Further developments on Peterborough’s horizon

As regular readers will know, my love for Peterborough burns brightly and I’m really proud of the work we’ve achieved in recent years to develop our thriving modern city.

I want to help build a city that future generations will be proud of and that’s why I’m really excited about our latest announcement that the much-anticipated North Westgate project is moving forward at pace.

This week the council gave approval to commence land assembly for the £150 million scheme which will play a crucial part in the city’s future.

The council and our partners Hawksworth Securities PLC, have entered into an agreement to begin acquiring land at the site, kick-starting exciting plans to re-vamp the area and create hundreds of jobs.

The scheme will provide new homes, office premises, a hotel, and supporting retail, restaurant, café and leisure uses, set within extensive new public spaces and landscaping.

But although we’re developing for the future, we’re also considering the present in ensuring that the popular Brewery Tap pub and Westgate Church remain within an enhanced public realm setting.

While the Council is in a unique position of being able to use compulsory purchase powers, if required, the aim of both parties is to secure the remaining parcels of land through private treaty negotiations, as far as possible.

Like Fletton Quays, the redevelopment of North Westgate will generate growth in this under-utilised part of the city and is part of our long- term aim to extend and revitalise Peterborough city centre.

North Westgate ties in nicely with our plans to open up the Station Quarter area of the city, creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and creating space for the development of new homes and offices.

It also complements our planned regeneration of the Northminster site, with architects continuing to work on a design brief to move this forward.

As I have said previously, Peterborough’s time really is now, we want to make our city an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 years.

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Coronavirus pressure highlights councils’ vital role

Last weekend the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show East reported on council finances and specifically whether local authorities have enough money to cope with the pandemic.

It was a really interesting piece, which not only looked at the essential role that councils have played in the response to the virus, but the huge demands and funding challenges it has generated.

In Peterborough, Coronavirus has created huge financial pressures for us in our drive to maintain the services that people have needed, to help those who are more vulnerable and to support the national effort to eradicate the virus.

The Government delivered on its promise and provided additional funding, but it’s fair to say that the past six months have made our budget setting process for 2021/22 and beyond even tougher than we expected it to be.

We are now looking ahead to the next financial year and how we will provide the services that we know our residents need with the money we have available. The two have not matched for a number of years.

We need the Government to agree a better funding formula for councils such as ours, so that we are not in the situation we find ourselves year after year, having to make millions of pounds worth of savings to balance our budget.

The pandemic has definitely made our financial situation worse, but it has also shone a light on councils and illustrated the essential role they play in society.

Councils like ours have been delivering regular services, supporting people who are shielding or vulnerable, managing outbreaks and more recently supporting the national test and trace service.

Our staff have gone above and beyond – as have so many of our residents for that matter who have worked tirelessly to help others.

Many services stopped once the virus hit, but there were others that had no choice but to continue. Between April and June Aragon emptied 28,000 litter and dog bins, cut 20 million square metres of grass verges and open spaces and removed more than 2,200 flytips.Aragon infographic

Our bereavement team has continued to support families who have lost loved ones, arranging 721 cremations and burials between April and June.

We’ve supported children, adults and the elderly who’ve needed our support, we’ve maintained roads, reopened our city centre and worked closely with our schools to ensure they could open to as many pupils as possible. In fact, Peterborough is currently the 4th highest in the country for the number of children attending school at 88 per cent – that’s fantastic and a credit to our schools.

We’ve supported our businesses by administering Government grants, paying out in the region of £32million to 2,652 businesses. At one point we were level best in the country for getting these grants out to local businesses and better than anywhere else in Cambridgeshire.

We’ve also awarded 100 per cent business rate relief for 1,255 retail/hospitality/leisure businesses, totalling £40.3 million and given out 57 discretionary grants worth £570,000 and 30 discretionary grants worth £750,000.

Since March we’ve also been asked by Government to provide additional services, such as support for people who are shielding and vulnerable.

The countywide hub supported 1,544 shielded people in Peterborough, with more than 1,000 of these still receiving regular contact to check that they are okay.

We sent regular food parcels to 335 households and City College Peterborough provided over 10,000 meals in the lockdown months to vulnerable residents

More recently, the Government has asked us to support the national NHS Test and Trace service with a locally enhanced contract tracing service, using our expert knowledge of the city and our residents. Our environmental health and regulatory officers are following up on people who have tested positive for coronavirus, but who haven’t responded to a call or email from the national service, as well as getting details about their close contacts.

The pandemic has allowed us to show Government the vital role that councils play and how important it is for them to be at the forefront when there is a crisis.

We will continue to work hard to keep people safe, allow our children to learn and to improve our city, but we need fairer funding.

We have the support of our MPs in this and we will be continuing to make our case known to Government. (more…)

New swimming pool and leisure centre announced for Peterborough

Last week we announced plans to investigate building a new city centre swimming pool and leisure facility and I’ve had lots of positive comments from residents as a result.

The Regional Pool has served us well for more than 40 years and many residents continue to enjoy and love its facilities. However, it is time to look at providing a modern facility with the potential to provide even more for our growing population. So, we’re now working with the Peterborough Investment Partnership – the organisation transforming Fletton Quays – to develop a detailed business case to assess whether Pleasure Fair Meadow car park could be the site for a new pool and leisure facility.

I must stress that the plans are at a very early stage, but it is an exciting opportunity to explore developing a new city centre swimming pool and leisure facility.

We are fully committed to providing high quality leisure facilities in Peterborough and on that subject, I’m pleased to say that the transfer of arts, leisure and heritage services from Vivacity back into council control is going well.

Vivacity and the council have now opened three leisure centre and five libraries with excellent customer feedback around the safety measures that have been put in place.

This week, following our request Vivacity trustees agreed to extend the service transfer date to 30 September to help ensure a smooth transition for customers, staff and residents of Peterborough. At this point, it is proposed Vivacity colleagues will transfer to City College Peterborough Foundation and Peterborough Limited. And to set the record straight, the current staff who are the experts in these services will be taking the lead in continuing to provide these high-quality services.

The extra time will allow a smooth transfer for customers, staff and all involved to make sure there is minimal impact for you as service users.

Whether you’re a gym member, staff member, library user or have tickets to a show at the Key Theatre, I know you will be watching with interest to find out how the transfer impacts on you individually and on the city as a whole.

As the city recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be watching keenly to see how customers use Vivacity services, by this I mean, whether or not you are happy to work out, visit events and travel to heritage sites largely as before. Vivacity have told us that many customers have already returned, and they have received many positive comments from them. If you have any suggestions on how services could be tweaked, such as the provision of more open-air fitness classes, virtual events or services do tell us.

After re-opening many facilities, such as Vivacity Premier Fitness, Central Library, the Regional Pool and Fitness Centre and Peterborough Athletics Track, we will continue to re-launch your local facilities as soon as we are able. For the latest re-opening times, please keep an eye on the council’s website and Vivacity’s.

I want you all to rest assured that arts, leisure and heritage are of vital importance to the city council as we help the city bounce back following Covid-19. It fits into our plans for the redevelopment of Peterborough through the Government’s Towns Fund bid, plans for a new stadium for Peterborough United and what will be needed to support the forthcoming university

You can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward.

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School promise a safe September

The first week of September is always a key time of year, seeing as it marks the start of the new school year and for many children the beginning of their education.

It may be a while since my school days, but I remember feeling excited to return to class after the long summer break and I’m sure pupils are looking forward to catching up with their friends, teachers and school staff.

As I said in last week’s column, the past year has been like no other for our schools. Everyone involved in education has had to adapt to an unprecedented situation and you have my sincere thanks for doing such a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances.

Having children back in the classroom is the best option for all concerned, giving them the chance to learn, develop and flourish.

back to school image

But I want to reiterate that our schools are safe places to return to and assure everyone that we have worked very hard in readiness for this week.

Over the summer, schools went through rigorous and detailed risk assessments, as well as clarifying how they could meet the ‘System of Controls’ – steps set out by government which a school must follow to minimise the number of contacts a pupil has during a school day.

Having worked through the assessments and put in place necessary measures to ensure adequate cleaning and ‘social bubbles’ can be adhered to, we are fully confident our schools are safe spaces.

But rest assured, we will never be complacent and will continue to thoroughly monitor the situation and adapt as needed. (more…)