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…)

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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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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ARU Peterborough announced

This week we made an announcement that will ensure the future prosperity of our city and create lasting benefits for our residents, our businesses and our city as a whole for many years to come.

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has been chosen as the official higher education partner for a new employment-focused university in Peterborough being led by the city council and the Cambs and Peterborough Combined Authority.

ARU will deliver the curriculum for the new university, which will be known as ARU Peterborough, until 2028, and will soon begin recruiting its first students.

The new £30 million university is set to open its doors to 2,000 students in 2022, with an ambition to offer courses for up to 12,500 by 2030. The curriculum will be designed to meet local economic needs; providing both opportunities for local residents to receive a top-class vocational education and a well skilled local workforce for businesses to employ.

a r u peterborough launch

Establishing a university for Peterborough will bring immeasurable benefits for people in our city and across the wider region.

Our residents will be helped into well-paid, more sustainable jobs fit for the rapidly evolving skills and knowledge requirements of the 21st Century workplace.

The curriculum will be matched to the growth needs of local businesses, providing new opportunities for communities to gain access to higher level skills, better paid employment and enhanced life-chances.

Crucially, it will stop our talented young people from leaving the city to learn and set up life elsewhere, as well as helping Peterborough attract new talent, some of whom we hope will choose to put down roots in our wonderful city, raise families and start and grow businesses.

For our businesses it will ensure a good crop of people to choose from when advertising for jobs – people who have the training and the skills that they need to thrive in their workplace. Both hard skills in key sectors of our economy such as digital technology, low carbon tech and healthcare and medical technology and soft skills such as teamwork, communications, problem solving, inter-personal skills and personal resilience.

Better skilled and qualified employees will in turn help our businesses to thrive and prosper.

And for our city as a whole, the presence of the university will make Peterborough a more desirable place to start a family, to set up home or to do business – which will provide an ongoing boost to our economy.

In ARU we have found the best, most progressive and innovative academic partner to ensure we have a university that opens on time and thrives.

I look forward, not only to the commencement of construction work later this year, but to the day in autumn 2022 when we will be able to welcome our first intake of students to Peterborough. (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…)

Westcombe Engineering – back in business

Without a doubt the pandemic has hit many businesses hard with companies across the globe trying to find ways they can continue to operate with the restrictions that are in place.

There are some that are finding a way, including Westcombe Engineering in Peterborough – a social enterprise owned by the council which provides permanent employment and work experience for disabled people.

Westcombe has changed the lives of so many skilled and talented disabled people, their families and communities and I am pleased that has continued in the most uncertain of times.

Like many businesses, Westcombe shut up shop when the Prime Minister imposed the strict lockdown, but after a comprehensive risk assessment reopened with a phased return of staff, rising from 20 per cent of the workforce being in operation to 81 per cent now.

The management introduced sweeping changes to working practises to ensure staff were protected including staggered lunch and tea breaks, hygiene stations, regular team discussions, additional changing rooms and toilets, spacing out lockers, stopping people clocking in and out and only allowing essential visitors on site.

With the Prime Minister encouraging some sectors to return to work this week, Westcombe is an example of how this can be achieved whilst abiding by the stringent social distancing and hygiene measures.

Even during these unprecedented times, Westcombe Engineering is experiencing its busiest period since the business started operating in 1970, securing new orders for existing customers Caterpillar Inc and Advanced Handling.

Only this week it had another new machining centre delivered to support a significant order, which involves supplying high precision machined parts which fit into a battery module, to allow the electrification conversion of school buses in America.

Westcombe is a shining example of how businesses, paying attention to Government and Public Health England guidance, can set their wheels in motion once again.

There are other businesses too across the city which have continued to operate, indeed prosper. But I know for many others it continues to be a worrying time. Please read the guidance that is coming from the government and consider carefully how it affects your own business, both in terms of the support that is available and when certain industries can begin to operate again.

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Support for our businesses

In the past week we have started to plan for council services returning to normal once the rate of infection has significantly reduced and the social distancing measures can be lifted.

We know we are still some way from this and that the message remains that we must all stay at home to save lives and protect our NHS.

But we have to make sure that when life does return to ‘normal’, we can continue to provide the services that we have stopped temporarily or have been running differently.

I imagine every business across our city is thinking in the same way and I hope that the support being provided by the Government, including the grants being administered by the council, is supporting them to remain viable at this time and will support them to recover.

In the past month the Chancellor has announced a raft of support measures for businesses of every size and type.

The council is administering the small business grant scheme, which provides a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs, and a £25,000 grant for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. In addition, we’re implementing a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and nurseries for the 2020/21 tax year.

As of last Sunday, we have paid out more than £15 million to 1,243 small businesses and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Further payments will continue to be made over the coming days with the majority of these to take place by the end of the month. Businesses which qualify for the grants do not need to do anything, the council will pay the money directly into their accounts.

We’ve also awarded 100 per cent business rate relief for 1,255 retail/hospitality/leisure businesses, totalling £36,255,343.42. We also have 31 nurseries eligible for relief of £337,656.

On Monday the Government announced the launch of the Job Retention Scheme, which will see HMRC reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, for employees that otherwise would have been laid off due to the crisis. More information can be found on the government website.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is offering capital grant funding of £2,000 to £150,000 to help businesses strengthen capacity, survive the emergency period and recover more quickly. Visit the Capital Grant Scheme website to see if your business will qualify. It’s also supporting businesses to determine what support is available and support helping them in accessing it by providing a business support triaging service.

PCC and CCC logos

There are lots more support schemes available – I have mentioned just a few. Lots of information is available on our website or through our partners at Opportunity Peterborough. Businesses can also get help and support by emailing info@opportunitypeterborough.gov.uk. (more…)

Thank you for being safe this Easter

I’d like to start by saying a big thank you to everyone who worked during the Easter weekend to look after people, keep them safe or to ensure the city continued to run smoothly.

Working public holidays is never easy at the best of times, but I hope that the support and gratitude from the general public, particularly on social media, will have helped lift the spirits of NHS staff, carers, social workers, police officers, supermarket staff, refuse collectors and the many others I could mention.

Many of our schools were open on Good Friday and Easter Monday too, supporting the children of key workers and vulnerable children – as they have been throughout the Easter holidays. It is so important these children are able to attend school to support them and their families.

thank you from pcc chairs

Thank you also to everyone who stayed at home and heeded the vital message to slow the spread of the disease and protect our NHS. You all supported our frontline staff by doing so.

That is the single biggest thing we can all do at the moment, to reduce the number of deaths and give our NHS the chance to help everyone who needs it, whether it’s those fighting the Coronavirus or other illnesses. (more…)