Work continues on 146 new Peterborough homes

Over the past year we have seen a 56 per cent rise in the number of families who present themselves to the council as homeless.

This mirrors national trends publicised by the homeless charity Shelter that one in every 200 households in the UK does not have a place to call their home, a shocking figure that is difficult to get your head around in this day and age.

This is an absolute priority for us and regular readers will know that I have made a personal commitment to do everything in my power to help families back into stable long-term accommodation.

Every Monday morning I meet with key officers to find out how the situation has changed in the city on a weekly basis and what we are doing to address this.

Through our approach of building, buying and working with landlords we are now starting to see the fruits of our efforts, with additional affordable rented homes becoming available across the city.

We now have 43 private properties sublet to us by private landlords and we’ve just finished buying an additional 50 homes across the city, the majority of which now have families living in them.

And more good news is on the way. Last week the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority pledged to spend more than £6 million in the city to build 146 new affordable homes in three sites – next to the Werrington Centre in Staniland Way, in Crowland Road, Eye Green and on Drakes Avenue in Peterborough.

Leader at Medesham building site

Last week, I joined Councillor Steve Allen, the council’s cabinet member for housing to take a closer look at the Crowland Road, Eye Green site, which is being built by Medesham Homes.

Brickwork has now finished, and the site is ready for decorators, electricians and plumbers teams to swoop in to get the 35 homes habitable and ready to welcome their first residents by Christmas.

Seeing as the planning permission was only approved in February this year, that’s pretty good going!

I’d like to thank all those involved in getting these homes up so quickly and playing their part in helping get a further 35 families into affordable, decent homes.

As Deputy Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority I’ve campaigned hard for this additional investment. In total, Peterborough has received £9.85 million and we are halfway towards our target of creating an additional 2,000 affordable homes by 2021.

We remain committed to reaching this figure by any means necessary, working with our housing providers to explore all options, including setting up a Housing Revenue Account – a return to council housing. As always, I will keep you updated on our progress and the positive impact this will have on homeless families across our city.

Peterborough No. 1 for commitment to renewable energy

Following on from last week’s Full Council meeting in which we declared a climate emergency in Peterborough, I was pleased to see the city has been ranked No.1 for its commitment to renewable electricity in a recent report.

The UK Powerhouse quarterly economic report places the city at No.1 in terms of the number of solar panels placed on homes since 2017 per head of population, with a whopping 12 per cent or 9,100 residents investing in this form of renewable energy.

City Market continues to trade

Last week the council was forced to close the Northminster car park due to a possible risk to public safety – something we take extremely seriously.

If the second report confirms initial views on the car park’s structural condition, we will need to make the difficult decision to either repair or demolish it.

But whatever the news on the car park is, I want to reassure you all that the City Market remains open for business and will continue to trade.

City market trading

We are working closely with those who run the market and if it becomes too difficult for them to operate from the current location, we will find it a different home and will make sure that any change of location is really well communicated.

There are some great stalls and traders in our City Market and I would encourage you to make a visit, particularly if you haven’t been for a while, and see what you might have been missing.

Looking forward: Peterborough University and Doubling Green Spaces

The next few years promise to be an exciting time for higher education in Peterborough.

The work that we are all doing now to create a dedicated university will, I believe, transform our city for the next 100 years and beyond.

It will change the aspirations of our residents, giving everyone the chance to attain the highest skills they are able to, in order to apply for the jobs offered by our employers.

The research that we are doing now means that we can be sure of this – and this approach is what will set our university apart from every other across the country.

Almost 80 businesses recently responded to a survey undertaken by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority asking what kinds of courses and skills they would like to see delivered at the new University of Peterborough. 

Employers said that skills in mechanical and structural engineering, mathematics, science and certain health and social care skills were in demand now and would be in the future. The most popular areas were business, IT and digital and sustainability skills, with newer and rapidly progressing technology such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity likely to be in significant demand in the future. 

Of course, it’s not just what is taught, but how it’s taught, and employers told us that work-based learning through higher apprenticeships would provide the most benefit.

Our employers have told us quite clearly what skills they need and the industries likely to prosper in future years, which will ensure that the curriculum delivered will both help students into well-paid, secure jobs, while also addressing the current and future skills needs of the local economy.

In further good news, a project management team has been appointed to get us from where we are now to the first students walking through the doors of the new university in 2022.

The team from Mace will lead on the delivery of the university, including planning permission for the building, the actual build project and the creation of the curriculum.

They have a good track record in this industry, delivering projects like the University of Northampton, and their expertise and experience will be invaluable.

The university we are creating for Peterborough will break the mould for what higher education can deliver. It will make other cities think differently and consider how its educational offering is connected to the local economy. 

These are exciting times for higher education in Peterborough, and will lead to greater aspirations for our residents, as well as enabling us to keep hold of our talented people, by making our city more attractive for them to live, study and work.  (more…)

Fast times ahead for Peterborough’s Station Quarter

Every so often I speak to people who have returned to visit the city centre after some time away and their reaction often pleases me.

It proves that the work we have done to regenerate our city centre has been worthwhile, with new life breathed into Cathedral Square, St John’s Square, Long Causeway, Bridge Street and many other parts which has in turn attracted new shops, restaurants and businesses. We’ve also unlocked the economic potential of key sites such as Fletton Quays in order to make them attractive to private investors.

As a result we have more people visiting Peterborough than ever before, more jobs being created and greater investment overall in our city.

Our work is not yet done – on Monday the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s business board agreed to fund a masterplan and feasibility study for an exciting re-development of the Station Quarter.

The railway station and the land around it is the first impression of our city for thousands of people visiting or passing through, so it’s important that it looks the part and connects well with the rest of the city centre.

peterborough railway station

If approved by the main board next week, the combined authority would fund around half the cost of completing a masterplan and feasibility study for the station quarter, with the remaining 50 per cent met by the council, Network Rail and LNER.

If the masterplan goes ahead, the site could contain a multi-storey car park, a western station entrance and offices and flats, both of which would be extremely popular given our proximity to London. From October the fastest train times to Kings Cross will be just 39 minutes!

The Station Quarter is one of many sites contained within our Local Plan which was due to be signed off by members at Wednesday night’s Full Council meeting. The plan sets out sites within the city and its surrounding villages which are earmarked for development so that developers wanting to invest here can see with ease the potential.

The finished product is the culmination of three years’ hard work by the officers involved and I would like to congratulate them on their success. Their expert knowledge and skill is evident in the fact that they are now producing local plans for other councils, including Fenland District Council. This is just one example of the many ways we are generating income to be able to provide the services that our residents need at a time when our government funding is reducing and demand for our services is increasing. (more…)

Fining flytippers and stamping out scammers

When you travel around the country you realise there are some issues that affect every town and city.

Flytipping is one of those issues. No matter where you live, it seems that a small minority of people find it acceptable to dispose of their waste illegally.

On Monday I chaired a cabinet meeting where members discussed a report by a cross-party task and finish group which I set up to investigate and make recommendations on how we might reduce flytipping.

Councillors who sit on the group presented their recommendations, which included expanding the bulky waste collection service to allow one free collection of up to five items per household per annum, reviewing the Household Recycling Centre’s opening times and for a proposal to be worked up which allows commercial waste to be disposed of at the recycling centre for a charge.

When you consider that two thirds of fly-tipping comes from households, it’s clear that we also need to do more to educate residents of their responsibility when it comes to disposing of their waste – a further recommendation of the task and finish group.

This week a new campaign has been launched by RECAP, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Waste Partnership, which urges people to make sure their waste is being taken away by a registered waste carrier, to a suitably licenced disposal site.

If you pay someone to take waste away on your behalf, check that they have a waste carrier’s licence and you can also check the company on the Environment Agency’s website before using them. Be aware, if someone flytips your waste, you as well as the person who flytips, could be landed with a hefty fine.

The vast majority of our residents are clearly using the facilities that are available. The Household Recycling Centre has proved a huge success since it opened in February, with 170 tonnes of additional recycling deposited there since February, compared to the same period the year before. The knock on effect is that there is 200 tonnes less residual waste being deposited.

Leader opening recycling centre

The recommendations that have been made by our cross-party working group are not a panacea, but they are a step in the right direction to reducing levels of flytipping and the money the council spends each year clearing it up – currently in the region of £200,000.

That’s money we can better spend providing care for the elderly, supporting children in need, creating housing and providing the many other services that our residents need. (more…)

Concerns raised as schools battle budget cuts

There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t hear about a council, school, police force or health service struggling to make ends meet.

Just recently there’s been a national focus on schools with reports of headteachers having to make difficult decisions, such as finishing the school day early, making teachers redundant and cutting spending on books.

Nationally the pressure on schools is starting to show and Peterborough is no different. Across the country around 60 per cent of schools are said to be in that difficult situation of spending more than their income. Pupil numbers have increased by ten per cent since 2010 whilst teacher numbers have remained largely the same.

In Peterborough, there has been government investment in education in recent years, but significant cost pressures and a sizeable increase in pupil numbers mean that in real terms schools are managing on a reduced budget. Between 2010 and 2018 our pupil numbers have increased by 26 per cent since, that’s 7,892 extra pupils.

Schools have done a tremendous job despite the pressures and have kept a close eye on the financial situation, meaning that pupils here have not experienced some of the changes we have seen taking place elsewhere. But headteachers and governing bodies may not be far away from having to take more drastic action such as this if the government does not provide better financial support. 

Recently we wrote to every headteacher in the city to assess the level of impact that funding cuts have had on schools. About 75 per cent of schools have responded and some of the things they are telling us is that they are increasing class sizes, cutting certain subjects from the curriculum such as drama, using apprentices to cover roles and reducing the number of teaching assistants. There are also cases of headteachers teaching classes when there are not enough teachers to cover and some of our schools are sharing equipment such as lawnmowers.

These examples make it clear that we are following the same path as other parts of the country where schools have had to take more drastic action such as making teachers redundant. It the funding situation is not addressed, it could impact our children’s education as well as their future prospects.

Councillor Lynne Ayres, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education, skills and university, will now be using the responses from headteachers to write a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP to demand a meeting with him and his officials to make him aware of the very serious situation in Peterborough and the need for additional funding for schools.

Let’s hope he takes the situation seriously, not just in Peterborough, but across the country as a whole.

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Peterborough’s post-election priorities

Last week’s local elections saw the Conservative Party remain as the largest overall party on the council.

I would like to say a big thank you to those who voted and everybody involved in the organisation of the elections.

The council’s elections team has worked tirelessly in recent weeks and they were helped by hundreds of dedicated folk who staffed polling stations and counted votes on the night, so a big well done to you all.

Our focus now turns to the year ahead and delivering the services that residents told us were important to them when we were knocking on doors in the run up to the elections.

election count

Top of our agenda will be those residents who need our help the most – so keeping children and young people safe and allowing them to reach their potential and supporting adults and older people who need our help to remain living independent and happy lives.

We will continue to work closely with our schools to support them to attract good quality teachers and raise attainment levels. Plans for a university continue to progress and within a year I would expect to see planning permission in place for the university campus building on the embankment.

People who are in housing difficulty remain our priority and we will be working with them to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place and where this is not possible, supporting them to find suitable accommodation. We will also continue to support new house building projects so that we have a good supply of housing of all tenures coming forward to meet the needs of our growing city.

I know that the cleanliness of the city is a priority for our residents and that’s why we launched our own trading company to provide waste collection, street cleansing and other services. Doing so has given us more control over the way these services are provided.

We will continue to invest in our roads and cycleways, particularly in areas of the city where we are experiencing high levels of growth, so that people can continue to travel around our city with ease.

I also want us to work more closely with our residents so that they can help us to improve our communities. We are seeing good examples of this across the city, such as the Good Neighbours Scheme in Castor which supports the elderly. I believe we can help encourage many more initiatives like this, therefore putting our communities at the heart of everything we do.

There is much work to be done over the next 12 months to ensure we can continue providing the services that our residents need, against a backdrop of ever decreasing government funding and the need to make millions of pounds of savings.

As the largest party on the council, with support from our fellow opposition members, I believe that we can meet the challenge. (more…)

Aragon – coming to a street near you

This week we unveiled the name of our new trading company which will take over the running of key services from April, including bin collections.

In just over two weeks, you will see refuse lorries emblazoned with the name Aragon Direct Services down your street.

Bin collection schedules and services will remain the same and will continue to be delivered by the same team of frontline staff – there will be little obvious change other than the name.

Cllrs with Aragon Direct van

The difference will be seen in our ability to commercialise the service, so in effect making money by providing services for businesses and other organisations locally and further afield.

The council has constraints on how much profit it can make from commercial operations – this private limited company will allow us more freedom to trade and generate income to help ease the financial pressure that the council is under.

It will also give better value for money and offer more flexibility to our residents. For example, if we get a wet summer and we need to cut our grass more frequently, this can be arranged more easily than if through an outsourced contract.

Our cleaners transferred over to the new company in February and on 1 April they will be followed by the refuse collection team. Street cleaning, grounds and building maintenance services and specialist school transport will then follow in May*.

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Commercial strategy is paying off

This month my Cabinet colleagues and I will be asked to approve the council’s first commercial strategy.

It doesn’t sound the most exciting document I admit, but it’s actually very important as it sets out how we’ll further generate income by selling our services, investing and operating more like a business.

With our government funding only going one way, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services our residents rely upon without generating the income we do.

Last year we made £72million through investments, sharing of services, providing services for other organisations, property rental and fees and charges.

For example, we generated £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy from waste plant and our commercial property portfolio which is worth £21million generates an annual income of around £3million – that’s a 14 per cent return.

We share our planning and trading standards departments with other councils, bringing in £4million annually and our £15million loan to Propiteer Hotels Ltd for the building of the new Hilton hotel at Fletton Quays will make us £500,000.

impression fletton quays

Our sharing of services with Cambridgeshire County Council, in particular the chief executive and her senior leadership team, has delivered sizeable savings.

I could go on, but these are just a few of the ways we’re generating income and working in a more commercial way to be able to provide the services you need, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding.

And with that funding due to decrease even further in years to come, we have got to find more ways of generating our own income. Our commercial strategy will help us to do that. (more…)

Starting to take back control

This week we celebrated a momentous occasion and welcomed the first staff to our new local authority trading company.

Just before Christmas we made the landmark decision to set up our own company, Peterborough Limited, which I like to call the ‘people’s company’. It will deliver services for residents that were previously provided by Amey.

Bringing services such as waste and recycling and building cleaning back in house gives us greater control over how these services are provided and allows us to better monitor them so that they can constantly improve. It also allows us to provide better value for money.

We’re not bringing all of the services and 449 employees back from Amey into Peterborough Limited in one go, we are doing it in a phased approach to ensure that the best quality of service is maintained.

Building cleaning moved across on Monday and I was delighted to meet some of the staff at the Town Hall. They were all really excited about moving back to the council and the plans that we have to develop these services.

John meets Latco

Waste and recycling collections and passenger transport will transfer on 1 April, followed by building maintenance, street cleansing and grounds maintenance on 4 May.

For residents there will be little obvious change, but we will be striving to ensure that all the services we provide are of the highest quality so that our city is clean and well maintained.

We will also be looking to commercialise the services that we provide, to add to the growing number of ways we are generating income to support our budget. I’ll be able to tell you more about that in the coming months. (more…)

So much achieved over past year

Let me start off by wishing you all a happy new year.

Early January is a great time for reflection and setting new goals or resolutions for the year ahead.

With that in mind, I thought I’d use this column to look back over the past 12 months.

The past year really has flown by, and I think that’s a sure sign that we’ve got on with business and achieved many of our goals.

One of my proudest moments of 2018 was seeing the opening of the council’s new office building at Fletton Quays.

Cutting cake at opening ceremony

Sand Martin House is a fantastic modern facility, which fully feels like home now to the many staff who moved across there in the late summer and autumn.

Fletton Quays continues to develop at pace, with building work continuing on high quality apartments, a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, leisure and retail offerings.

It’s on schedule to be finished in 2020 and once complete will show everyone that Peterborough is ready for business and investment.

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