Category Archives: Fenland Citizen

Wisbech Castle Project – From the Fenland Citizen

Wisbech Castle Project – From the Fenland Citizen

Two years of ‘hard graft’, a lot of imagination and a dedicated band of supporters will see Wisbech Castle transformed into a community asset the whole town can enjoy. That was the promise made at the first meeting of the Wisbech Castle Working Party Group on Tuesday night.

Twenty-one volunteers keen to get stuck into the project to breathe new life into the Georgian building took on an assortment of tasks with the aim of getting at least part of the Castle ready for use over the Rose Fair weekend in July. Mayor Steve Tierney chaired the meeting and outlined the task ahead which includes clearing rooms of clutter and debris, redecorating as well as building work to repair water damage.

He said Cambridgeshire County Council, who have given the Castle to the town council to manage for the next 34 years, have already been out to carry out urgent repair work to guttering and in particular to a down-pipe which was causing water damage to one wall. Coun Tierney also promised the team would become even more excited with the project once they have an opportunity to go round the building later this month and start seeing potential uses for the various rooms – from the vaults to the second floor office areas. “It really excites me to see the potential every time I go round the building – this is a real opportunity to create something special for the town and for the area as a whole. I want the Castle to be a reason for people to visit Wisbech – a must see attraction,” he said.

Working groups were set up to tackle individual schemes from tidying the extensive gardens to clearing rooms and redecorating. Local planning consultant Peter Humphrey was among the 21 to attend the meeting in Wisbech Town Council Chamber. Other volunteers included a professional gardener, an architect and people with business and social media skills as well as councillors. A tour of the building is being organised for the working party to enable them to see the task ahead for themselves and to allow an opportunity to start brainstorming ideas for the various rooms.

Suggestions already include making it an ideal wedding venue, introducing an escape room experience, opening up to local schools with rooms set out telling not only the building’s history but also that of the town. It was agreed to try to involve the College of West Anglia in the various aspects of the project such as potentially creating displays, possibly even helping with building work utilising construction students giving them hands-on experience, and also encouraging the college to use it as a venue for exhibitions. Another suggestion involves turning the Old Pump House into an old fashioned tea rooms, and using the gardens for corporate events.

Coun Tierney said: “This is an exciting project, it is going to take two years of hard graft and a lot of imagination, but it will be worth it. I just can’t wait to get properly started.” He added the working party will be the engine room for the project, doing the actual physical work, and for those keen to support but do not want to commit to working on the scheme a ‘friends of’ group is being set up, which will enable people to help in more flexible ways.

Read more at:

Twenty-one people volunteer for the Wisbech Castle Working Party group taking on tasks from gardening to decorating and general maintenance.

Fenland Citizen

Fenland Citizen

I’ve been really impressed with the Fenland Citizen this year. That paper has really upped it’s game. Nice new style layout. Lots more news content. Website revamped. I think its a great local paper now. And it manages to avoid all the nastiness and bias which you see elsewhere and concentrate on just reporting the news instead of trying to make it! Proper local journalism.


Coming Down The Tracks

Coming Down The Tracks

The Conservative party is a broad church and so it’s not surprising that among my friends and colleagues in North East Cambridgreshire there are one or two whose politics are quite different to mine. But the one councillor with whom I often disagree is Cllr Kit Owen. Now please don’t get me wrong, Kit is a hard-working councillor and a strong voice for his ward and I have the utmost respect for him. But where policy is concerned I think its fair to say we usually politely agree to differ.

So it was with some incredulity that I read Kit’s comments in the Fenland Citizen today, under the headline “The Bramley Line Is A Black Hole.”

Kit apparently described the Bramley Line as a “black hole to pour money into” and said a lot more market research would have to be carried out before the town council could consider getting involved.  I wouldn’t have used quite that language, but essentially I do agree that there is a potential for money spent at this stage to disappear into a vacuum. In my opinion he is also quite right that the market research is, for want of a better word, uninspiring. So far I’ve seen no evidence at all of any coherent business plan which would encourage me to think that throwing tens of thousands of pounds of public money at this would be a sensible idea. Potentially much, much more.

I do support the idea of a rail link for the town. Of course I do – there is no doubt that a successful line would have many ongoing benefits such as increased mobility, prosperity and status. But there’s no suggestion that Wisbech Town Council spending this initial pot of taxpayer’s money will do any of that. They are just suggesting purchasing a rusty old lease to prevent it falling out of the public domain.

Now the basic argument is sound. If they don’t purchase the lease now the opportunity will be lost. But this is a lot of money for something that could easily become a money pit and its a big risk shackling the town council to a project that will require much, much more money in the future. Of course, the town council will be under no obligation to spend any more. But once they’ve written the initial cheque I somehow doubt their obligation will end as easily as they might think it will.

I would much prefer that we make the longer-term case for a proper commercial (not heritage) line running to Peterborough or Kings Lynn. I would prefer that we do so in conjunction with our excellent local MP Steve Barclay and in consultation with the people of Wisbech. This is not a project that will be delivered any time soon, even if it were taken up. Huge sums of money are required, not to mention the massive complications re: planning, conservation and design. It may well be that such a line is not even viable until the town has grown larger and has the footfall and population to keep it out of the red. But such a plan would, properly implemented, deliver huge benefits for the town.

There’s nothing wrong with a heritage line. I’d love to see a successful one running in our area. I wish the campaigners nothing but the best in their plans. It just seems to me that if it were obviously viable then somebody should have set up a business by now and obtained a loan to get it started. The fact that the town council are being asked for even this relatively small sum (when compared to the cost of a whole railway) worries me.

The good news is that Wisbech Town Council are doing exactly the right thing. Thanks to Cllr Samantha Hoy’s proposal, apparently accepted by the rest of the council enthusiastically, they are asking the people of Wisbech whether they approve of this use of their money – or not. You really can’t say fairer than that. This is a controversial issue and people are invited to suggest if they are happy to pay an increased council tax at town level to fund this project. Personally, I’ll be voting “No”. But if the people of the town support this plan and want to see it proceed – I’ll be cheering the idea right alongside them. That’s democracy at work. I believe in the wisdom of crowds, particularly in the wisdom of the Wisbech and surrounding villages crowd, who are a savvy and astute bunch if ever there was one.

Whether the enthusiastic supporters are right and this will lead to a wonderful new addition to the town, or whether Cllr Kit Owen’s fears are valid and it will lead to an albatross around the town’s neck remains to be seen. But local democracy is at its best when it is done this way. Taxation with representation. Good times.