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Wisbech 2020 Vision 'really starting to take hold'

The Wisbech 2020 Vision programme is being refreshed to focus more sharply on several key priorities, particularly education, health and social cohesion.

Wisbech 2020 Summit July 2016

And further public consultation is to take place later this year to gather local people's views on the project's progress and the best solutions to the most important issues facing the town.

Those were among the main points to emerge from the fourth annual Vision Summit held last Friday (July 22).

About 80 people attended the summit at the Thomas Clarkson Academy. They included councillors, business leaders and members of local voluntary groups.

Afterwards Fenland District Council leader John Clark said: "It was an incredibly positive and constructive meeting that underlined the valuable contributions being made by all our partners.

"It showed that we're continuing to move in the right direction and things are gathering pace. This has always been a long-term project but all the bits are coming together and we're making encouraging gains as we go along."

Councillor Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: "Events since our last summit and even over recent months show that this vision and its potential for this town's future is really starting to take hold."

He highlighted the need to build on the successful visit to the town in March of Greg Clark, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

"Greg Clark was extremely positive about the visit and spoke supportively about the Wisbech-Cambridge rail link," he said. "We did an excellent job of getting our message across to government but we now need to build on that success and ensure that the new Secretary of State shares Mr Clark's enthusiasm for the work we are doing."

The refinement of the Vision programme follows detailed examination of the progress made - and the lessons learned - since the project was officially launched nearly four years ago.

Work will now focus on four essential themes: skills and education; health, wellbeing and cohesion; infrastructure, growth and the built environment; and the local economy.

A series of themed workshops is being arranged, together with another consultation exercise planned for the late summer or early autumn.

Cllr Count said: "We have always been keen to ensure that this is not a 'top-down' process. We don't pretend to know about all the issues in the local area and we certainly don't know all the answers. Input from local residents will be essential for us to get this right."

The important role played by Wisbech Town Council in the Wisbech 2020 project has led to its leader, Cllr David Oliver, joining Cllr Count, Fenland District Council leader Cllr John Clark and local MP Stephen Barclay on the Core Vision Group.

Cllr Oliver outlined the many ways the town council was continuing to help realise the vision's aims, notably by organising or supporting the many community events that both bring local people together and attract visitors from outside.

He said the council would be closely involved in delivering the environmental improvements to the town centre made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund's £1.9 million award to the Wisbech High Street Project.

Other speakers included award-winning urban designer David Rudlin and Peter Simpson, Anglian Water's chief executive, who examined the "big idea" of creating an expanded Wisbech Garden Town.

Mr Rudlin said the idea was still in its early stages but it had great potential to build on Wisbech's unique character. It would strengthen the business case for more government investment in improved rail and road infrastructure and would also help resolve some of the town's underlying social issues.

He said that more than 450 responses to a recent questionnaire showed that establishing the Wisbech-Cambridge rail link remained top of local people's "wish list". That was followed by a regenerated town centre and the dualling of the A47.

Residents also wanted more High Street stores, independent retailers and restaurants.

Mr Simpson said that developing an effective flood risk strategy was essential for the garden town concept to succeed.

He said that Wisbech could be a "trailblazer". "Can we design a garden town that is climate change resistant for the future? Could Wisbech become the national centre of excellence for this kind of resilient development and so unlock a growth model for other areas?"

Anglian Water was working closely with the Environment Agency and other key partners to examine all the options, he said. It was also organising a study tour to Holland to study how places like Rotterdam had dealt with the issues.

"Understanding what works in other parts of the world is critical to these proposals," he said. "These are big challenges but also present big opportunities."

Article added July 25, 2016