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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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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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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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…)

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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School promise a safe September

The first week of September is always a key time of year, seeing as it marks the start of the new school year and for many children the beginning of their education.

It may be a while since my school days, but I remember feeling excited to return to class after the long summer break and I’m sure pupils are looking forward to catching up with their friends, teachers and school staff.

As I said in last week’s column, the past year has been like no other for our schools. Everyone involved in education has had to adapt to an unprecedented situation and you have my sincere thanks for doing such a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances.

Having children back in the classroom is the best option for all concerned, giving them the chance to learn, develop and flourish.

back to school image

But I want to reiterate that our schools are safe places to return to and assure everyone that we have worked very hard in readiness for this week.

Over the summer, schools went through rigorous and detailed risk assessments, as well as clarifying how they could meet the ‘System of Controls’ – steps set out by government which a school must follow to minimise the number of contacts a pupil has during a school day.

Having worked through the assessments and put in place necessary measures to ensure adequate cleaning and ‘social bubbles’ can be adhered to, we are fully confident our schools are safe spaces.

But rest assured, we will never be complacent and will continue to thoroughly monitor the situation and adapt as needed. (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…)

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week

This week is Volunteers’ Week – the annual celebration of all the wonderful people who go above and beyond to help others.

Volunteers really are the backbone of our city and support people to an extent which many will never appreciate. Charities, support groups, leisure attractions such as Nene Valley Railway – none of these would be able to meet the demand they do without an army of loyal volunteers.

But in recent weeks the coronavirus pandemic has shone an even brighter light on these volunteers, including the many who have so willingly signed up to help others during these most difficult times.

There are hundreds of people across our city who are supporting people who are in need, collecting medicines and food and doing other good deeds. In Castor and Ailsworth in my ward, five residents got together and set up a COVID-19 support group and recruited more than 80 volunteers in just five days. That’s an incredible achievement.

There are well established networks too which have had to call on even more support from volunteers to meet demand. Peterborough Foodbank has long been supported by a dedicated group of volunteers, but the service has recruited an additional 80 volunteers to help it cope with a 98% increase in the numbers of people being fed compared with the same time last year.

Our support for people who are most in need through the Peterborough COVID-19 Support Hub could not have been delivered without volunteers. Many are providing emotional support for people struggling with isolation, whilst others are collecting and delivering food and medicines or supporting organisations such as Family Voice by packing and delivering food parcels.

Even now as restrictions begin to ease, the work of the volunteers remains vital. For example, to begin re-opening our city in a manner that is safe, volunteers will be taking up marshalling and information support roles, ensuring that the crucial social distancing and safety measures are adhered to.

And as people continue to shield from the virus, the volunteers supporting the Countywide Coordination Hub will be vital to ensure this group of people has the support it needs.

pboro hub pic

So please, if you know someone who is volunteering, take time to show them how much you appreciate their efforts this week.

This evening I will be joining (virtually!) Acting Police and Crime Commissioner, Ray Bisby, for a Clap for Volunteers at 8pm in support of the invaluable contributions our volunteers continue to make to support people during Covid-19. Please join in too.

You can also share your thanks on social media using #ClapforVolunteers and #PboroTogether

Update on social distancing measures

The lockdown measures have been reduced further this week, with people now allowed to meet in groups of up to six people in outdoor settings, including gardens, whilst maintaining social distancing of 2 metres.

It comes as a relief to people like my wife Barbara and I, who have longed to be able to spend time with our children and grandchildren.

People who are shielding from the virus have also been told that they can go outdoors with members of their own household, or if they live alone, with one other person from another household who is isolating.

And of course, children in reception and years 1 and 6 were able to return to school and early years settings this week across many parts of the city. I would like to thank every school and early years setting for the extensive efforts they have gone to in order to make this return as smooth and safe for the children as possible.

We have also seen the launch of NHS Test and Trace which, in theory, will allow us to track every case of the coronavirus to thwart its spread in our communities.

The more people who use this system correctly, the more effective it will be at stopping the spread of the virus and the safer it will be for you and your loved ones and the faster we can lift the lockdown. So please use it.

More information about how the system works and what we need you to do is available at www.peterborough.gov.uk. Alternatively, if you develop symptoms, please call 119.

Online Booking system for Household Recycling Centre

When the Household Recycling Centre at Fengate reopened last month, I promised I would review the situation for vans and trailers as soon as possible.

So, I am pleased to say that on Wednesday we reopened the site to vans and trailers, however visits need to be booked in advance at www.peterborough.gov.uk.

HRC fengate

The online booking system is a temporary measure and will allow us to stagger access for these vehicles throughout the day, limiting queues and ensuring continued access to everyone who needs to make an essential visit.

You can rest assured the council will continue to work hard to keep its residents safe and well and to keep the city moving.