Devolution delivers new homes for Peterborough

As part of the devolution deal across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough the government committed to a housing fund of £100million to be spent over the next five years.

The fund will be spent across the area to build more properties including affordable homes.

I was pleased to secure such a large fund to support residents, especially as the original offer from government was to be spent across all of Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Suffolk and Norfolk!

Details have been announced this week of the first projects, subject to approval, that are set to benefit from this funding that was only available as part of a devolution deal for the area.

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Major step forward for city university

This is the week that devolution started to produce real, tangible benefits for the city and our residents.

An important reason for backing a devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was to establish an independent university in the city.

Well, one of the first major funding announcements from the Combined Authority is set to be  £6.5million to accelerate the establishment of the University of Peterborough.

I believe a university is vital for the prosperity of the city for a number of reasons including creating opportunities for our young people and developing a better skilled workforce for employers. It will also create jobs and provide the most important boost to the local economy for a generation.

I must stress that to develop a renowned university that attracts students from across the UK to the city, and eventually from around the world, will take time.

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Devolution deal for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough given the green light

On Tuesday evening Cambridge City Councillors gave their approval to a devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

They were the last of seven councils, including Peterborough, to approve the deal and with it gave the green light to a once in a generation opportunity to unlock new funding and decision making powers for the benefit of our local area.

For me this was the biggest decision that I’ve made in my political career; a decision that I’m confident will grow our local economy and help shape a prosperous future for people living and working in Peterborough.

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Councillors to take final vote on devolution next week

This time next week Peterborough councillors will take their final vote on a devolution deal that will unlock millions of pounds of new funding for the local area.

For me this is one of the most important decisions I will make in almost 40 years as a councillor.

The deal will make a huge difference to our communities with a £600million funding boost for infrastructure alongside vital new money to build homes. It will also see powers transferred from Westminster so that a greater number of important decisions about Peterborough can be made locally, rather than them being made by central government.

As we all know, more homes are needed across the UK and that is no different in this city.  By accepting this deal the government will provide £170million of funding to build new homes across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to be spent over the next five years. This could build up to 2,500 homes over that period.

Through a new £20million annual infrastructure fund, the devolution deal would help us to invest in projects such as an independent university for Peterborough. We will also work with government to develop an Enterprise Zone which will encourage new businesses to move here and create more jobs.

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£15million proposal announced to redevelop North Westgate

In the summer I promised I would pull out all the stops to see the long-awaited redevelopment of North Westgate.

It’s a site that some say has been cursed, with developer after developer coming up with grand plans to regenerate it, only for them to fall by the wayside.

In fact it was more than 40 years ago that the city centre site was first identified as a major redevelopment opportunity by the Peterborough Development Corporation in the 1971 City Centre Plan. But one of the key issues which has stood in the way of its redevelopment is complex land and property ownership, with more than 30 parties involved.

North Westgate is such an important part of our vision for a vibrant city centre and that’s why I’m pleased to announce that as part of the council’s phase one budget proposals, published tomorrow, we’re looking to directly support the comprehensive redevelopment of the site.

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PES launched with additional powers to tackle issues across the city

When I became leader of the council 18 months ago my post bag was full of letters and emails from residents about issues such as anti-social behaviour, begging, illegal parking and poor quality housing.

I listened to those residents and looked at what we and fellow agencies could do to better tackle these issues, at a time when funding is scarce and manpower is limited.

This week we fully launched the SaferPeterborough Prevention and Enforcement Service (PES) which brings together council, police, fire service and prison staff into a single managed service. The team has been in place since April, however council staff now have the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme powers issued by Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s chief constable to be able to enforce against a greater number of issues.

The idea is that together we can offer a quicker, more visible response to the issues that you have told us impact on your quality of life. Council prevention and enforcement officers, who you might see walking round in new blue uniforms, now have the ability to take action against a wider range of community issues including littering, dog fouling, begging and cycling on pavements. They also retain existing powers including parking and housing enforcement.
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The decision was “One of the hardest I’ve faced”

We’ve had to make some very difficult decisions in the past few years, not least because of the huge budget challenges we’ve faced.

The decision about whether to work with social housing provider Stef & Philips has been one of the hardest I’ve faced, because of the families whose tenancies are not being renewed.

I became a councillor because I wanted to help people, so believe me when I say that I wish these residents did not have to find somewhere else to live.

The reality is that we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever decision we make Stef & Philips will still require the current tenants to leave to be able to offer the properties to our council or another council for homeless families.

However, we can support them to secure alternative accommodation which we are doing, and we can make use of the properties on St Michael’s Gate to house homeless families who are in desperate need of temporary accommodation.

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We must all work together for our city

I’ve been called many things in my time – it goes with the territory of being a politician – but I’ve never been called a whiner.

It was one of the many accusations and simplistic sound bites made by MP Stewart Jackson in his Westminster Life column last week.

If understanding the issues that we face as a city, coming up with solutions and getting on and dealing with those issues is whining, then yes, I’m guilty.

Take our approach to regenerate Fletton Quaysa site that was underutilised for decades. We created Peterborough Investment Partnership, the joint venture between the council and Lucent, which has kick started regeneration of this key city centre site.

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Proposed £600 million fund to improve transport

Last week I shared with you what I think are the benefits for residents and businesses of our proposed devolution deal with government from the perspective of education and training.

This week I’d like to focus on growth and in particular how devolution could benefit our transport and housing.

Let me start with transport, that’s our roads, train and bus services and how we connect with surrounding towns, rural areas, Cambridge and beyond.

We’re fortunate to be really well situated on the A1M and East Coast Main Line. However, businesses tell us that transport connectivity needs improving so people and freight can move around more freely with better connections to the east and west of our city and between Peterborough and Cambridge. Transport delays for businesses can cost them dearly, as it often means they miss deadlines.

If the proposed devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough goes ahead, we’d have access to a new £600 million fund (£20million annually) to improve transport and infrastructure across the county.

Town Hall

Having access to this kind of money will allow us and other councils in the county to plan road and rail improvements together that will benefit everyone, including people living in the urban and rural areas. In addition, having certainty over the money we will receive in future years will help us plan projects longer term, ensuring we get best value.

We’ll also have more money to spend on improving public transport, in particular to help our rural communities and young people access jobs. Virgin Trains, which runs the East Coast Main Line, is planning to introduce new high speed trains next year which will reduce the journey time from Peterborough to London to under 40 minutes. But we also need better rail links to Norwich, Cambridge and Stansted airport and devolution will put us in a much stronger position to secure that investment in quicker and more frequent services.

If we can also improve journey times by upgrading the roads and having better bus services then it should make Peterborough an even more attractive place to live, whether you work in the city or commute elsewhere, and to invest.

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Give us your take on future vision

In the past three years Peterborough businesses have added almost 7,000 jobs to our economy and our private sector jobs market is now one of the most buoyant nationally.

Only this week we were rated the fifth best place in the country to work by recruitment firm Glassdoor, which ranked towns and cities on how easy it is to get a job, how affordable it is to live there and how satisfied employees are working there. We finished higher than the likes of Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

It’s clear that confidence in the city’s future is growing. Only recently major retailer House of Fraser announced plans to open a distribution centre here, creating up to 1,000 jobs.

We have to make sure this confidence continues and that we retain and attract new businesses from a wide variety of sectors, whilst at the same time giving our residents the chance to acquire the skills they need to work for those businesses.

I believe that we can achieve exactly that if we press ahead with our proposed devolution deal with government.

As part of a combined authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough we can take on responsibilities and funding from government that will give us a greater say in how skills training is delivered and, importantly, tailor our learning and skills opportunities to the needs of our residents and employers.

For example, we would have control over funding to provide 19+ adult education, as well as the Apprenticeship Age Grant which incentivises employers to offer apprenticeships. With the latter we would be able to ensure opportunities are available in the employment sectors where they are most needed.

The government has also given its commitment to support the review of post-16 education and training. This is crucial as it will allow us to understand what skills our businesses are looking for in their employees and whether our schools and colleges are meeting those needs.

In addition, we will see investment to enable University Centre Peterborough to attain Taught Degree Awarding powers and longer term establish an independent university. Currently many of our young people have to leave Peterborough to achieve their chosen degree which is a great shame.

The result of all this is that our residents and anyone else choosing to further their learning here will be able to gain training and qualifications that will enable them to build a life for themselves in Peterborough. Our businesses will have a wealthy talent pool to choose from.

Town Hall

But it’s now over to you to tell us what you think so that councils and the secretary of state can consider your opinions when taking decisions later in the year. You can read more about the proposals and take part in an online survey on the council website. The consultation closes on 23 August.

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