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VIP guests ‘big up’ the little used £1m car park at Manea

A time capsule put together by Manea residents was buried to mark completion of the station car park.

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Still buzzing with the excitement of a 30 per cent rise in 2022/23 to 21,038 passengers using it, Mayor Dr Nik Johnson today officially opened the £1.1m 112 space, free car park at Manea station. The figures still show Manea as the second least used station in Cambridgeshire (that honour remains with Shippea Hill) but those involved in local transport hope these numbers will grow even faster now the car park has opened.

Technically it opened last August but the full paraphernalia associated with an official launch – including a visit from MP Steve Barclay – and of course Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, only took place today.

Bus and rail blogger visited Manea to check out the CambsNews story – which went viral – about low usage of the car park since it opened.

Bus and rail blogger visited Manea to check out the CambsNews story – which went viral – about low usage of the car park since it opened. Today’s official opening Picture by Terry Harris.

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The car park, and other improvements at Manea, formed part of a £9.5m package of improvements signed off by previous Mayor James Palmer for Manea, Whittlesey, and March stations.

Building the car park was contracted out to Fenland District Council and its opening was delayed to fix a CCTV link to March police station.

Fenland Council portfolio holder for transport, says it was built not just for the present but for the future.

Manea car park grand opening, Friday 26 January 2024. Fenland Council portfolio holder for transport Chris Seaton (above), says it was built not just for the present but for the future. Picture by Terry Harris.

Most of those involved with the project have been forced to defend themselves from criticism of the size and scale of a car park for such a small village.

And early usage has been modest – often only four or five cars parked there at any one time.

But Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland Council portfolio holder for transport, says it was built not just for the present but for the future.

“It is intended to be big enough to serve the station and area as it grows over coming decades,” he says.

“People can now park at Manea station free-of-charge and travel to destinations near and far – not only Cambridge, Ely, and Peterborough but on to the wider country.

“This car park is not only a huge asset for now, but also very much an investment into the future vitality of Fenland.

“We have very intentionally created enough parking capacity to exceed current use of Manea station – a long term vision we have consistently expressed during the years of work it has taken to secure the land, funding, and infrastructure for the car park.

“Manea station car park is part of a long-term strategy to create demand for increased and improved rail services for Fenland to support the council’s ambitions for housing and economic growth and improved prosperity in the district.

Manea car park opening attended by MP Steve Barclay (above) Friday 26 January 2024.
Picture by Terry Harris.

“Before the station had a car park it was not feasible to promote use of it beyond those few people who could easily walk to it or get there by other connecting public transport. Now the station is very much open for use to people from a wider area.

He says the car park is designed to serve a catchment area of more than 19,000 people, including Manea, Doddington and Wimblington, Chatteris and Welney.

Dr Johnson did the honours and cut a ribbon at the car park.

Manea car park opening performed by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson (above). Friday 26 January 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

He said: “This is a great example of what cooperative action between the Combined Authority and Fenland District Council can achieve – our investment in support of the Council’s masterplan makes it easier for Fenland’s residents to travel by train, which, as well as being far better for the environment, brings regional and national opportunities within reach.”

Cllr Ben Bonos, chairman of Manea Parish Council, added: “The new car park is not just a fantastic facility for the station but for the whole village and the surrounding area.

Manea car park opening attended by former parish council chair Steve Emery. Friday 26 January 2024.
Picture by Terry Harris.

“It will be a huge benefit to everyone here in Manea, particularly younger people. Investments such as this which complement public transport in rural areas help to give them better access to employment, training, and other opportunities. Hopefully, the completion of the car park will also accelerate the introduction of increased rail services from Manea.”

During the opening ceremony, a time capsule put together by Manea residents was buried to mark the completion of the scheme.

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However even the most ardent local transport enthusiasts have erred on the side of caution when looking at the costs involved in turning a Fenland field into a car park.

Roger French is the former managing director of a major bus company that was subsequently floated on the stock market becoming he Go-Ahead Group plc we know today.

During the opening ceremony, a time capsule put together by Manea residents was buried to mark the completion of the scheme.

During the opening ceremony, a time capsule put together by Manea residents was buried to mark the completion of the scheme. Manea,  Friday 26 January 2024. Picture by Terry Harris.

Roger retired 10 years ago and devotes himself to supporting bus and rail travel throughout the UK through his busandtrainuser.com blog.

“I suspect the construction of this car park was something the previous Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority was keen to put his name to as it’s a high-profile piece of infrastructure and more impressive than a few waiting shelters and cycle racks,” he wrote after a visit in December.

“But time and again these things don’t seem to be thought through as to whether there really is a demand for such things, and if so how much that demand is likely to be.

“A dozen or 20 spaces for a station the size and stature of Manea would seem about right, but over 100 with all the associated supporting infrastructure such as CCTV, lighting, automatic gates and the ongoing upkeep and maintenance makes for a significant commitment.”

Mr French said he visited Manea to check out the CambsNews story – which went viral – about low usage of the car park when it opened.

“I decided to pay a visit to Manea to find out. I choose a non-strike Wednesday earlier this month to ensure I experienced a typical commuter travelling day,” he wrote.

“Coincidentally there were just three cars parked during my Wednesday lunch time visit. There’s no direct access from the new car park to the platforms. It involves a very short walk along Fodder Fen Road.”

His readers too, reluctantly, tried to get their heads round the cost.

Ribbon-cutting celebration time: Getting ready to officially open Manea Station car park is Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough (centre), with local MP Steve Barclay; Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council’s Cabinet member for transport and Chairman of the Hereward Community Rail Partnership; Steve Emery, former parish councillor and Hereward Community Rail Partnership board member; Cllr Ben Bonos, Chairman of Manea Parish Council; Jonathan Denby, Head of Corporate Affairs for Greater Anglia; and other partners, board members and representatives involved in bringing the project to fruition.

Ribbon-cutting celebration time: Getting ready to officially open Manea Station car park is Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough (centre), with local MP Steve Barclay; Cllr Chris Seaton, Fenland District Council’s Cabinet member for transport and Chairman of the Hereward Community Rail Partnership; Steve Emery, former parish councillor and Hereward Community Rail Partnership board member; Cllr Ben Bonos, Chairman of Manea Parish Council; Jonathan Denby, Head of Corporate Affairs for Greater Anglia; and other partners, board members and representatives involved in bringing the project to fruition. Picture by Terry Harris.

“No . . . sorry . . . I have tried, but I just can’t justify the cost either . . . a political vanity project with no sense check,” wrote one of his readers.

Another pointed out: “The Abellio franchise bid was to operate the 2-hours Ipswich to Peterborough service as an hourly interval service between Colchester and Peterborough.

“Network Rail have rejected Abellio’s plans on the basis that such a service would constrain the level of freight using the route. I rather suspect the car park plans were drawn up in anticipation of such a move?”

Manea station car park

Manea station car park

Another thought it would be “interesting to see the business case which supported this investment. It might throw some light on why they thought that 112 car park spaces was the right number.”

One other of his readers noted that Manea station narrowly escaped closure in 1966, but for years afterwards it had only two trains each way daily.

“A few years ago, this was improved to a two-hourly service each way – very welcome, but there’s no bus link between the station and the village a mile away,” he wrote.

“In view of this, it is utterly baffling that the 56-bus route from Wisbech to Manea via March hasn’t had its route tweaked to serve the station. The absurdity of this is highlighted when you put a journey enquiry into the Traveline journey planner to go from Manea Station to Manea. The answer tells you to get a train from Manea Station to March, then catch a 56 to Manea – an almost circular trip taking well over an hour.”

Others felt the overnight parking makes it less useful than it could be “ruling out leaving the car there even for a night away in London”.

On a brighter note, one other correspondent remarked: “The station has a nice little shed waiting room – looks much more inviting than the more modern typical bus shelter style.”

But it also attracted comments such as this: “Just passed the (in)famous car park at Manea and yes 3 cars in it, I do wonder whether they are the same 3 – some sort of sculpture or art project perhaps.”

 

 

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