Take action to save Peterborough from rising Covid-19 levels

This year we’ve seen residents across the city pull together on many occasions to help one another and to encourage others to follow the rules to reduce rates of the virus.

I strongly believe it is this sense of community spirit, which makes Peterborough such a great place to live and work, which has helped to keep our rates of the virus below many other places across the country.

It is this same spirit and determination that we need to see once again from our communities, with Coronavirus now spreading across Peterborough at the highest rate we have seen since the first lockdown.

Currently we are seeing more than 200 people per 100,000 infected with the virus and it’s affecting people across the whole city – all age groups and backgrounds. Worryingly, we are seeing more people over 60 catching the virus who are potentially at greater risk.

Unfortunately, quite a few people got infected in the week before lockdown started – going out to ‘beat the lockdown’.  This is understandable, but as we warned you at the time, it means we now have further to go to halt its progress. And because of this we all need to do more.

This week our Director of Public Health, Dr Liz Robin, issued a video blog urging people to take action now to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our health services. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it on our YouTube channel.

I will reiterate her advice, because we are now seeing more people in our hospital and they are sicker than they were before, so we need to work harder to prevent our figures from spiralling out of control.

You must:

  • Reduce contact with people outside of your own household to the absolute minimum, as this is how the virus is passed on.
  • Only leave home for essential reasons – to go to school, college or work if you cannot work from home, for medical or safety reasons, to get food and other essential shopping, or to provide care for others.
  • Work from home if at all possible.
  • Self-isolate if you test positive or are a contact of someone who is – there’s lots of support to help you do this, so there’s really no reason not to.

If we don’t take action now we risk more people getting sick and potentially dying – and not just from Coronavirus. The increased pressure on hospitals and health services will affect us all.

News of a potential vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel – but it will be months before it can help us all and we need to all make a final push for Peterborough now and stop Covid in its tracks.

A Virtual Christmas Switch-on

Normally at this time of year we’d be preparing to welcome thousands of people to the city centre for our Christmas lights switch on.

Our 40ft Spruce Christmas tree is already in Cathedral Square, but sadly the public switch-on cannot take place due to the pandemic.

However, residents can still get into the festive spirit with a virtual Christmas lights switch-on instead. The 15 minute pre-recorded event will be streamed online across our digital platforms on Wednesday 2 December at 7pm.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Community Radio presenter Kev Lawrence will once again be hosting the switch-on and there will be special appearances from local guests.

xmas switch on

Please don’t turn up to this event – it is being pre-recorded to avoid large crowds gathering.

Once Peterborough reopens, subject to government restrictions being lifted, there will also be fairground rides from 2 December as well as a Christmas craft market from 2-6 December.

POSH in Parliament

I was delighted last week to see the national spotlight shining on the council and Peterborough United Football Club in the Houses of Parliament no less.

During a parliamentary debate, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara highlighted the economic and health and wellbeing benefits of bringing spectators back to football grounds, even in a limited capacity, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

He also invited Nigel Huddleston MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to visit Peterborough, an offer he is very keen to take up.

posh logo

In addition, he said that opening the stadium – even in a limited way – would benefit the club in celebrating the life and career of Posh legend Tommy Robson.

Tommy, who made a record 559 first team appearances for the Posh, sadly passed away last month. Earlier this year he was given the Freedom of the City for his phenomenal contribution to the club, as well as his dedicated charity work.

We will continue to work closely with the football club and MP Vara to promote the many benefits that our much-loved football club delivers to the city.

We will also continue to work with the club to see what we can do locally to remember Tommy and his incredible achievements.

Temporary car park on former Northminster site

Finally, a reminder that our new temporary car park on the site of the former Northminster multi storey car park has opened to the public.

We’ve opened the car park to give residents, shoppers and businesses a helping hand in the run up to Christmas and are confident it will help the city centre to thrive once lockdown restrictions are eased.

As ever you can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward.

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…)

Hilton Garden Inn signals finishing touches to Fletton Quays

Yesterday I donned my high visibility vest and hard hat to see the first spade put in the ground at the site of the new Hilton Garden Inn hotel and apartments that are coming to Fletton Quays.

The renowned Hilton brand coming to Peterborough will give wonderful views across the city from its rooftop bar, including the river and Peterborough Cathedral. It is expected to be completed for us to enjoy by Spring 2022, with apartments being built alongside the hotel ready to move in by Summer 2022. The development has been brought about by the Peterborough Investment Partnership – which I chair – which attracts investment into the whole city.

As well as being a great place for us all to visit, it also signals the final finishing touches to Fletton Quays as a visitor destination. This development – and is the case with all new developments in our city – will provide not only short-term construction jobs, but additional long-term jobs and investment from the 100+ people who will be living in the apartments.

In addition, the beginning of construction has meant that the council has signed off on a £15million loan that will see the council make £500,000 in revenue, as we are able to access better interest rates than developers.

Our vision for Fletton Quays was to kickstart major development of a site that had laid bare for years and together with the Peterborough Investment Partnership we have done this, while continuing to boost our economy for years to come. (more…)

Plans move forward for new Posh stadium

This week, the city council and Peterborough United Football Club announced the next stage in the club’s plans to move its stadium from London Road to a more central location.

As part of a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the club and the city council this week, potential sites for its new home include the Embankment and other nearby sites in the Local Area Development Framework.

Regular readers of my column will know about our City Centre Development Framework and how we have ambitious plans to provide our city with the retail, leisure and culture that it needs for the next 50 years by attracting inward investment.

Just as a new University will boost our cultural offerings and a transformed train station with better pedestrian access into the city centre will improve our connectivity, a new stadium for the Posh would benefit our whole city.

Our shared vision is to create a new home for Posh that has everything it needs to sustain its playing at a higher level and to work its way through the leagues over the coming years. This new state-of-the-art stadium would also be designed to be used for conferences, concerts, exhibitions and events, which in turn will attract new business, tourism and investment to Peterborough.

Already the club brings in over £7million of revenue to our city each year, boosting our tourism, creating local jobs and improving the health and wellbeing of over 1,000 young people from our communities each week. A new stadium would only increase the benefits for city and residents.

We will now be working closely with the football club to find a suitable location and next steps to achieve this shared aim – watch this space for further updates!

Signing on the pitch

 

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Westcombe Engineering celebrated by city

Walking through the city centre yesterday, I met a resident I hadn’t seen for a long time who had spotted a video on our Facebook page about Westcombe Engineering.

Although she had lived in our city for most of her life, she wasn’t aware of just how much this social enterprise delivers back to our city, particularly in terms of its employment of disabled workers.

So, let me tell you a little about it – founded in 1970, Westcombe Engineering was set up to provide permanent employment and work experience for disabled people. All profits are reinvested back into the business and the local economy, with the aim of increasing the life chances of those living in Peterborough.

When it was set up, many expected it to only last a few years or so. However, nearly 50 years later the business has just announced an impressive 60 per cent growth in the last three years, led by its ability to diversify beyond its traditional diesel engine components market into new areas.

On top of this, it also won a regional business award for manufacturing in the last 12 months and in 2017, was included in the Parliamentary Review Publication, cited as a best practice example in the manufacturing industry.

Westcombe Engineering was always light years ahead of its time, but I don’t think even its founder would have predicted the global public demand for businesses to care more about their workforce, their community and increasingly their environment.

westcombe engineers

The video that went out on Facebook this week – which can be found on our Peterborough City Council channel – celebrated the business and its workers. It tells the story of among others, Darren who caught chicken pox as a child and had to have a section of his brain removed. Thanks to Westcombe, Darren is able to earn his own money and has his independence, which he is proud to say has given his life purpose.

If you haven’t seen the video it’s well worth a watch and if you have, please share it with someone else in our city. Westcombe is a credit to our community and has changed the lives of so many skilled and talented disabled people and their families. (more…)

Posh ground deal now a step closer to completion

Peterborough United is a club that is dear to my heart. I’ve been a fan for 56 years after being introduced to the club by my wife Barbara – it’s where we went on our first date!

So it was a great honour to walk onto the pitch on Saturday ahead of their second home game of the season against Ipswich Town, which they went on to dominate, before conceding an equaliser in the last moments.

Donning my trusty blue and white Posh scarf, I joined the owners of the club to sign a Heads of Terms agreement, which signals the final stages of sale of the ground back to the club, where it belongs.

Signing on the pitch

For those of you unaware of the history, back in 2009 the council bought the stadium and its surrounding land from a property developer to ensure its ownership stayed in the city.

Since then, the city council has unlocked the potential of the surrounding land, leading to the creation of the Allia Future Business Centre and the Vista carbon neutral development which is home to 295 households.

And there is more to come. When the stadium is returned back to the club – hopefully by the end of the year – the council will retain the London Road car park, which will be used to build 82 affordable city centre apartments, through the council’s Meadesham Homes partnership.

As well as generating some really good business and housing developments for this area of the city, the finances stack up as well.

The council has exceeded its expectations in terms of its return on investment from the sale, by generating a hefty £3.9million. Plus, the extra homes and businesses mean we will continue to collect £491,000 a year in business rates and a hefty £2million in council tax.

At a time when every penny counts in the council’s budget, this income is not to be sniffed at and represents a good deal everyone in our city.

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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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New schools and new starts

This September hundreds of children will start school for the first time and many more will make the jump from primary to secondary.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, we’ve once again faced huge pressure to meet a rising demand for school places.

In fact, as of the national offer days in April and May, we had offered 5,580 children a school place for September – that’s 132 more than last year.

Despite the increase, we were still able to provide the vast majority of children their first place school – 90.4 per cent for primary applications and 85.6 per cent for secondary – with 97 per cent offered one of their three preferred schools.

We’re able to achieve this success because of careful planning by our school admissions team and of course the investment we have made in schools in recent years – and continue to make – to increase the number of places.

We’ve extended and rebuilt schools across the city and new schools have opened in Cardea and Hampton in recent years so we can continue meeting the needs of our growing population.

Only last week the government announced it had approved applications for two new schools in PeterboroughManor Drive Academy at Paston Reserve which we’re progressing with the 4Cs Academy Trust, and a new Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided primary school at Hampton Waters. Both schools are targeted for opening in 2022, subject to further discussion with the Department for Education. It was really good news and a credit to those who worked on the applications when you consider that only 18 per cent of bids for funding were successful and we had two!

In 2017 the government also agreed to fund a new primary school at Paston Reserve. This along with the secondary school will cost in the region of £32million – money we would have to find if our bid had proved unsuccessful.

With demand for school places only going one way, we continue to plan to meet future demand.

Work starts on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes early next month – again funded by the government. Other projects are due to conclude over the summer, including extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary.

Regardless of the significant pressures on our budget, meeting the demand for school places is one pressure that we will always have to meet. And that’s not just because we have a legal duty to do so, but because the future success of our city is founded on the youngsters of today being offered a high standard of education in buildings that allow them to reach their full potential. (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…)

Stadium sale is great news for city

Just a week ago, I took part in a momentous announcement which was live streamed across four social media networks.

Of course, I’m speaking about the news that Peterborough United will buy back the Abax Stadium from the Council.

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two parties is a significant moment for the club and the city as a whole.

The MOU anticipates the sale to be finalised over the next six months and both the club and the council are committed to working together on this.

From a council perspective, I’m proud we were able to assist the club back in 2010 by buying the land surrounding the stadium to ensure its ownership stayed in the club which, in turn, secured the considerable contribution the club makes to the economy of the city.

The purchase unlocked the development of the area to create the Allia Future Business Centre where over 77 business have thrived. In addition the council has been able to secure one of the few zero carbon residential developments in the country on the Vista site as well as providing much needed affordable homes.

Now the club can move forward with developing the stadium as they look to gain promotion to the Championship.

I’m a Posh supporter myself and my wife Barbara and I went on our first date together at the ground just over 54 years ago, so the club means a lot to me and my family.

I’m sure this deal will help the club to make the progress that they and every single supporter so dearly desires as well as bringing new innovation to the area to support businesses, through the proposed Technology Accelerator – so all I can say is Up the Posh!!

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