asks:
Are there any changes to the current passenger rail service (i.e. number or trains per hour/day), as set out in paragraph 5.8, which you feel should be considered? If so, please explain your rationale. For example, please identify specific local factors which might influence the future level of passenger demand which you consider should be reflected in the specification.

It would be useful if you could respond to EAconsultation2014@railexecutive.gsi.gov.uk about the “East Anglia rail franchise consultation” saying the railway from March to Wisbech should be reopened and suggesting the service you would like to see provided; e.g. an hourly through rail service from Wisbech to Cambridge. This can be backed up by a comment about how this would benefit you and Wisbech.

For more information Steve Barclay describes the background to the consultation here including more ideas for rail improvements in Fenland: http://stevebarclay.net/speak-up-for-better-rail-service/

The consultation document can be downloaded here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/east-anglia-rail-passenger-franchise

Restoring rail link between Wisbech and Cambridge will create hundreds of jobs and slash commuting times

“Restoring a rail link between Wisbech and Cambridge will halve commuting times and create at least 230 jobs in the town, a report claims.

The Infrastructure for Growth document, which highlights the benefits improved traffic infrastructure can bring to Wisbech and the rest of Fenland, is being shared with senior ministers.

In addition, reopening the rail link, at a estimated cost of between £50-70million, will boost local incomes by £13million annually and lead to the building of more than 500 homes.

Raised incomes will come about through a combination of a number of factors, most significantly jobs, higher wages, more homes and higher house prices.

Re-connecting March and Wisbech forms a key part of the Wisbech 20/20 Vision, a joint Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council project to boost the town’s economy.”

“The economic case for reopening the line is compelling.”

http://www.cambstimes.co.uk/news/restoring_rail_link_between_wisbech_and_cambridge_will_create_hundreds_of_jobs_and_slash_commuting_times_report_claims_1_3918154