Please celebrate Christmas differently this year

The past 12 months have been the most challenging that many of us will have encountered and so it is understandable that people are looking forward to some much-needed respite during the festive period.

Christmas is usually the time of year when we all look forward to spending time with family and friends, but with rates of the virus rising in our city and remaining high, we all need to think carefully about with who we choose to spend Christmas with this year.

You’ll be aware that the government has confirmed that people from three different households can spend time together between December 23 and 27 – that’s the same three households across the five days, not three different ones each day.

But I urge you to see this not as a requirement, but a permission if you can make it as safe as possible for everyone involved.

Whilst I’m sure that everyone can’t wait to see their loved ones, please remember that the safest way to spend time with family and friends is either online, on the phone or outside. This advice is particularly important if you or your relatives are elderly or vulnerable.

So instead, you could organise a walk or get together at the local park, or have a family get together online. Remember, if you do meet outdoors, you must be socially distanced at all times.

meet outside

If you do meet indoors, try to give each other space and stay two metres apart, wash your hands regularly and open windows for 10-15 minutes every hour or so, to allow good ventilation.  You’re more likely to catch Covid in poorly ventilated places.

Clean all your surfaces, handles and objects that people might touch and have hand sanitiser available too. Try and reduce the number of people in one room, meet in the largest space possible and rearrange furniture to make more space.

If you’re going out Christmas shopping, remember your face mask and hand sanitiser. Keep your distance from others who are shopping, avoid peak times of the day when stores get busy and try not to queue close together for shops.

I know we continue to ask a lot of our residents, who have already made great sacrifices. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but for now, let’s keep on working together to stop Covid in its tracks.

And please don’t forget that help is at hand if you’re struggling right now. The council’s coordination hub is continuing to support families in need of help and everyday essentials. You can contact the hub by visiting the council’s coronavirus webpage or by calling 01733 747474. (more…)

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…)

#KeepCaring this Bank Holiday weekend

It may surprise you to learn that late August is one of my favourite times of year.

Normally the Peterborough Beer Festival would be in full swing and despite the fact that the nights are slowly but surely drawing in, there’s the last bank holiday of the year before Christmas to look forward to.

The weather’s been a bit wet and wild lately so I hope things improve for this weekend and everyone can get out and enjoy themselves. But it goes without saying that this year has been unlike any other and as such we ask you to please take care out and about.

Coronavirus hasn’t gone away and that’s why we’re urging everyone to keep caring for their communities by sticking to the rules around social distancing this Bank Holiday weekend.

By remaining aware and alert we can help reduce the risk of infection by taking some well-known simple steps to stop the virus in its tracks.

These steps include keeping two metres distant from anyone not in your own household, making sure to wear a face covering in public places, washing hands thoroughly, and more often and that everyone in a household isolates if someone in the home has symptoms until they’ve taken a test and the results are known.

Bank Holiday infographic

So if you’re meeting friends or family outside, please remember to keep to groups of no more than six people from different households, and try to keep two metres apart.

Don’t forget that Coronavirus tests are available via phone by calling 111 or can be ordered free online from the NHS website. There are also drive-in testing places available across Peterborough. (more…)

Positive response to city centre re-opening

If you’ve been keeping up with the news then you’ll know that shops in towns and cities across the country were able to re-open on Monday.

In Peterborough the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with shops reporting good levels of business – around 50 per cent of what they would usually expect – and shoppers on the whole adhering to social distancing measures.

On the opening day some shops, such as Primark, had long queues of shoppers and others, such as Parrotts Fish Bar on Hereward Cross reported their best day’s trade in quite some time.

primark queue

A big thank you to the shops for enforcing the measures so well and of course to the shoppers for following the rules and ensuring our city centre hasn’t so far had the issues that other places have experienced. Thanks to the police too for increasing their presence in the city centre in case there were any issues.

If you’ve not visited yet, then it may be helpful for you to know that we have lots of measures in place to help keep you safe, like wider pavements, additional street cleaning and bench markings which show you how to keep a safe distance from others. We’re also continuing free parking in all council-owned car parks until the middle of next month.

Our shopping marshals are out in force all this week too, guiding people through the new measures. Many of them have said they’ve enjoyed speaking to shoppers and seeing the city centre thriving again – a point echoed by the Mayor of Cambridgeshire James Palmer when he visited the city on Monday.

The next phase of our plan to reignite the city centre involves creating a social distanced cafe culture and we have funding in place from the Combined Authority to take this forward. The hospitality/food and beverage sector has been hit hard by COVID-19 and will find it difficult to trade profitably under current social distance guidance, so we are looking at how we can provide the infrastructure to allow all-weather casual dining outside in the city centre.

Please support our city centre shops and businesses if you are able to – their future lies in your hand.

(more…)

Plans for our return to the city centre

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister lifted restrictions on our movements slightly to allow more people to get back to work and for unlimited outdoors exercise – all whilst observing social distancing of course.

We now know that outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from 1 June and all other non-essential retail outlets from 15 June, if the Government’s five tests are met and they follow the COVID-19 guidelines to protect workers and shoppers.

On Peterborough Market, traders selling essential items such as food, DIY and hardware goods have been able to continue trading during the lockdown. We now plan to undertake a health and safety audit to ensure the Government’s social distancing measures can be implemented safely, before allowing traders selling non-essential items to return.

We have been planning for the reopening of the city centre for a number of weeks, together with local businesses and business representative groups such as Queensgate, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough Positive, so that there is clear guidance for businesses.

New social distancing guidance and signage will begin to be installed in the city soon and people will start to notice that things they touch a lot such as benches, bins and pay and display machines are being cleaned more regularly.

We are also working with businesses to see how areas such as St Peter’s Arcade and the Guildhall can become part a wider café culture in the city – I’ll be able to tell you more about this soon!

guildhall peterborough

Of course, all of this will cost money, so I am pleased the Government has allocated us £181,000 from the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund to pay for some of the changes that will be necessary.

We know that COVID-19 has had a harsh impact on businesses in Peterborough and that’s why we are looking at how we can re-open our city centre as soon as we are able to, as safely as possible. We know our city’s economy is strong which means we are in a better position than most to weather the crisis. (more…)

A reflection on Peterborough in 2020

Today I should have been drawing to a close a career in politics that has spanned more than 40 years.

In January I reluctantly announced I would be retiring from the council at the local elections, for health reasons and to spend more time with my family.

Those elections should have taken place today, but because of the pandemic have been postponed.

I’m pleased that I can continue to serve the city for a further year, using my experience to lead the council through this particularly challenging time.

It gives me great pleasure to do so when I see the fantastic efforts being made by people and organisations across the city to help others.

They say that adversity can often bring the best out in people and that is certainly what we are seeing once again in Peterborough.

In my own village of Glinton we have a bank of volunteers helping people to access food and medicine and with other needs. The Friendship Club which my wife Barbara runs is also supporting people who are isolating, running a buddy scheme which see members regularly ringing villagers to check they are OK.

In Castor and Ailsworth there is a team of more than 70 volunteers supporting those who need help, posting mail, collecting food and organising online quiz nights.

Villagers in Ashton and Bainton have been donating non-perishable food items by placing them on their doorsteps in shopping bags tied with brightly-coloured ribbon. This is then delivered to Peterborough Foodbank for sharing with those in need.

But it’s not just the villages – these acts of kindness are taking place across the whole city.

Members of the Husaini Islamic Centre have been helping those who need support and producing online sermons, lectures and prayers to be streamed into people’s homes.

Atif Iqbal, a secondary school teacher, has co-ordinated and prepared Ramadan gift bags for prisoners at HMP Peterborough.  Items such as prayer mats and the holy Quran were donated by the Muslim community, businesses and organisations. Secondary school teachers have also been making protective visors for health services.

Peterborough Foodbank has recruited more than 60 new volunteers to help those self-isolating. Since 23 March, it has fed more than 1,300 people and given away 6,021 kilograms of food, enough to make 14,335 meals.

City College Peterborough has a small army of staff making and delivering 100 packed lunches to the homeless each day. About 150 hot meals are also cooked and delivered to students and Cross Keys residents that are self-isolating and don’t have other support.

These are just a few of the many examples which show how people are helping others to stay safe and well in these difficult times.

Of course, I should also mention the council staff who are working hard to keep the city moving and supporting those who need it – our social workers, refuse and recycling crews, school staff and many more.

Only this week I heard that our passenger transport team that usually takes children to and from school has been transporting a man undergoing cancer treatment to his hospital appointments. He was unable to access his usual public transport and it was taking him two hours to make the journey. Our passenger transport team is now taking him to his appointments which is making the experience much easier for him.

Please, continue to think of the people who live around you and check they are OK. Just a phone call once a week may be all it takes for that person to feel supported. (more…)

Stay home and save lives this Easter

Many of us will have sat down on Sunday evening to hear our Queen address the nation and deliver a reassuring message of hope.

Other than the annual televised message on Christmas Day, it is only the fifth time Her Majesty has addressed the nation – the other times being following the death of the Queen Mother, prior to the funeral of Princess Diana, during the first Gulf War and to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

It is a rare and unusual occurrence, but then much of what we are all being asked to do at the moment is exactly that.

During the Easter weekend it is vitally important that we all continue to heed the message to stay at home, to help protect our NHS and ourselves and to save lives.

stay home save lives

It will be a very difficult for my wife Barbara and I, to not see our grandchildren and the rest of our family, as it will be for many people. But we must put all those feelings aside and think of other ways we can keep in touch – Facetime or one of the other video messaging facilities for example.

Last week we launched a campaign, Peterborough Together Against Coronavirus, which asks people to share their ideas about how they are keeping in touch and finding entertainment without making physical contact with those outside their home. It might be video calls with family and friends, quiz nights hosted virtually or your regular exercise class online.

During the Easter holidays we’re publishing a daily challenge to help keep families entertained and encourage them to try something new whilst at home – follow us on Facebook to find out more.

We are also asking people to share information about services they might be providing which can help people who are isolating. It might be a butcher or convenience store offering deliveries or a pub delivering cooked meals. The more we can share these messages, the less cut off people will feel from the outside world and it will reduce feelings of loneliness.

There’s information on our website and social media channel, so please have a look. (more…)

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 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…)

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.