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£1.7m castle visitor centre part of £14m levelling up bid for Wisbech

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Fenland District Council is hoping for news shortly that a levelling up fund (LUF) bid for a £1.7m visitor centre and improved link to the Market Place, Wisbech, will be approved by government.

The proposal forms part of a £14m package of three schemes that were bundled together when the council submitted its bid.

The second scheme is for £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.

The third, and largest, scheme is for a £9.7m green skills centre for the College of West Anglia.

Cabinet was reminded today that up to £2m of match funding is being sought by the college from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) through its recycled local growth fund bidding process.

“This funding forms the necessary match funding required of a LUF bid. Total LUF bid value is £12,027,489 and CAPCA match funding, £ 2,000,000. Total project value: £14,027,489,” Cabinet was told.

The castle element forms part of a wider masterplan for the town that was commissioned by the council.

Many of its ambitions are long term but the consultants “envisaged that 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.

Café inside Wisbech Castle proposed in masterplan

“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.”

In a complementary report, Phil Hughes, head of leisure services, explained that the £14m worth of projects were developed following master planning work from a group of consultancies that developed a masterplan for Wisbech that included shorter term projects as well as longer term visions.

He said the recent 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”.

Ahead of preparing for the LUF bid, he said the council made some upfront investment in scheme development “to create oven ready bids.

“This work was necessary in order to develop a cohesive and well developed LUF bid.

“Working with a group of experienced consultants led by Norr, a spatial masterplan for Wisbech was developed”.

Mr Hughes said the masterplan contains short, medium, and longer-term projects and offered potential projects for cabinet to select for the next LUF bid.

He said the three projects that were agreed for the current bid, met government criteria.

This was that the spend would be within three years, with one project to be significantly underway in 2022/23.

Mr Hughes said: “FDC submitted the LUF bid on time to Government. Since that time little information has been forthcoming, with the large number of bids received by Government being assessed by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Masterplan draws attention to the popularity of Rose Fair. The event is no longer held.

Wisbech Castle

“Fenland has been contacted on one occasion to supply a couple of documents, but otherwise has received no contact since bid submission.”

Portfolio holder Chris Seaton told Cabinet today (Monday) that he had received no indication of when a decision would be made on the current LUF bid.

He said the work on the LUF bid had been “led by Wisbech members and reflects members expectations and aspirations for Wisbech.”

Of the masterplan, he said it contains many aspects with a mix of short- and long-term proposals.

“The masterplan will be for the future and show developers how local leadership sees the future,” said Cllr Seaton.

Cllr Steve Tierney said he was concerned about the term ‘masterplan’ as he did not want people to think it would solve all of Wisbech’s problems.

But he said there was a “lot of buy in, things would help and improve the town” and overall was “a great set of bids.

“I really do hope we get them all.”

 

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