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Conservative councillor loses the plot and threatens £7m for Fenland town  

Today’s decision puts the allocation of funds in limbo

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Shell shocked councillors left a meeting today after a decision by a Conservative member of Fenland District Council threatened to derail a £7m transport improvement plan for March. Cllr Haq Nawaz, a Fenland district, and Whittlesey town councillor, and who briefly served as Whittlesey town council leader, decided to abstain on what appeared to be a straight forward agreement to release the cash.

His abstention surprised other members of the transport and infrastructure committee of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

It also led to Cllr Neil Shailer, a county council representative on the committee, also deciding to abstain.

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Cllr Shailer argued that if the Fenland Council representative didn’t want the money allocated, then it seemed wrong to do so as it could subsequently be argued by the Conservative controlled district council of schemes being imposed on them.

Most committee members felt Cllr Nawaz has not understood the work that had gone into the development of the March Area Transport Study that has so far delivered the Broad Street, March, scheme and is preparing other major local transport improvements.

But Cllr Nawaz, who was sitting on the committee for today only as the substitute for Cllr Chris Seaton, felt £7m for one town was unfair and that the money would be better spent if shared around with other towns, including Whittlesey.

Today’s decision puts the allocation of funds in limbo, but all may not be lost, and the Combined Authority could bring it back to July’s meeting in the expectation that Fenland Council will have sorted itself out by then.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson attended the meeting but, like others who spoke, a verbatim transcript of the debate is unavailable after the live YouTube stream broke and no recordings are available.

However, officers who took notes will be looking to ensure Fenland Council is better equipped when it gets a second chance for release of the money next month.

Dr Johnson said outside the meeting he was surprised by the abstention by Cllr Nawaz, particularly as the schemes proposed for March were part of the Combined Authority Local Transport and Connectivity Plan which had been approved earlier this year.

Cllr Shailer said he, too, was taken aback by Cllr Nawaz abstaining and felt the Whittlesey councillor had failed to understand the background work and planning that had gone into the March Area Transport Study (MATS)

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“If we can’t get a vote of agreement from Fenland District Council, I too can’t support it at the moment because Fenland is always complaining that they don’t want stuff imposed on them,” said Cllr Shailer.

2022: Pictured at the official opening of the redeveloped March Railway Station are, from left, Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council Cabinet Member for Transport and Chairman of the Fenland Stations Regeneration Project Board; Simone Bailey, Greater Anglia's Asset Management Director; the Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Colonel Mark Knight MBE and Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

2022: Pictured at the official opening of the redeveloped March Railway Station are, from left, Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council Cabinet Member for Transport and Chairman of the Fenland Stations Regeneration Project Board; Simone Bailey, Greater Anglia’s Asset Management Director; the Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Colonel Mark Knight MBE and Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Dr Nik has been a passionate supporter of improving transport in the Fens.

The document that failed to win approval today set out the second full business case for the March scheme.

These includes improvements such as the A141 / Peas Hill Roundabout, A141 / Hostmoor Avenue, A141 / Twenty Foot Road, B1101 High Street / St Peter’s Road, and the Northern Industrial Link Road (NILR).

The MATS was first approved for inclusion in the transport programme at the March 2018 by the Combined Authority meeting.

Following this Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) took forward the study to establish the issues and find potential solutions.

Fenland District Council’s (FDC) vision for the area is outlined within its Local Plan published in 2014. The aim is ‘to maximise the potential of the area and deliver jobs, skills, improved housing and new infrastructure’, and make the district ‘a better place to live, work and visit’.

The Local Plan includes the delivery of 4,200 new homes in March as well 30 hectares of employment land to provide new jobs.

The 2011 MATS Study provided the transport evidence base for the Local Plan and assessed the impact of traffic growth resulting from its implementation. In addition, it proposed measures to improve the towns transport network for both current and future traffic demand.

The current MATS builds upon this work and assesses potential improvement options to deliver future economic and housing growth.

 

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