Council leader vows to transform Wisbech by working with community

By DAVID BLACKMORE
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
1:30 PM

The leader of Cambridgeshire County Council outlined plans to rejuvenate Wisbech at a cabinet meeting held in the town today.

It was the first time that county councillors have travelled outside of Cambridge for a cabinet meeting and there was a buzz of excitement when they arrived at The Boathouse, in Wisbech, this morning.

Ahead of the meeting Cllr Nick Clarke, cabinet chairman and leader of the county council, said he wanted to raise profile and promote positives of Wisbech and wanted as many councillors as possible to have an understanding of issues facing the town.

And it was Cllr Clarke who welcomed the residents, business owners and councillors in the public gallery to the meeting just after 10am.

He spoke of his delight of the “unprecedented” move for Wisbech to host the cabinet meeting before adding he was looking forward to an “action-packed” day in the town which will include a tour of the town and talking to local groups this afternoon.

Addressing the public at the meeting, he continued: “We don’t just stay in confines of the Cambridge ring road. We are all proud of Cambridgeshire and the communities we represent. We aim to do the best we can to make sure Cambridgeshire is the best county in the country.”

Mr Clarke then hit out at a story in a national newspaper which portrayed the town as “terrorised by the Baltic Mafia”.

“Wisbech remains a thriving community and we should not tolerate people with no idea of this area running it down,” he said.

“It’s wrong as it can hurt and it changes the way people think about themselves. It also damages confidence and pride.

“There is much here in Wisbech to be proud of and we will do everything we can to make sure this town prospers.”

Cllr Clarke then announced he was working on a joint initiative entitled Wisbech 2020 with Alan Melton, leader of Fenland District Council, and North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay.

“We are currently working out the strengths and weaknesses of town and will then work to build on strengths which is very important.

“Action needs to be taken sooner rather than later but this vision will not just belong to Steve Barclay, Alan Melton and myself – it must be a vision owned by the community.”

He added: “The first meeting of 2020 group will be in September which will analyse the work done so far and what is the best way forward.”

A petition signed by 54 people calling for the county council to address the deprivation status of Waterlees ward in Wisbech was then put before the cabinet.

The ward is one of the most deprived in the country and campaigners want the county council to establish a team who will work to come up with a long term plan to improve the ward’s deprivation status.

Virginia Bucknor, independent councillor for Waterlees ward, addressed the cabinet about the petition.

She said: “Ask most residents of Wisbech and they will say we receive the crumbs from the county table. Wisbech has no connecting dual carriageway or railway which is wrong for a town of our size and we feel there is a lack of political and economic will to invest in Wisbech.”

“Waterlees ward is in the top 10pc of the most deprived wards in England. Where have we gone wrong? Why have things gone so badly?

“We want the council to focus on developing a long term plan to address this status and residents want to help develop this long term plan and improve the ward’s deprivation status.”

She concluded: “We have got it wrong in the past.. Let’s get it right now.”

Councillor Mac McGuire, cabinet member for community engagement, responded to the petition and Cllr Bucknor’s comments by saying over the last three years there has been “significant capital investment” in Wisbech including an adventure playground in Waterlees.

He continued: “Officers are currently working on fresh solutions to develop a programme for the ward. There will be no quick or easy solutions and it will take time – possibly a generation.”

He later added: “We want to create a sense of pride in the ward and to make sure the community is part of planning process rather than the community feeling it’s being put on them.

“I must add a long term plan for Waterlees is already under way but actions speak louder than words and we are keen to get things done.”

Cabinet members also agreed to consider a scheme to improve highway drainage in Wisbech North ward as part of the wider economic regeneration of the town.

Samantha Hoy, county councillor of Wisbech North, said: “The area has suffered from flooding in past so it’s great the need for works has been recognised and I’m grateful the scheme has been made a priority.

“The work needs to be done as soon as possible because we need infrastructure here. We had flooding here in 1970s and don’t want flooding again because flooding wrecks people’s lives.”

Cabinet members also agreed to a scheme to improve highway drainage in Wisbech North ward as part of the wider economic regeneration of the town.

Addressing the cabinet, Samantha Hoy, county councillor of Wisbech North, said: “The area has suffered from flooding in past so it’s great the need for works has been recognised and I’m grateful the scheme has been made a priority.

“The work needs to be done as soon as possible because we need infrastructure here. We had flooding here in 1970s and don’t want flooding again because flooding wrecks people’s lives.”

As the meeting drew to a close, a large group of around 30 protesters stood at the back of the room holding placards hitting out at Fenland District Council’s decision to move the taxi rank in Wisbech.

Fenland district councillor David Patrick, who is also chairman of Wisbech and District Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Association, told the cabinet: “We are here in protest of the moving of the taxi rank to a ‘safe’ area from a perceived danger area.

“We decided the only way to make an impact and ensure our voices are heard was to invade this meeting.”

He continued: “There has been no person injured or killed at the taxi rank so why is Fenland District Council spending £100,000 to move the taxi rank 50 yards?

“We think the council could spend the money on better things and our customers want things left as they are.”

One of the placards read: “14 years. No deaths. No injuries. So why spend £100k to move the rank?”

Another placard read: “Give people what they want and leave the taxi rank alone.”

Following the meeting Cllr Samantha Hoy branded the protest as a “disgrace” and was unsure why the protest even took place given the taxi drivers are unhappy with Fenland District Council – not Cambridgeshire County Council.

After the protesters left, Cllr Nick Clarke answered a few questions from the public with one member of the public asking the council leader if the council has plans to push for Wisbech to be re-connected to the national rail.

Cllr Clarke said there were no plans to take this forward but added that was not to say “will never happen” and that this goal could be included in the vision for Wisbech 2020.


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