Happy New Year for 2021

This is my first column of 2021, so I would like to start off by wishing everyone a happy New Year.

The past twelve months have been a year like no other, resulting in big changes to our daily lives and having to sacrifice some of the things we all love doing.

There is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout continuing but with the new lockdown under way, I must once again implore everyone to follow the guidelines and take extra care.

So to recap the lockdown rules, please don’t invite people into your home who you don’t live with all the time, don’t go out unless it is essential – and when you do take particular care because of this new variant of the virus is so much easier to catch.

Avoid crowded areas, don’t gather together in groups, don’t ignore signs or the advice of our marshals who are out on the streets to help and support you.

You also need to continue to wear face coverings in shops, keep socially distanced and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

stay home poster

We appreciate that the current situation is very difficult for some people, and there is support for those who may be lonely or isolated, or who suddenly need very practical support– and I would encourage them to phone the countywide co-ordination hub on 0345 045 5219.

 

For anyone whose mental health is being more severely impacted, there is the Lifeline support number 0808 808 2121 which operates daily from 11am to 11pm and for people with a mental health crisis you can phone the NHS 111 number and ask for Option 2.

Council projects able to progress despite pandemic

Not many of us will look back on 2020 fondly, however there were silver linings like the heart-warming way our communities pulled together to help one another.

There were many unprecedented challenges for the council but at the same time we’ve made great progress on a number of significant projects.

Our ambitious regeneration plans moved forward at pace over the past year and will play a key role in ensuring Peterborough remains a great place to live, work and play for many years to come.

Fletton Quays is one of our proudest achievements, featuring our council’s offices and hundreds of state-of-the-art apartments. The site’s development is coming along nicely with work on the new Hilton hotel progressing, along with the construction of a government hub, set to be completed in 2022.

Construction of our new university is also under way and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

Meanwhile, our exciting work to redevelop Northminster is moving forward and we hope to submit a planning application later this year, so watch this space.

Towns Fund to be dedicated to five key projects

Another significant achievement of the past year was our successful bid to the government’s Towns Fund, granting us £22.9 million. The funds are earmarked for the following five key projects which we are moving forwards:

  • Riverside Development and Connections – Creating a masterplan for the Embankment, the new University campus and Middleholme.
  • New and improved visitor and cultural attractions – These include a new library and cultural facilities for the city, as well as improved visitor attractions.
  • Developing the Station Quarter – Creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and opening up space for new homes and offices.
  • Enterprise and Skills infrastructure – Building a new enterprise training and business incubation hub to support new city businesses and start-ups, and a training centre for green technology skills.
  • Future green city – Creating safer, easily accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists to the train station and city centre from key sites around the city.

These projects have been specifically designed to increase the wellbeing of residents, boost visitor numbers and adhere to the city’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Peterborough’s time really is now and we are fully committed to creating a city of growth, prosperity and opportunity.

A huge thanks to our key workers

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of our key workers, council staff and dedicated band of volunteers for their sterling efforts over the past year.

So many of our residents are key workers – doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, supermarket workers and many, many other professions – they all deserve special praise and their continued efforts in these difficult times are truly invaluable.

As always you can rest assured we will continue to work to keep you safe and keep the city moving forwards.

Construction of ARU Peterborough begins

Our exciting regeneration plans for Peterborough are the most ambitious this city has seen for decades and a real source of personal pride.

A key part of these plans is ARU Peterborough, the city’s new £30 million university and this week marked the very start of its construction.

On Tuesday I gathered with James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Professor Roderick Watkins, Vice Chancellor of ARU, for a special sod cutting ceremony at the site.

Sod cutting

Despite the freezing conditions this event really warmed my heart because it felt like such a significant moment in the project, which has been several years in the making.

I can’t wait to see ARU constructed and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations to come.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

In the first five years after opening, it will create an initial 170 university jobs and 300 supply chain jobs, in addition to 50 temporary construction jobs while it is being built.

The ARU is part of our commitment to ensuring Peterborough is a great place to live, work and relax for years to come.

With the Fletton Quays development progressing at pace, the city centre recently transformed and the regeneration of the Station Quarter, North Westgate and Northminster all in the pipeline, the city’s time really is now. (more…)

Take action to save Peterborough from rising Covid-19 levels

This year we’ve seen residents across the city pull together on many occasions to help one another and to encourage others to follow the rules to reduce rates of the virus.

I strongly believe it is this sense of community spirit, which makes Peterborough such a great place to live and work, which has helped to keep our rates of the virus below many other places across the country.

It is this same spirit and determination that we need to see once again from our communities, with Coronavirus now spreading across Peterborough at the highest rate we have seen since the first lockdown.

Currently we are seeing more than 200 people per 100,000 infected with the virus and it’s affecting people across the whole city – all age groups and backgrounds. Worryingly, we are seeing more people over 60 catching the virus who are potentially at greater risk.

Unfortunately, quite a few people got infected in the week before lockdown started – going out to ‘beat the lockdown’.  This is understandable, but as we warned you at the time, it means we now have further to go to halt its progress. And because of this we all need to do more.

This week our Director of Public Health, Dr Liz Robin, issued a video blog urging people to take action now to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our health services. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it on our YouTube channel.

I will reiterate her advice, because we are now seeing more people in our hospital and they are sicker than they were before, so we need to work harder to prevent our figures from spiralling out of control.

You must:

  • Reduce contact with people outside of your own household to the absolute minimum, as this is how the virus is passed on.
  • Only leave home for essential reasons – to go to school, college or work if you cannot work from home, for medical or safety reasons, to get food and other essential shopping, or to provide care for others.
  • Work from home if at all possible.
  • Self-isolate if you test positive or are a contact of someone who is – there’s lots of support to help you do this, so there’s really no reason not to.

If we don’t take action now we risk more people getting sick and potentially dying – and not just from Coronavirus. The increased pressure on hospitals and health services will affect us all.

News of a potential vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel – but it will be months before it can help us all and we need to all make a final push for Peterborough now and stop Covid in its tracks.

A Virtual Christmas Switch-on

Normally at this time of year we’d be preparing to welcome thousands of people to the city centre for our Christmas lights switch on.

Our 40ft Spruce Christmas tree is already in Cathedral Square, but sadly the public switch-on cannot take place due to the pandemic.

However, residents can still get into the festive spirit with a virtual Christmas lights switch-on instead. The 15 minute pre-recorded event will be streamed online across our digital platforms on Wednesday 2 December at 7pm.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Community Radio presenter Kev Lawrence will once again be hosting the switch-on and there will be special appearances from local guests.

xmas switch on

Please don’t turn up to this event – it is being pre-recorded to avoid large crowds gathering.

Once Peterborough reopens, subject to government restrictions being lifted, there will also be fairground rides from 2 December as well as a Christmas craft market from 2-6 December.

POSH in Parliament

I was delighted last week to see the national spotlight shining on the council and Peterborough United Football Club in the Houses of Parliament no less.

During a parliamentary debate, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara highlighted the economic and health and wellbeing benefits of bringing spectators back to football grounds, even in a limited capacity, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

He also invited Nigel Huddleston MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to visit Peterborough, an offer he is very keen to take up.

posh logo

In addition, he said that opening the stadium – even in a limited way – would benefit the club in celebrating the life and career of Posh legend Tommy Robson.

Tommy, who made a record 559 first team appearances for the Posh, sadly passed away last month. Earlier this year he was given the Freedom of the City for his phenomenal contribution to the club, as well as his dedicated charity work.

We will continue to work closely with the football club and MP Vara to promote the many benefits that our much-loved football club delivers to the city.

We will also continue to work with the club to see what we can do locally to remember Tommy and his incredible achievements.

Temporary car park on former Northminster site

Finally, a reminder that our new temporary car park on the site of the former Northminster multi storey car park has opened to the public.

We’ve opened the car park to give residents, shoppers and businesses a helping hand in the run up to Christmas and are confident it will help the city centre to thrive once lockdown restrictions are eased.

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

Council’s new homes target exceeded

As regular readers will be aware, I take great pride in the recent development of our city and our ambitious regeneration plans which will ensure we continue to grow bigger and better.

We are one of the fastest growing cities in the country – ample proof that Peterborough is a place people want to come to live and work in.

Our rapid growth presents challenges, arguably the biggest of which is ensuring enough homes are being built to cope with demand.

I’m pleased to say that the number of new homes built in Peterborough in the past year has exceeded the targets we set ourselves.

In total 1,145 new homes were built in the city between April 2019 and March 2020, well above our local plan target of 942.

Delivering good quality housing is key to our vision for making Peterborough an even better place for us all to live, work and relax.

It also reinforces the confidence we and others have in our city and will go a long way in attracting increased investment from developers, retailers and the government.

This comes alongside the regeneration of Fletton Quays, the multi-million redevelopment of Queensgate Shopping Centre including a multi-screen Empire Cinema and plans for a new university in 2022 to boost the economic prosperity of our young.

As I always say, Peterborough’s time is now and there so much for us to look forward to.

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England enters second national lockdown

Today sees the start of the second national lockdown as the government steps up its efforts to control the spread of Covid-19.

Cases have been steadily rising and by acting now, we can work to protect the NHS and hopefully enable everyone to celebrate Christmas with loved ones.

The new lockdown rules have been well publicised but I wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate what we all need to do to keep safe.

Please minimise the time spent outside your home and when around other people ensure social distancing – you need to be two metres apart from anyone not in your household or support bubble or one metre with extra precautions, such as face coverings.

I cannot emphasise how important this advice is and by following it we can fight back against the virus.

As a council we are going to continue to do all we can to support our residents and businesses during the lockdown.

Our community hub has provided vital help for vulnerable people and will continue to be there for those in need.

Our Covid marshals, which we successfully bid for government funding for, will continue to patrol hotspot areas of the city, making people and businesses aware of the lockdown guidelines and keeping communities safe.

As ever you can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward. (more…)

Budget proposals for 2021/22

Last Friday we published a first set of budget proposals for 2021/22 which begin to explain how we will deliver the services that we know our residents need with the funding we have available.

Budget setting has been a challenge in recent years with our funding from government reducing by over 70 per cent in the past decade, but the Covid-19 pandemic has raised the bar on this challenge next year.

To put it simply, we need to make savings totalling £36m – that’s almost a quarter of our net revenue budget, i.e. the money we spend each year on providing services.

In recent years we’ve had to make many millions of pounds worth of savings to balance our budget. We’ve done this by reviewing all the services we provide to make sure they are as efficient as possible, by reviewing contracts to get better value and by increasing our income generation – we now generate £78million of external income annually.

At the same time our population continues to rise – we now provide services for more than 202,000 people, we have more older people requiring care, more children needing school places, more children with special educational needs and more children in care.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on the council, as it has many businesses and organisations across our city.

These include a forecast loss of £2.4million in parking revenue, a council tax deficit of £2.8million as many people are unable to pay and an increase in households receiving council tax support, as well as an additional £13.8 million on providing enhanced Adult Social Care services.

This first phase of proposals details how we will save £2.7million but the scale of the challenge will require additional funding and solutions – we cannot meet the challenge by savings alone.

stacks of coins

As a result we are discussing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and our MPs about potential solutions to the financial situation.

This will not just help us to continue to deliver essential services, but will allow us to continue our highly effective support in fighting the effects of Covid-19 in Peterborough.

And let’s not forget how successful that work has been.

We’ve worked with communities to reduce infection rates from a position of having the sixth highest rates in the country, to below the national average and our scheme to contact trace people who have tested positive for COVID-19 currently has a 77% success rate.

At one point we were one of the best in the country for distributing £32m in business grants and awarding 100% business rate relief for designated businesses totalling £40.3m, plus we have supported vulnerable residents through the Peterborough Coordination Hub.

We’ve had our first meeting with MCHLG and I am pleased to say they have promised to work closely with us. They recognise that even with the considerable support already provided to local government, there will be individual authorities with unique circumstances, such as Peterborough.

Delivering a balanced budget next year is the most severe challenge we have faced, but we will find a solution so that we can continue to work hard to keep people safe, support our businesses and to keep our city moving forward.

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Embankment joins other sites in future growth of Peterborough

As regular readers will know, there is much to be excited about in terms of plans for future growth in Peterborough.

Fletton Quays, North Westgate, the Station Quarter, Northminster and other city centre locations are all set to be transformed over the coming years.

I’ve been in local government for over 40 years and I can honestly say that our current regeneration plans are the most ambitious we’ve had since the Development Corporation way back in the 1960s.

Another area we are working to enhance is the Embankment and this week announced that we are moving forward with the production of a Masterplan, showcasing the 90-acre site as a year-round destination.

The development will include the new university campus, a proposed new stadium for Peterborough United, retention of assets such as the Lido, Key Theatre and open green spaces for leisure and recreational use.

embankment map

It will open up the city’s river frontage making it a destination in its own right, with the installation of a new pedestrian footbridge to Fletton Quays, subject to funding, and improving the use of open green space along the whole stretch of the river.

Last week I addressed delegates at an Investors Conference about our future plans. It was a really positive event and highlighted everything that Peterborough has going for it.

For example, did you know that over the last Century, Peterborough saw the second highest rate of jobs growth of any UK city and our enterprising population has seen the business start-up rate consistently ranked amongst the top 20 cities in the UK over the last 10 years?

There are over 7,000 businesses operating here, the A1 is on our doorstep, and we will soon be able to go direct to London King’s Cross in less than 40 minutes, a great benefit for commuters and shoppers alike!

On top of that, the city boasts a £30 million full-fibre network installed by CityFibre that reaches nearly every home and business premises.

Peterborough is growing fast, and we want it to remain a city where people and businesses can realise their ambitions. These plans will unlock even more potential within our city, creating a refreshed and welcoming environment where people want to live, work, and visit. (more…)

Further Covid-19 safety measures to be introduced

The past six months have been extremely challenging for us all, but one big positive is the way communities have come together to help those in need.

To celebrate this and determine how we can continue to support each other, city community leaders took part in a special summit last week.

We discussed how we can work together to re-energise and reinvigorate our efforts to keep our communities safe, our businesses open and put our economy back on a firm footing.

It was a very positive event, highlighting some of the fantastic work that has taken place in recent months – once again thank you to everyone involved for their sterling efforts.

Moving forwards you will see some visible council and police patrols across the city as we continue to work with our partners to control the spread of Covid-19.

We’re also going to be increasing our work with businesses to make sure they are operating in a Covid-secure way and continuing to push messages out to our communities to ensure as many people as possible are following the rules. We were one of the first areas in the county to produce translated public health messages and this has helped to reduce the spread of the virus in recent months.

We remain committed to promoting testing locally, ensuring everyone who needs a test can get one. We will do this by providing a walk-in testing site in Central Peterborough – more on this soon – and by providing support through our local hub for people who are struggling to access a test, either because of a language barrier or transport issue.

We also want to remove any barriers which are stopping people from self-isolating if they have been asked to by NHS Test and Trace. A big part of this is the financial aspect and so this week we’re launching a support scheme which will offer £500 payments to people who cannot self-isolate for financial reasons. To be eligible you will need to meet certain criteria – please visit www.peterborough.gov.uk/selfisolationpayment

We remain at a crucial point in tackling the virus locally. The rates of infection in Peterborough are below the England average, but they are still higher than they have been in a number of months.

It is vital that we don’t throw away what we’ve achieved so far, so please continue to follow the national guidance and stay vigilant at all times. (more…)

More Opportunities for Peterborough

One of my proudest achievements as a councillor is the work we have done over the past decade to enhance our historic city centre.

When I look around Peterborough now, I see a thriving modern city where people want to live, work and visit.

But with success comes challenges. Our population is rapidly rising, so we need to continue to develop and regenerate the city, so it can be an attractive place for future generations.

Regular readers will be aware that in spite of the disruption from Covid-19, the city is pressing ahead with ambitious plans.

Last week it was announced that we’ve begun acquiring land at North Westgate, kick-starting exciting plans to re-vamp the area and create hundreds of jobs, and just a few weeks ago we saw the planning application submitted for our new university which is just two years off opening.

We’ve plans in place for the Station Quarter to reinvigorate the gateway to the city, we’re in discussions with the owners of the Rivergate shopping arcade about new apartments and a food and retail offering and there’s also the £90 million vision for Northminster to create a residential-led, mixed-use scheme with public realm enhancement.

We’re working with Peterborough United Football Club on plans for a new £50 million, 20,000 capacity-stadium on the Embankment and Fletton Quays continues to move at pace with work recently getting underway on the new Hilton Hotel and expected soon are spades in the ground on a Government Hub.

To help promote our extensive regeneration plans, our partners Opportunity Peterborough are holding an online conference on 9 October. We’re inviting local investors, developers, businesses and stakeholders to learn about our plans and how they can get involved.

Delegates will hear directly about the plans with public sector backing for the city’s ambitions from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor, James Palmer, and MP for Peterborough, Paul Bristow.

Our vision for the heart of the city is truly transformative and as I say so often Peterborough’s time really is now, there is so much to be excited about.

It promises to be an exciting event, so if you haven’t already registered and would like to attend, please email info@investinpeterborough.co.uk.

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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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