Plans for a new Northminster

At the moment it seems there is not a week that goes by without there being progress on the redevelopment of our city centre.

Last week plans for the new university were unveiled to the public at the cathedral and just before that we announced that investors are being sought for a revamp of the train station and surrounding land to create a new gateway into the city centre.

This week we announced plans to breathe new life into the Northminster area which includes the City Market, the multi-storey car park which is currently being demolished and Laxton Square.

Northminster is an important part of our city centre but it doesn’t receive the investment and number of visitors it should do currently. Many of the buildings were constructed during the 1970s and are showing their age and a number of restaurant and leisure related businesses have closed down.

We know that without regeneration and investment the area will not improve and we have to do something about it.

We don’t have the money to redevelop the site ourselves, so we’re proposing to transfer it to the Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP).

The council set up the PIP in 2015 and it has led the transformation of Fletton Quays from a derelict, brownfield site to a scheme which includes office space, apartments and a car park, with a Hilton hotel and a gin and whiskey distillery visitor attraction on its way.

The PIP has done a fantastic job at Fletton Quays and the announcement of plans for a Government hub and the construction of a Hilton hotel are the most recent signs of its success.

Initially it would prepare a concept scheme for the site with a view to securing outline planning approval and attracting private sector development interest and investment.

I know that some readers will be concerned about what this means for our market.

Naturally, the market traders would need to vacate the existing site whilst any redevelopment was taking place, but during this time we would look to provide a market from another location.

market northminster

Going forward, there could be a market on the Northminster site or elsewhere but with plans being at a very early stage it is too soon to speculate.

The existing market is 57 years old and in need of modernisation or replacement. This investment in Northminster will one way or another allow us to achieve that.

This is an exciting time for Peterborough. Our city is thriving and we are ready to work with investors and our communities to drive forward the next stage in Peterborough’s growth.

The next four years will be crucial to delivering a Peterborough that’s an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 to 100 years. (more…)

Peterborough’s high street declared UK’s most thriving

At a time when many high streets up and down the country are struggling, I was pleased to learn that here in Peterborough we’re bucking the national trend.

Our high street has actually grown by one-per-cent. Yes, I know this doesn’t seem like a massive rise, but due to the changing shopping habits of consumers and the rise of internet shopping, this is quite an achievement in today’s world.

AskTraders which completed the study went on to declare Peterborough as having the No.1 thriving high street by comparing cities based on retail growth, bank openings and number of ATMs.

Bridge street

We know our visitor dwell times (the amount of time people stay in our city centre) is 101 minutes, that’s much better than the UK benchmark of 73 minutes.

And it seems businesses agree with this vote of confidence and are investing in our city at an unprecedented rate – which wouldn’t be happening if they didn’t think they could get their money back.

Not only has John Lewis recently unveiled its £21million revamp – the largest spend on any John Lewis store nationally in 2019, but work will soon begin on a £60million extension to Queensgate, which will deliver a state of the art 10 screen Empire Cinema and the Draper’s Arms refurbishment is due to finish next month.

We also had plenty of new store openings last year, with a good mix of large and small chains and independents, like Deichmann, Swarovski, Tap & Tandoor, Hayes Travel and Bean Around BE.AR coffee shop.

Yes, we have discount stores, coffee shops and vape shops, but if you look at where people are spending their money, that’s what they want.

My point is that I believe high streets will always have a part to play, but they need to change with the times and deliver what their shoppers want in order to stay successful.

And there could be more good news on the way for Peterborough’s high street in the form of a Business Improvement District (BID) later this year.

We are currently asking businesses if they would like to set up a BID and so far we’ve had 141 responses from businesses – 67 per cent want it to happen, with the rest saying they don’t mind and only one respondent saying no.

If it goes ahead it will be business led and could potentially release up to £1.75million over five years for investment in the city, which could be spent on things like additional summer events to boost footfall, more floral displays and extra security in the evenings in the city centre.

If any business would like to be involved please complete the business survey. (more…)

Peterborough to take ‘climate action’

On one of the hottest days on record last summer I presented a motion to Full Council urging members to declare a climate emergency and commit to reducing the council’s carbon use to net-zero by 2030.

What followed was quite unusual – every single member in the chamber, regardless of which colour rosette they wear, supported it. If you watch our Full Council meetings live on Facebook, you will know this happens once in a blue moon.

As I said that night, we discuss many important items in the council chamberbut none of them matter if we have no planet to live on.

At a cabinet meeting on Monday members will consider a plan which sets out how the council will start to work towards becoming carbon neutral.

The Carbon Management Action Plan includes a top 20 pledges, which includes replacing the mayor’s car with an ultra-low emissions vehicle, considering leasing additional office space to reduce energy demands and investigating whether we could dim street lighting further. It also commits to reviewing the council’s electricity and gas contracts and moving towards 100 per cent renewable energy tariffs and 100 per cent carbon off-set gas tariffs.

There is lots that we are doing already – many of our schools have solar panels and rain water harvesters, we’re dimming street lights to reduce energy use and building more homes in the city so that people are less reliant on cars and more likely to use public transport. However, the action plan is our first major step in delivering our commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

Cabinet members will be asked to endorse the plan and it will then go before Full Council on 4 March for final sign off. We are planning for this day to be designated ‘climate action day’ when we encourage staff and residents to do their ‘extra bit’ to reduce their carbon impact on that day. It is hoped that if someone reduces their impact on one day, then they might be persuaded to do it more frequently.

council chamber

I have solar panels on my roof to heat water which has reduced our energy use and bills – I’ve got loft insulation and cavity wall insulation too for the same reasons. We recycle as much as we can and have reduced the amount of waste we produce.

In the words of a wellknown supermarket chain, every little helps. The action that we can take individually and as a city can make a difference and it also sends out a clear message that we must all change our ways. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do so. (more…)

City Centre Framework – a new era for Peterborough

As you probably know by now, last week I announced my plans to step down as both council leader and councillor after the elections in May.

I’ve been serving the residents of Peterborough now since I was in my 30s and at the age of 75 both my wife Barbara and I have decided it’s time to achieve the many things we have on our bucket list while we are still able to.

Although I know I’ve made the right decision, there’s a part of me that wishes I could stay to experience the next four years, which I predict will deliver big things for our city. I’ve double checked with my granddaughter and I believe I’m suffering from what the young people describe as FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out!

On Monday, our new MP Paul Bristow and myself met with Paul Grinnell, business editor at the Peterborough Telegraph, to update him on the next stage of the City Centre Local Development Framework.

As regular readers of my column will know, this document looks at the city centre and identifies and plans key areas to be developed in the coming years, such as the station quarter (the area around the train station), North Westgate, Northminster, Rivergate and the university.

We know that the time is now for Peterborough. Our economy and high street are thriving, we’ve got the new university and New Towns funding on its way and crucially, the backing of the Combined Authority to help us make the progression from a small city to a medium one.

aerial view of Peterbrough

The stars are aligned in our favour, but like the Peterborough Development Corporation in the 1960s, the only way to make sure residents get a good deal is to do this in an organised way, with a clear aim – that’s why the City Centre Framework is so important.

It will deliver a city centre that will herald a new era for Peterborough, one in which we can use investor money to secure our ongoing economic success and to create a centre that rivals the likes of Birmingham and Manchester.

Yes, it’s aspirational, but we know investors are interested – just look at the new Government hub relocation to Fletton Quays, the revamp of John Lewis (their most expensive in 2019) and the forthcoming multi-screen Empire Cinema.

That’s why we’ve created a new investor marketing campaign to enable us to cherry pick the right investors to help us deliver this. The next four years will be crucial to delivering a Peterborough that’s an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 to 100 years. (more…)

Peterborough – overcoming challenges together

At the time of writing this column I am preparing for a meeting of Full Council where we are due to sign off our first set of budget proposals for 2020/21.

As I have said many times, this year is remarkable because of the very severe financial challenge that we face, but it is also remarkable for another reason – for the support we have received from organisations across the city wanting to help us to continue providing services.

I have been impressed by how our partners in the voluntary sector in particular have not only understood our challenges, but have stepped up to help us.

KingsGate Community Church for example, one of the faith groups who partner together to run Peterborough Foodbank and Carezone, providing furniture and white goods for families in crisis.

Take a look at the council’s social media pages today and you will see a video that we have published showing the excellent work of the volunteers at the church.

After publishing our budget proposals in October, KingsGate got in touch and offered to work with us to be able to remove all council funding for the services they provide from April 2021.

We are very grateful to Kingsgate for providing an incredibly important service to our communities, helping those in the greatest need to end the cycle of poverty.

Other organisations too have shown their support. Age UK has agreed to a reduction in funds for some services and Vivacity will be working with us to further reduce its reliance on council funding. (more…)

Happy New Year – here’s to a prosperous 2020

The start of a new year often leaves people with feelings of excitement and trepidation of what the year may hold.

That’s certainly how I feel about 2020. There is so much to look forward to in the year ahead for our great city, but like all councils we are still in the midst of one of the most testing financial challenges in our history. This will continue to force difficult decisions about how we provide the services our residents need with the money available.

But I would like to start the year on a positive and when you look around the city there are lots of those.

We have some really exciting developments taking place; there will be announcements about progress on some of these soon and about new developments.

Fletton Quays has been transformed during the past couple of years and there will be further progress in 2020.

a view of fletton quays

Plans for the gin and whiskey distillery and tourist attraction will be submitted in the first part of this year and construction of the Hilton hotel and skybar will begin soon. It has also been confirmed that Fletton Quays will also host a government hub, bringing together 1,000 staff from 2021. I call that a huge vote of confidence in our city!

Across the wider city centre, there will be some exciting news about the potential development of sites in our City Centre Prospectus. This includes the station quarter, university site on the embankment and Northminster car park and the area around it including the market. This unlocks the potential for exciting opportunities such as major multi-use commercial sport/leisure facilities to be developed.

When you consider that the cost of land in Peterborough is a third of the price of land in London, we should be a prime location for businesses moving out of the capital. The costs of doing business are much more competitive here and our Masterplan looks to capitalise on that.

I’m also excited this year to see our university project progress. We expect to submit a planning application for the new building in the spring, around the same time we’ll be announcing our academic partner, and then work on site begins in the autumn.

Major music acts coming to Peterborough in 2020

On a lighter note, we have some fantastic music acts coming to Peterborough. My family and I have tickets to see Westlife in June and Little Mix will be on stage a week or so later. I’ve heard rumours too of a third concert this summer!

And of course I am looking forward to the 2020 Olympic games and the Euro football tournament.

It is true that we have another testing year ahead of us financially, but there is much to look forward to. The time is now for Peterborough and we are ready to take the city to the next level.

Call for fly-tippers to be given harsher penalties

I was pleased to read that the Local Government Association is calling for tougher sentences to deter fly-tippers.

The LGA found that only five per cent of court-imposed fines for fly-tipping offences in England in the past six years were above £1,000 and only a sixth of them above £500.

We’re determined to crack down on fly-tipping and littering and it will remain one of our priorities when our in-house team to tackle environmental issues and crimes takes over from Kingdom at the end of the month. This new team will tackle problems across the whole council area, as well as the city centre.

We want to work with the government on reviewing sentencing guidelines for fly-tipping, so offenders are given bigger fines for more serious offences. We know from previous experience that we can influence change – a good example being how our councillors visited the Home Office to ask for more help in moving unlawful encampments on if they are having a detrimental impact on the wider community.

Thanks to our lobbying the government has set up a formal review group to see whether police powers can be strengthened to allow unlawful encampments to be moved on much quicker.

Relocation of Visitor Information Centre

And finally, a reminder that the Visitor Information Centre on Bridge Street has now closed.

the former visitor information centre

Instead, visitors to the city are guided towards the Town Hall and those wanting to access services such as blue badge applications and bus passes will need to walk just a few footsteps to the Customer Contact Centre.

Remember that you can find out more about all the events happening in Peterborough, as well as places to visit and stay, at www.visitpeterborough.com.

A happy new year, I hope 2020 is a healthy and happy year for you all.

Westcombe Engineering celebrated by city

Walking through the city centre yesterday, I met a resident I hadn’t seen for a long time who had spotted a video on our Facebook page about Westcombe Engineering.

Although she had lived in our city for most of her life, she wasn’t aware of just how much this social enterprise delivers back to our city, particularly in terms of its employment of disabled workers.

So, let me tell you a little about it – founded in 1970, Westcombe Engineering was set up to provide permanent employment and work experience for disabled people. All profits are reinvested back into the business and the local economy, with the aim of increasing the life chances of those living in Peterborough.

When it was set up, many expected it to only last a few years or so. However, nearly 50 years later the business has just announced an impressive 60 per cent growth in the last three years, led by its ability to diversify beyond its traditional diesel engine components market into new areas.

On top of this, it also won a regional business award for manufacturing in the last 12 months and in 2017, was included in the Parliamentary Review Publication, cited as a best practice example in the manufacturing industry.

Westcombe Engineering was always light years ahead of its time, but I don’t think even its founder would have predicted the global public demand for businesses to care more about their workforce, their community and increasingly their environment.

westcombe engineers

The video that went out on Facebook this week – which can be found on our Peterborough City Council channel – celebrated the business and its workers. It tells the story of among others, Darren who caught chicken pox as a child and had to have a section of his brain removed. Thanks to Westcombe, Darren is able to earn his own money and has his independence, which he is proud to say has given his life purpose.

If you haven’t seen the video it’s well worth a watch and if you have, please share it with someone else in our city. Westcombe is a credit to our community and has changed the lives of so many skilled and talented disabled people and their families. (more…)

Celebrating one year of Safer Off the Streets

With the temperatures starting to fall and the colder winter nights not that far ahead, I was pleased to learn that we have helped 44 people to leave the streets and into accommodation in the past year.

That’s thanks in no small part to the Safer off the Streets partnership, which was launched a year ago today, on World Homeless Day.

On this day I joined colleagues from 19 other organisations across the city in Cathedral Square, including The Light Project Peterborough, Peterborough Soup Kitchen and Hope into Action to pledge to work together to help and support rough sleepers off the streets.

It’s a shocking fact that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47 years. Take a moment to think about that – it’s the same age as Gwyneth Paltrow, Liam Galllagher and Cameron Diaz. Who do you know who is 47 or thereabouts?

We don’t want people dying at such a young age in our city, which is why it’s the central aim of the Safer Off the Streets to get individuals off the streets and into accommodation and/or employment.

Thanks to donations from city residents, via the contactless card reader in St Peter’s Arcade, cash collection boxes at the Town Hall and Visitor’s Centre and the website www.saferoffthestreets.co.uk, the partnership has raised over £12,000 in just a year.

Those who donate can feel confident this is being used to help and support rough sleepers in leaving the streets. Indeed, the vast majority of this money has gone to The Garden House, which is run by the Light Project Peterborough – a place for rough sleepers to access everything from a friendly welcome and a cup of coffee to assistance in finding a home and a job, GP services and art therapy.

The Garden House acts as a hub for all partners in the Safer Off the Streets partnership, including our own council officers who assist people off the streets and into accommodation.

Now, as the weather is getting colder again, the Safer Off the Streets partnership is giving people even more ways to help – including launching an Amazon Wish List of items that can be bought to help the charities involved.

If you haven’t heard about Safer Off the Streets yet, please take a moment to find out more via its website www.saferoffthestreets.co.uk or search for the partnership on Facebook. (more…)

Why we want St Michael’s Gate

On Monday we announced plans to purchase 72 homes on St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell.

It’s a decision we thought long and hard about, after being offered the chance to buy them by current owners Stef and Philips, but it’s one that makes complete sense financially and for the people of our city in housing difficulty and I will tell you why.

Firstly, it allows us to continue offering these homes as temporary accommodation to people in need for many years to come. The alternative would be more expensive bed and breakfast accommodation which doesn’t meet our aspiration to offer everyone their own front door. Since we agreed to lease the properties in 2016 we have been able to provide temporary accommodation to almost 400 families at St Michael’s Gate.

Secondly, it makes good financial sense and immediately saves the council money. Owning these properties rather than leasing them saves £600,000 a year. 

Thirdly, if we didn’t choose to buy these homes, someone else would. Perhaps another council with a housing shortage as severe as ours looking for somewhere to place their homeless families, or a developer wanting to redevelop the land.

I understand that councillor Shaz Nawaz, leader of the labour group, has commented about the fact we are paying above the valuation price for these properties. It is true, we are, but for the many good reasons stated above.

We respect and understand the valuation, but we also know that a property’s real value is in fact what someone will pay for it, and if we did not buy them another council would. In addition, if other councils were using these properties to house their homeless families, we would then be providing council services for all of these families, placing further burden on our already stretched budgets.

Councillor Nawaz has also recommended that we should have bought these properties back in 2016. I’ve got news for him – we never had the chance! The first we knew about them was when we were offered them for rental by Stef and Philips three years ago.

I am pleased to say that we are also setting aside money to install new windows for the residents. Over the past year we’ve made a variety of repairs and modernisations, including new boilers and heating systems in all homes, paid for by the Local Enterprise Advice Partnership (LEAP) fund. 

Providing enough homes for everyone in our city has been one of our biggest challenges in recent times, because of the steep and sudden rise in demand. But our homeless strategy is working – we no longer have to house homeless families out of the area and the number of families in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73

This has been achieved by working with hundreds of families at risk of homelessness – with the aim of keeping them in their own homes, by working with our partners to build hundreds of new homes, by buying 51 homes on the open market and by working with landlords to secure an additional 48 homes.

But if we don’t act now to purchase one of the largest sites used for temporary accommodation in the city, we risk losing the ground we have worked so hard to gain in recent times. (more…)

Peterborough offers support to former Thomas Cook employees

We all knew that city-based travel firm Thomas Cook was struggling when it shed jobs and closed stores earlier in the year, but I don’t think any of us thought that the 175-year-old travel industry brand was on the brink of collapse.

I feel greatly for the staff members and their families at this difficult time, and of course customers too who are either looking to get home or have seen their holiday plans scuppered. This will have an impact as well of course on the wider city and those companies that provided services to Thomas Cook.

We will be doing all that we can to support affected staff members, signposting them to other jobs and places where they can get help and support. There will be a jobs fair at the Town Hall next Wednesday (2 October) organised by our colleagues at Opportunity Peterborough specifically for the Thomas Cook staff. Any companies interested in taking part should email info@opportunitypeterborough.co.uk or call 01733 317417.

I am confident that many of those people who have lost their jobs will have transferable skills and will be an asset to other companies in our city. They are in a good position to find new employment – our economy is strong, there are jobs available and businesses are continuing to choose to invest in Peterborough.

Each year on average we see in the region of 2,500 new jobs created and there are hundreds of new businesses launching every year. As a result, our unemployment rate is below the national average.

You only have to read this newspaper to see that businesses are moving to Peterborough and want to invest in our city. The Construction Industry Training Board is relocating to the top floor of the council offices at Sand Martin House, creating 200 jobs and extra income for our budget too which we will be using to provide services for residents. There are plans for a new supermarket at the former Toys R Us store and in August, Big Motoring World announced a £5 million move to the city, generating more than 300 jobs. Add to that the countless smaller businesses that are moving to larger premises and increasing their headcount.

This week Queensgate released further details about its £60million extension which will include a ten-screen Empire cinema and new restaurants and shops. Work will begin early next year and once completed will create hundreds of new jobs across the cinema, restaurants and shops.

Not only that, it will be a great asset for our city and its nightlife and will mean more footfall for retailers, more things to do for visitors and retail opportunities for residents. At a time when other city centres are struggling, Peterborough is bucking the trend. 

Our local economy is strong and we have  lots of new job opportunities appearing each day and even more on the horizon. I hope this gives the former workers of Thomas Cook some comfort as they begin looking for employment in the coming weeks. (more…)