September 22 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Friday, September 5, 2014
Joint working between the public, private and voluntary sector is moving rapidly towards re-shaping Wisbech, a conference heard today.
Eighty councillors, business leaders and community representatives met at Wisbech Boathouse conference centre for an update on the two year-old ‘2020 Vision’ to revitalise the town.
“We know that the 2020 Vision is a long term project and we can’t achieve all our ambitions overnight,” said Fenland Council leader John Clark. “However we have come a long way”.
The conference heard details of a £20,000 study produced by Cambridge University on the economic prospects for Wisbech and were given updates on major infrastructure projects such as improvements to the A47 and re-opening the rail line to March.
County council leader Steve Count revealed that work was already under way on spending the £1million awarded by the Government to the local enterprise partnership for rail and road studies.
Fenland Council chief executive Paul Medd also revealed that work on regenerating the Nene, held back by the recession, was again gathering momentum.
He said only “certain legal formalities” needed to be completed before planning approval would be sought for one of the first parcels of land by the Nene for social housing.
A local developer was working in partnership with Circle Housing to provide 24 homes on the site of the town’s former gas works and he expected the deal to be completed “imminently”,
Cllr Clark admitted that the recession had put back the homes planned for the vacant Nene sites “but the market to me is beginning to move”.
He said: “You can’t force a market. Developers have their own land banks already. “The Nene land in Wisbech is up for sale but we can’t force a buyer to come forward.”
Mr Medd also sounded a cautious note explaining that “we have spoken to some national players who, for whatever reason, are not committing to investing in these sites. However we are slowly coming out of recession, housing is picking up, so too is development.”
MP Steve Barclay said the Nene offered a “very positive opportunity” and he was hopeful house builders would look again at Wisbech as progress on A47 and rail links moved toward.
He said: “One of the difficulties we face is that of uncertainty over the A47. But clearly, for example, the price of the Nene development would shift it was within a short cycle ride or within walking distance of a rail station.”
•£7.2m technology centre opened at College of West Anglia
•Recruitment packs to attract key professionals
•Dilapidated buildings initiative: £2m bid to Heritage Lottery Fund for High Street regeneration, Constantine House being brought back into use.
•Wisbech named as one of first 29 towns included in national Healthy High Streets campaign
•New Tesco superstore, multi screen cinema and restaurants at Cromwell Road
•Closer links with offshore wind farm companies to boost port
•Loyalty cards for shoppers
•Artists in residence project and new studio/home for artists
•New enforcement patrols to curb littering and street drinking
On derelict buildings the conference heard there had been progress through use of a section 215 order which put legal pressure on owners to improve their properties or risk court action.
Mr Barclay told a pre conference press conference that he had been pushing for Fenland Council to use these orders for sometime and had prepared a five page legal memorandum to senior officers explaining how they worked.
He said, for example, Hastings had issued 52 of these in a year “and it is no secret I was frustrated” about their minimal use in Wisbech and Fenland.
“These orders are cost effective because it is an order from the court and allows the fine to be greater than the shortfall from doing the repairs.”
Cllr Clark said Fenland’s approach was to “have dialogue and taking a person to court has always been the final straw”.
Cllr Count said he was keen for the message to be taken from today’s summit to be 2020 Vision document that was “packed full of good news” about the town against the bad coverage some national papers had given to the town earlier this year.
As delegates left the conference each was asked to sign a ‘vision pledge’ committing them to specific actions take the project forward.