Category Archives: Wisbech Rail
Direction Of Travel
Readers of my blog will know that I have been extremely skeptical of the “Devolution” plans put to Councils around the County this year. I’ve written and tweeted about it many times. However, I think I will vote “yes” at Fenland District Council when it comes back for final approval.
I’d like to explain why I have changed my mind.
My biggest problem with devolution from the very outset has been the murky details. They suggested they would do many wonderful things for us, but nobody guaranteed anything. And without something guaranteed in writing – it’s just words.
On top of that people keep saying “it’s not another tier of Government” when it plainly is; Leader, Cabinet, Precept, Staff, Devolved responsibilities.
Despite the eyebrow-arching IPSOS MORI poll, I’m yet to encounter anybody in the real world who wants it, or the Elected Mayor that comes with it.
I have always thought that it was quite likely the introduction of this new tier of Government would mean the end of one of the other tiers of Council, and I still do.
So what has changed?
Well, nothing really. Except my mind. For two reasons.
The first is that Government has attached so many grand goodies, packets of funding and careful hints of great stuff for our towns, who wants to be the Councillor who says “no” to all that? Who potentially wrecks the chance of a Wisbech Rail Link, or an A47 upgrade, or huge investments across the area? Nobody does, I reckon. I certainly don’t. But there’s the thing, you see. Government expect an answer and want the first elections next year. The language from every side is “take it or leave it, but don’t expect a second chance.” The stern warning is that if you say “no” you’ll lose the entire package – which means that when the dust settles, and forevermore, you will be the Bad Guy who lost huge investment for your community. It’s a clever approach, it would take a brave person indeed to throw a spanner in the works at this point.
But I still might have rebelled. Because I can be a stubborn old goat on occasion.
The second thing which finally changed my mind was when I heard Cllr. James Palmer speak on the issue earlier today. I have found James’ arguments on Twitter to be persuasive in the past, but not quite persuasive enough. Today, he changed my mind, which – let me tell you – takes some doing. :) Cllr. Palmer is the person chosen by the new Combined Authority to be the spokesman on Transport. He gave a simple talk full of passion and conviction and I just found it very convincing. Which is, for me, what I’ve been hoping for all along. Sincere, simple, conviction. You see, if you’re being offered a gamble with a potentially huge benefit if its successful, but possible bad outcomes also, you have to think long and hard about it. What helps, is when you think somebody is at the helm who can deliver the goods. James couldn’t make any promises either. In the end the final decisions will be with whoever ends up as the elected new Mayor. But he knew his brief, and he was convincing. I was convinced anyway, of his conviction to deliver the infrastructure improvements that Wisbech, and Fenland, desperately need.
Do I still have reservations? Yes, loads.
But we are almost at that turning point where we have to finally say yes, or no. It’s a really big decision whose outcome we cannot know. It could lead to improvements and prosperity on a grand scale, or we could end up saddled with a dud. In many ways it’s a bit of a shot in the dark. But the Government have clearly said all they are going to say on it. If we really want a chance at those big infrastructure wins then this is it. Devolution is the direction of travel and I think, on balance, I’ll be voting for that journey. I wish it had been handled differently. I wish we had more promises written in stone. But we are where we are. Its been a tough decision. I hope its the right call.
Eye On The Ball
At the Wisbech 2020 Seminar the other day and Councillors were asked to set priorities for “Transport and Infrastructure” which would be used to lobby and fundraise going forwards. I’d have thought it was a slam dunk for Wisbech Rail to get the top slot, but it took quite a fight to make it happen.
The Officers were keen to have some very wishy washy top slot item: “Rail, Highways and stuff” kinda territory. It is this lack of focus which has left us without a railway for decades, and it very nearly rolled right on through again. Unlike the train. But I had a snotty cold and I was in no mood for nonsense, so I made a stink about it. I have nothing against the A47 being upgraded, or cycle paths or whatever – but in regards to transport I am aware that the majority of Wisbech people want our train back. And I said so.
There was a brief but fiery debate where a number of my non-Wisbech colleagues thought we should keep everything in the top slot in the suggested diluted way. Cllr Seaton pointed out that road usage is far higher than rail usage. True, but we already have roads. It’s quite hard for a train that doesn’t exist to be well-used. I was happy for the A47 and other roads to take the second slot – of course they are vitally important too. But if we are ever going to get the Rail Link back, we have to be very very clear that it is our top agenda item for transport.
I got support from some obvious and surprising directions. Cllr Simon King agreed with me 100% and made the useful point that the rail link is far more achievable in the short term because the cost is far smaller than the A47, it has political and Government momentum. I might have added that it also doesn’t involve potentially flattening a village or two, in the way the A47 dualling might, but that’s for another day.
Cllr Mrs Bucknor also agreed with me. I don’t think she enjoyed doing so, but credit where credit is due. Oddly, Mr Bucknor did not agree, initially. “No!” he said. Before changing his mind, I think? It was hard to tell. I like to imagine Mrs Bucknor giving him a kick under the table and saying: “It’s the rail link. What are you doing?” But that’s just a flight of fantasy.
Cllr Tanfield seemed firmly in the Officers camp, but moved by the comments made by Wisbech Councillors changed her position and supported Rail as the number one item. A few others did the same. It was good to see people willing to revise their view after hearing sound arguments to do so.
And you may well be asking, Dear Reader, does any of this matter? Does the “number one priority” suggested after a Seminar, which is just another of a long line of priority-setting meetings and projects, really have any ongoing effect on whether we will get our rail link back, or how soon? I have no idea, is the truth. But it might. And that’s the key for me. I have found, in local politics, that you get the “bigger things” done by applying focus and never, ever letting up on it. There will always be forces, economics and realities set against your goals. If you take your eye off the ball, you lose. So keep your eye on the ball.
Don’t Let UKIP Stop Our Rail Link!
The case is now conclusively made. A line is not only viable, but scores very highly. There is every chance that we can get this and the work could start in the next few years. The only fly in the ointment? UKIP.
Yeah, those guys our town elected to represent us at County Council in what is increasingly appearing to be a moment of madness. UKIP, who abstained on the vote at County Council to support the re-opening of the Rail Link. UKIP, one of whose County Councillors was on the front page of our local paper in the last couple of weeks sneering at the idea of a Rail Link for the town.
You may think that UKIP don’t matter, but they certainly do. These fellows; Clapp, Lay, Lagoda (ish) and Gillick are our representatives at the highest level below Parliament itself. When they oppose something in such a direct way – as they appear to be doing in regards to the Rail Link – they can do real harm to our chances.
The government doesn’t just throws hundreds of millions of pounds around for fun. If we want to have any chance of getting this we need to all stand united. The Really Independent Party ™ seem supportive. Labour definitely are. There aren’t really any Lib Dems anymore, but they would be if they were still here. Only UKIP appear to think a Rail Link for Wisbech should be opposed.
Don’t let them ruin it for the rest of us! Write them, email them, phone them, knock on their door if you can. Tell them to Shut Up! before they mess the whole thing up. Maybe they could go organise a petition demanding a warmer Summer or something? Anything, to keep them out of the way while the rest of us work our hardest to make this happen for our town!
Please see also: http://wisbechrail.org.uk/