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£20m Budget cash could resurrect £1.7m visitor centre and café for Wisbech Castle

MP Steve Barclay said: ‘I very much welcome this £20m of government support for Wisbech’

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A surprise £20m for Wisbech – announced in the Budget last week – could pave the way to resurrect ambitions such as a £1.7m visitor centre and café in the grounds of Wisbech Castle. Fenland District Council were forced to put the idea on hold – along with other schemes for the town – following an aborted bid in 2022 for a multimillion hand out from the government’s levelling up proposals.

Now those ideas can go back on the agenda, Wisbech having been named among 20 towns – including King’s Lynn – to receive up to £20million of Government funding for investments over the next ten years.

On their Facebook page, Fenland District Council posted: “Details of how the money can be used and what it can fund are awaited.

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“We bet you can think of some ways it could be spent to help the town!”

The funding was announced in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget and confirmed later by Jacob Young, the Minister for Levelling Up.

Café inside Wisbech Castle proposed in masterplan unveiled in 2022 as part of Fenland Council 'levelling up' fund bid to Government

Café inside Wisbech Castle proposed in masterplan unveiled in 2022 as part of Fenland Council ‘levelling up’ fund bid to Government

To unlock the money, Wisbech will be required to set up a new town board made up of “local community leaders” with the condition that it also includes the local MP, currently Steve Barclay.

The board will be tasked to draw up a long-term plan for the next 10 years

In the announcement of the initial round of funding he said: “Each town will have a new town board made up of local community leaders and employers, who will draw up their town’s Long-Term Plan for the next 10 years.”

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Mr Jacob believes the funding will put power “back into the hands of local people so that they can decide on local priorities and what is best for the long-term future of the places in which they live”.

Wisbech will get the money through ‘endowment style’ funding over a 10-year lifespan.

Reviving its previous levelling up bid, could mean turning again to the 103-page report ‘master plan’ for Wisbech commissioned by Fenland District Council ahead of its unsuccessful levelling up bid.

Apart from the castle and improved access to the town centre, those plans envisaged £2.6m worth of improvements to the old Market Place, including street greening and public realm enhancements linking the town centre to the Nene waterfront.

Consultants visualised a new visitor centre for Wisbech Castle “with main entrance, cafe, orientation and information point and facilities will be located at the north edge of the Castle Gardens”. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Consultants visualised a new visitor centre for Wisbech Castle “with main entrance, cafe, orientation and information point and facilities will be located at the north edge of the Castle Gardens”. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Norr, the consultants commissioned to undertake the study, visualised a new visitor centre “with main entrance, cafe, orientation and information point and facilities will be located at the north edge of the Castle Gardens.

“It will be accessed from the gates on Market Street.

“In order to appropriately address the proposed new building within the castle grounds it is anticipated that the main route to the entrance will be pedestrianised, or at least resurfaced, with subtle integrated parking and new street trees.”

Mr Barclay said: “I very much welcome this £20m of government support for Wisbech and look forward to working with councillors, businesses and local residents to take forward this investment.

In 2022, head of leisure services at Fenland Council, expressed the view that the success of the March Future High Street (FHSF) bid demonstrates that with the “right professional input, stakeholder engagement and political prioritisation, the council is capable of pulling together a credible and compelling business case for investment”.

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