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…)

Celebrating the Year of Reading

Reading is one of the most important skills that you can teach a child and will define how well they achieve educationally and throughout their whole lives.

Barbara and I would read to our children every day when they were young until they were old enough to read for themselves. Even then we would encourage them by buying books and taking them to the library, which I do now with my grandchildren.

The other morning on my way into work I listened to a report on the radio about the level of disadvantage experienced by a child at school if they have not been read to from a young age. Many of them will struggle more than children who have experience of reading and may never make up this delay in their learning.

In Peterborough reading levels are lower than the national average. I want that to change, and quickly, so that every child in the city has the same opportunities to share a love of reading. That is why we launched Vision for Reading last year with our partners at the National Literacy Trust, Vivacity and City College Peterborough.

The campaign asks everyone in the city – teachers, parents, businesses and others – to play their part in helping children to develop a lifelong love of reading which in turn will improve their life chances.

Boys reading books

As part of it we’re supporting parents to prepare their children for school by, for example, reading to them at home, we’re training reading buddies in schools who can read with children and we’re celebrating the Year of Reading which launches on 22 June.

Everyone is invited to attend the launch in Cathedral Square between 10am and 4pm where there will be storytelling, free books to take home, activities and more.

The event kicks off a year-long programme of events that will include The Space Chase summer reading challenge, Roald Dahl Day in September, writing competitions and story trails. You can find out more by visiting www.peterboroughcelebrates.org.uk.

The year will culminate with a striking trail of book-shaped benches across Peterborough created by schools, community groups and businesses in association with creative producers Wild in Art.

Whether you’re a parent, business owner, or teacher, please support our campaign to get every child in the city enjoying books from a young age. For our children it will lead to improved life chances and for our businesses it will mean a better qualified workforce of the future.

Raising reading levels will always be harder for us in Peterborough than for many other areas because of the number of different languages spoken in our schools and a higher than usual number of children starting and leaving school mid-year.

But it is a challenge that we must meet and together I believe that we can. (more…)

All in dual course – the roads to Peterborough’s success

One of the many aspects that makes Peterborough a great place to do business is our fantastic road system and proximity to cities such as London and Birmingham and the east coast ports.

It’s essential for businesses to have this kind of connectivity and it’s also important that our residents are able to get to work, school and go about their daily lives without being sat in congestion, whether travelling by car, bike or bus.

That is why we have spent millions of pounds in recent years upgrading our road network so that people can navigate our city with relative ease and why we are planning our transport system of the future.

I’m not saying we are congestion free, in this day and age with the number of vehicles on our roads that’s impossible, but at peak times you can travel from one end of our city to the other relatively quickly when compared to the likes of Cambridge and Coventry. At peak times I can get into Peterborough city centre from my home in Glinton within 20 minutes.

In recent years we’ve increased capacity at a number of locations, including the Fletton Parkway, junction 20 of the A47 with the A15 and junction 5 of the Frank Perkins parkway at Boongate. We’re currently working on the A15/A47 junction 18 to add an additional lane, road crossings, and to strengthen and repair the footbridge.

The Leader stands with colleagues on Rhubarb Bridge

Without these investments in our roads and crossings the city could not have grown the way it has in recent years, which has brought with it additional investment, jobs and housing.

Later this month I will be attending a reception at Parliament hosted by Brandon Lewis MP to support the campaign to dual another important route for our city, the A47 to Lowestoft.

This road joins the city with the east coast and is of national strategic importance, linking the Midlands with Eastern seaports and acts as an economic artery that runs through Peterborough.

Dualling the remaining sections would bring huge benefits, reducing journey times and congestion and supporting our vision to see more local economic growth.

This is just one of the projects we are supporting and leading to plan our transport system for the future to ensure our roads, bridges and crossings can cope with increasing levels of demand.

As part of this we are considering the possibility of having a rapid transport system here, such as underground or overground light rail, if the money was available to do so. This isn’t something we need now, but it might be in the future as the city continues to grow and develop.

We also have funding from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to investigate the potential for a number of other improvements including the Nene Parkway junction 15, dualling a short section of the A16 to unlock the Norwood development and a series of improvements to support the university on the Embankment.

If these schemes are recommended, we will then look to secure funding to make them happen, so that Peterborough can remain one of the easier to navigate cities in the UK. (more…)

Mental Health Week – Awareness and Support

There’s been lots in the news this week about mental health awareness and how we can all help people who might be suffering in silence.

As leader of the council I see examples all the time of the impact mental health problems can have on people’s lives, so I’m always pleased to see the issue being highlighted.

For example, our housing needs team regularly come into contact with people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness because their lives have been affected by mental health problems. Without support this can lead to relationship issues.

Our social workers support young people who are struggling to achieve their full potential, residents who are finding it hard to be good parents and adults who are struggling to lead independent lives. These challenges can often be a result of mental health problems.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the importance of talking about mental health is being emphasised – how listening cannot be underestimated, and how each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to someone’s life.

What always concerns me is that it is often not obvious when someone is suffering, in the way it is with a physical disability.

Many years ago I had an uncle who was affected by the war and his mental health suffered as a result. There was no support for him and he was never fully recovered.

Back then no one knew what to do – we didn’t even know what to call it. As a result, my uncle was partly ostracised, not because people didn’t care, but because they felt uncomfortable around him. On the rare occasions that anyone did talk about what had happened, my uncle was described as having ‘had a funny turn after the war’.

In the decades that passed, I’ve seen a shift in how people with stress, PTSD, anxiety and depression are treated. The fact these conditions now have names and people feel comfortable talking about them in their homes, the media and on the street shows you how far we have come. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)