Minister praises potential of ‘jewel town’ Wisbech during visit

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A government minister has today hailed the potential of Wisbech as he visited the town to discuss the proposed revival of its rail links.

Communities secretary Greg Clark met political and business leaders at the Boathouse Business Centre before taking a tour of the town centre.

After the meeting, Mr Clark said: “The potential here is enormous. This is a real jewel of a town.”

The visit came as work continues on the bid to re-open the rail line linking Wisbech with March and Cambridge and plans for a garden town development which could see up to 10,000 new homes built on the western and eastern edges of Wisbech.

Reinstating the railway is likely to cost at least £100 million, but Mr Clark said the benefits would be felt much more widely.

He said: “If we can help Cambridge to prosper by improving the ability of towns like Wisbech to be connected with it, this is an investment.”

He also praised the “powerful” coalition of political and business representatives from Norfolk and Cambridgeshire who were working on the projects.

And Wisbech Town Council leader David Oliver said the bid had the potential to “open up” the entire area.

North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay said the meeting was “highly significant” and demonstrated the progress that had been made on the rail bid.

He said: “When I started working on this, people said I had no chance. We’ve now got senior officials from Whitehall and today a cabinet minister coming to look at the potential of the proposal.”

Fenland District Council leader John Clark admitted it would be a “long journey” to fully transform the town, but said the visit was an important step along the road.

He said: “It gets our message to the heart of government.”

The garden town project has been referred to in the draft devolution agreement for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk which was outlined in chancellor George Osborne’s Budget statement two weeks ago.

Mr Clark said he was hopeful that a deal could be reached by the deadline of June 30, to enable elections for a mayor to lead the new combined authority to take place next year.

He also insisted that the money proposed as part of the settlement was additional money to that already held by councils, which is currently held in Whitehall.

But he warned the cash could not be “left to gather dust” if a deal wasn’t agreed and a mayor was a central part of the arrangement.