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.

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.

(more…)

City centre to welcome café culture from Saturday

This Saturday, pubs, bars and restaurants in our city centre will begin to open again, along with many other places we have missed, such as hairdressers, cinemas and hotels.

Our vibrant city is blooming into life once again, which will help to protect our local economy, not only local businesses, but also the jobs of thousands of city residents who are employed in the service industry.

In the city centre, we expect roughly 50 per cent of pubs, bars and restaurants to open their doors. Others, understandably, will wait a little longer until they can make the necessary changes needed to their buildings to make social distancing a reality.

guildhall

You can rest assured the council will continue to work hard, along with Opportunity Peterborough and the combined authority to keep services going, residents safe and well and to keep the city moving.

Along with providing advice and guidance to businesses, we are also talking with them individually to give opportunities to extend outside their building to allow more tables and chairs on the street and in public places like Cathedral Square and Bridge Street.

By following the government’s advice and relaxing planning laws – where we can – we hope to introduce a café culture, similar to those you see in European cities which will make the most of the summer months. This will give businesses the space to situate tables further apart, without losing customers and we hope will provide residents with the confidence they need to feel safe.

I’ve spoken to many residents over the past couple of weeks, either on the phone, by email, or out on the street (while observing social distancing). I know many of you can’t wait for a refreshing pint in a pub beer garden, or a well-earned night away from the kids at your favourite restaurant.

However, I also know that there are many that feel a little more cautious about this ‘new normal’ and of venturing outside of your own locality.

If you do decide to come to the city centre over the coming weeks, we’ve put together some advice to help inform you on what to expect which is on our website.

My top tips would be to phone or research online to make sure that the bar, pub or restaurant you want to visit is actually open, and whether or not they are accepting bookings only and to walk or cycle if you are able.

Car parks will be open – council car parks will be free until 13 July – and to be aware that if you’re taking public transport or a taxi you may be required to wear a face covering. (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.

(more…)

Peterborough businesses on the increase

I was pleased to read in this newspaper recently that the number of newly registered companies in Peterborough was higher than anywhere else in the county.

New figures show that there were 1,295 business start-ups last year, bringing the total number of companies in the city to an impressive 7,160.

cowgate

That’s really good news and shows that our efforts, alongside our colleagues at Opportunity Peterborough, to position Peterborough as a great place to do business is paying off.

I see evidence of this frequently and only last week Coloplast opened a new £9million distribution centre which is a huge vote of confidence in the city.

Another city-based company operating globally, Photocentric Limited, has just been awarded £1.8million by the Combined Authority to create a flagship UK centre for 3D printing excellence.

I showed the Mayor of the Combined Authority, James Palmer, around the company, which designs and manufactures 3D printers and resins. We were both impressed at the level of expertise on show and the innovation taking place in our city.

Photocentric was founded in 2002 at Workspace House in Woodston with just one employee. Today, 18 years later, it employs 145 people in the city and 40 more in its US subsidiary in Phoenix, Arizona, with a current turnover of £11m. Photocentric has ambitious plans to double its turnover in 2020, exploiting its unique 3D printing technology.

We are at a crucial stage in Peterborough’s growth – we’re regenerating many key sites across the city centre including Northminster, the railway station and North Westgate and the new university is on track for a 2022 opening. Therefore, it’s important we continue to support businesses and position Peterborough as a premier location in the UK for ambitious businesses.

Opportunity Peterborough offers free of charge guidance, signposting and connections with knowledge and research centres for local businesses.

On the subject of Opportunity Peterborough, it’s hot off the press that they’ve been awarded £715,000, subject to state aid approval, to set up a smart manufacturing association as a joint venture with the Combined Authority. Manufacturing is one of the city’s biggest sectors – we’re home to giants like Caterpillar Perkins and Baker Perkins as well as smaller cutting-edge firms like Photocentric and Radical Sports Cars.

The association will help the sector stay at the cutting edge and really drive forward innovation. It’s an important part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economy too – manufacturing accounted for 13% of our area’s economic growth between 2010 and 2017. (more…)

Why we want St Michael’s Gate

On Monday we announced plans to purchase 72 homes on St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell.

It’s a decision we thought long and hard about, after being offered the chance to buy them by current owners Stef and Philips, but it’s one that makes complete sense financially and for the people of our city in housing difficulty and I will tell you why.

Firstly, it allows us to continue offering these homes as temporary accommodation to people in need for many years to come. The alternative would be more expensive bed and breakfast accommodation which doesn’t meet our aspiration to offer everyone their own front door. Since we agreed to lease the properties in 2016 we have been able to provide temporary accommodation to almost 400 families at St Michael’s Gate.

Secondly, it makes good financial sense and immediately saves the council money. Owning these properties rather than leasing them saves £600,000 a year. 

Thirdly, if we didn’t choose to buy these homes, someone else would. Perhaps another council with a housing shortage as severe as ours looking for somewhere to place their homeless families, or a developer wanting to redevelop the land.

I understand that councillor Shaz Nawaz, leader of the labour group, has commented about the fact we are paying above the valuation price for these properties. It is true, we are, but for the many good reasons stated above.

We respect and understand the valuation, but we also know that a property’s real value is in fact what someone will pay for it, and if we did not buy them another council would. In addition, if other councils were using these properties to house their homeless families, we would then be providing council services for all of these families, placing further burden on our already stretched budgets.

Councillor Nawaz has also recommended that we should have bought these properties back in 2016. I’ve got news for him – we never had the chance! The first we knew about them was when we were offered them for rental by Stef and Philips three years ago.

I am pleased to say that we are also setting aside money to install new windows for the residents. Over the past year we’ve made a variety of repairs and modernisations, including new boilers and heating systems in all homes, paid for by the Local Enterprise Advice Partnership (LEAP) fund. 

Providing enough homes for everyone in our city has been one of our biggest challenges in recent times, because of the steep and sudden rise in demand. But our homeless strategy is working – we no longer have to house homeless families out of the area and the number of families in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73

This has been achieved by working with hundreds of families at risk of homelessness – with the aim of keeping them in their own homes, by working with our partners to build hundreds of new homes, by buying 51 homes on the open market and by working with landlords to secure an additional 48 homes.

But if we don’t act now to purchase one of the largest sites used for temporary accommodation in the city, we risk losing the ground we have worked so hard to gain in recent times. (more…)

Sharing city’s secrets of success

Our city centre is a real source of pride for me. The work we’ve done in recent years has made it spacious and welcoming and I believe it’s never looked better.

The extensive transformation of Bridge Street through to Cathedral Square and Long Causeway has attracted significant new investment into the heart of our city.

We now have a vast array of new and attractive places for everyone to shop in, eat, have fun or just simply relax in.

And in case you’re thinking, ‘well, John would say that’ – it’s not just me who shares this view.

Last week, we received a phone call out of the blue from BBC Radio Kent, after its producer had visited Peterborough. He was thoroughly impressed with our city centre and described it as having a cafe culture look and feel, reminiscent of a European city.

cathedral square

He wanted us to talk on the radio station to share the secrets of our success, in the hope that these could be mirrored in Chatham.

Cabinet member councillor Marco Cereste spoke to the station on Monday about the work that we and our partners have done over the past decade to help revitalise the area.

He pointed out that ten years ago, the city centre would virtually shut down at 5pm and we have worked hard to inject some life into it after hours to attract more residents, visitors and businesses.

Not ones to be complacent, we’re currently in the process of setting up a Business Improvement District, which will help support and promote city centre shops.

All UK high streets have had a tough few years following the rise of online shopping, so please keep using them. For me, nothing beats browsing for an item in real life. (more…)

Sizable funding received from Central Government

This week we received three sizeable pots of money from Central Government.

Our bid for £1million to become an Integrated Pilot Area was successful. It will boost opportunities for young people, improve opportunities for work and continue to develop community cohesion.

We’ve also received £1.5million of funding to improve our roads after last year’s bashing from the ‘Beast from the East’.

Lastly, we’ve teamed up with eight local authorities and AgilityEco to secure £6.5million to install central heating for the first time in up to 1,500 homes, including those at St Michael’s Gate.

Not bad for just a week, let’s hope next week is the same!

(more…)

Westcombe’s a real success story

It gave me great pleasure this week to see Westcombe Engineering given national recognition in this year’s Parliamentary Review

The Parliamentary Review showcases best practice that has been seen in the public and private sector in the past year.

Westcombe Engineering has given disabled people in Peterborough active employment opportunities since it launched in 1970 and is one of the city’s big innovation success stories.

For those of you not familiar with the company, it’s a precision engineering specialist with a difference. As well as creating machined components for a wide range of industries, it also equips disabled workers with the skills needed to pursue careers in the wider economy

To give some context to its success, Westcombe Engineering has seen sales over the last two years rise by 40 per cent and it has significantly expanded its customer base.

This council-owned business is a great example of what companies can achieve when they place corporate social responsibility at the heart of everything they do.

Westcombe Engineering Parliamentary review

Rt Hon. David Curry (centre) with Andrew Lesiw and Elisa Bradley from Westcombe Engineering

Key to its success are its skilled, committed and loyal workforce, which gain as much from the business as what they bring to it. This two-way mutually beneficial relationship was something which was realised keenly by its founder, the late Royce W. Westcombe as the ideal business model and is why the business is being showcased as a national example of best practice.

At present it employs 20 people, 13 of which have disabilities, and it has a turnover in excess of £1.5 million.

(more…)