Please stay safe over Christmas and New Year

When I heard the news on Saturday that Peterborough had been placed into Tier 4 restrictions by the government I was deeply saddened.

I always aim to be a glass half full person, looking for the positives in any situation and it’s been tough to do this of late.

However, with the vaccine rollout continuing there is hope for the future and by following the national guidance there is a chance life could return to normal by next spring.

But in the meantime, I can’t emphasise enough how vitally important it is for everyone to follow the rules and stay safe over the Christmas and New Year period.

The new restrictions have been brought in following rapidly increasing levels of infection in Peterborough, which could be a result of the new variant of the disease seen across London and the south east of England.

The new variant is up to 70 per cent easier to catch, however, there is currently no evidence that the virus leads to worse outcomes than other variants or that the vaccine won’t be successful in immunising people against it.

For anyone still unsure about the new restrictions, Tier 4 rules are similar to the first lockdown restrictions, meaning that non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms/leisure and entertainment venues have to close and people should only travel for essential reasons such as work, education or essential shopping.

On top of this, you must reduce your contact with anyone outside your household /support bubble to the absolute minimum. Now I fully understand that sacrificing a traditional Christmas with family and friends will be devastating for many, but I must urge you to do so to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and for the greater good.

It’s also important to be even more rigorous about observing the ‘hands, face, space’ rules that we are all familiar with.

The Tier 4 restrictions are explained fully on the government’s website here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home

We appreciate that this will be 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.

One thing that has lightened all the darkness this year has been the heart-warming way our communities have pulled together to support one another.

There have been so many great examples of people going the extra distance to help those in need that it would be impossible to mention them all here.

Numerous groups, individuals, businesses and organisations across the city have worked tirelessly to make a real difference.

Sometimes it’s the little things that count, like having someone to talk to and making sure you can get everyday essential items. In ‘normal times’ we took these things for granted but the virus has reminded us how important they are.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has leant a helping hand and please, if you can, continue this sterling work to help get us through the weeks ahead.

The pandemic has also shone a light on our council’s services, emphasising the key role they play in supporting residents with their lives.

Again, there are simply too many to highlight here, but special mention to our refuse and recycling crews – our “heroes in high vis jackets” as I like to call them, our school staff, teachers and pupils and our highways and maintenance teams.

So many of our residents are key workers – doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, supermarket workers and many, many other professions – and they all deserve special praise for their efforts this year. If you are having to work this festive period whilst many of us are at home, then thank you.

I wish you all a peaceful and happy Christmas. Keep safe and remember online and outside is the safest way to spend time with people.

As always you can rest assured we will continue to work to keep you safe and keep the city moving forwards.

It has of course been a desperately tough year for local businesses and my praise goes out to everyone involved.

As a council we’re fully committed to doing everything we can to support local firms and we’re reminding them that they can apply for grants of up to £3,000 per month to help compensate for having to close during November’s national lockdown and now whilst the city is in tier 4.

To find out if your business is eligible and for more information about the grants visit Peterborough City Council’s website – https://www.peterborough.gov.uk/healthcare/public-health/coronavirus/national-lockdown-grant-scheme.

Finally, I wish you all a peaceful and happy Christmas. If you are having to work whilst many of us are at home, then thank you.

I also wish you a healthy and happy start to 2021 and remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel next year. (more…)

Embankment joins other sites in future growth of Peterborough

As regular readers will know, there is much to be excited about in terms of plans for future growth in Peterborough.

Fletton Quays, North Westgate, the Station Quarter, Northminster and other city centre locations are all set to be transformed over the coming years.

I’ve been in local government for over 40 years and I can honestly say that our current regeneration plans are the most ambitious we’ve had since the Development Corporation way back in the 1960s.

Another area we are working to enhance is the Embankment and this week announced that we are moving forward with the production of a Masterplan, showcasing the 90-acre site as a year-round destination.

The development will include the new university campus, a proposed new stadium for Peterborough United, retention of assets such as the Lido, Key Theatre and open green spaces for leisure and recreational use.

embankment map

It will open up the city’s river frontage making it a destination in its own right, with the installation of a new pedestrian footbridge to Fletton Quays, subject to funding, and improving the use of open green space along the whole stretch of the river.

Last week I addressed delegates at an Investors Conference about our future plans. It was a really positive event and highlighted everything that Peterborough has going for it.

For example, did you know that over the last Century, Peterborough saw the second highest rate of jobs growth of any UK city and our enterprising population has seen the business start-up rate consistently ranked amongst the top 20 cities in the UK over the last 10 years?

There are over 7,000 businesses operating here, the A1 is on our doorstep, and we will soon be able to go direct to London King’s Cross in less than 40 minutes, a great benefit for commuters and shoppers alike!

On top of that, the city boasts a £30 million full-fibre network installed by CityFibre that reaches nearly every home and business premises.

Peterborough is growing fast, and we want it to remain a city where people and businesses can realise their ambitions. These plans will unlock even more potential within our city, creating a refreshed and welcoming environment where people want to live, work, and visit. (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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City centre ready to begin welcoming back shoppers

This week I’ve got more exciting news about the re-opening of our city centre from Monday following a relaxation of the government’s lockdown restrictions.

The city council has been working hard with the Combined Authority, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough Positive over the past few weeks to give businesses the support and guidance they need to re-open confidently, and in a way that’s COVID-safe.

I know many of you will be delighted that the city centre is opening up again, while others will be a bit more cautious about venturing out. That’s why we’re putting lots of measures in place to help keep you safe, like pop-up cycle lanes, wider pavements, more street cleaning, floor and bench markings which show you how to keep a safe distance from others, and we’ll be continuing free parking in all council-owned car parks until the end of June.

Bridge street

And to welcome you back to the city, a number of our Covid-19 coordination hub volunteers are giving up their free time to act as volunteer marshals for the first week – supported by council officers. They’ll be on hand to guide you through the new measures, but more importantly they’re there to make your shopping trip a happy and safe one.

You can see all the details of the changes taking place in the city centre on our website and we’ll be sharing tips and advice on our social media pages. This will include things like checking in advance that the shops you want to visit are open, avoiding peak times of 11am to 2pm, walking and cycling if travelling short distances and reminders to wear a face covering on public transport.

Please share this information with your friends and family who may be planning a visit, especially those who don’t have access to the internet.

By shopping local you will be supporting our great city businesses, protecting local jobs and helping our economy to bounce back from the pandemic. (more…)

Peterborough pulls together for Mental Health Awareness Week

The past couple of months have been difficult for us all and I think it’s fair to say that most of us have suffered mentally through not being able to see family and friends and to socialise in the many ways we are used to doing.

For young people and those with pre-existing mental health conditions it has been particularly hard. Research carried out by Young Minds found that 83% of young people have said the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse.

This is really worrying and provides even greater reason for us to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and to talk about mental health and how we can all support one another better.

Throughout this week people are being asked to celebrate acts of kindness in their own lives and communities and to create a few more.

Every day I hear about kind acts taking place across our city – the pandemic has truly brought out the best in many people who are using their time to ensure others are safe and well.

Many of these stories come via our Peterborough COVID-19 Support Hub, run by the city council, which is assisting groups and organisations to help those in need, as well as supporting people directly to access food and medicine and in many other ways.

pboro hub pic

For example, Peterborough Asylum and Refuge Community Association (PARCA) received a request for emergency food for a family of four recently. Moez Nathu, CEO of PARCA, delivered the emergency food within a couple of hours of the request being made.

The Peterborough Foodbank, which has been doing fantastic work in our city for many years, has recently recruited an additional 80 volunteers to keep up with demand from those who need help accessing food during the pandemic. All these people are giving their time for free to help those most in need.

Just last week an urgent call came into the city council’s hub from a lady who needed medication for her son that evening. The call was received at 5pm and by 5.40pm SERV, a local bikers group, had delivered the medication to the family.

It’s these kinds of examples that make me proud to live and work in Peterborough.

If you need help from the Peterborough Hub, please visit www.peterborough.gov.uk/coordinationhub or call 01733 747474, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Lots of information and advice around mental health is available at www.keep-your-head.com. In response to the pandemic, the Lifeline helpline, a free mental health support service, has increased its hours so people can call 0808 808 2121 and receive help between 9am and 11pm Monday to Friday and 2pm to 11pm on weekends and Bank Holidays. (more…)

All eyes on Peterborough as by-election approaches

With the by-election for the Peterborough parliamentary seat taking place next Thursday the national spotlight is firmly on our great city.

So it’s no surprise that I’m taking calls from national journalists, who being London-centric, want to find out more about Peterborough and have looked to me to enlighten them.

And I have enjoyed doing so as it’s allowed me to promote our city on a national stage and to show what a great place it is to start or relocate a business or family, or to visit for a day trip or an overnight stay.

If I had a pound for every time someone told me they visited the city ten years ago and how much it has changed for the better in that time I would be a rich man. But the reality is that it has.

Our city centre has been transformed, with new and regenerated areas for people to sit and watch the world go by, new shops and restaurants. On a sunny day, like we had last week, Cathedral Square comes alive and with the iconic cathedral and the Guild Hall too it’s a fantastic place to spend time. The redevelopment of Fletton Quays, one of the most prestigious riverside developments in the country, is on target and there are firm plans in place to transform North Westgate.

Cathedral square

We have new businesses launching and expanding all the time creating. In 2017/18, the latest figures we have, 4,575 new jobs were created in the city, meaning our unemployment rate is below the national average.

We are supporting house building in every quarter of the city to give us enough homes of every kind to support our residents and those wanting to move here. We’ve rebuilt or expanded every secondary school in the city.

Our road and rail links mean that we are well connected to London, Birmingham, many of the airports – you can now commute to London within 39 minutes.

Of course, growth on the scale we are seeing brings its challenges – it is these challenges that many of the candidates standing in the by-election next week are mentioning on the doorstep.

Many of these issues – poverty, not enough housing for those in need to name just two, could all be helped if we received a proper level of funding from government.

We are having to do so much more with less money – as the fifth fastest growing city in the country with the sixth highest birth rate, that’s no small task.

But as I said in last week’s column, we will continue to keep a close eye on the areas where we know our residents say they need us the most, ensuring that our most vulnerable residents are protected and supported, but also ensuring that our city provides everyone with the opportunity to achieve their goals.

Whoever wins the Peterborough by-election and represents half of our city in Parliament, we need them to understand the huge financial challenges that we face and how they can support us in campaigning for additional funding.

So when you are voting next week, think not about the party the person represents, but about the person that is best for Peterborough and building a better future.

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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!

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Bowled over by a great summer

This week sees the start of the new school year and although we’re still enjoying high temperatures, autumn is fast approaching.

I think this summer has been one of the best in recent times with prolonged warm weather and lots of fun-filled activities across the city.

This weekend saw two more fantastic events take place – the classic car and vintage vehicle festival and a community fun day in Central Park.

The car show was once again a great success with hundreds of people flocking to the Embankment to admire the many shining chassis and wheeled wonders on display.

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School place planning paying off

This week saw youngsters starting primary school in September receive confirmation of their place, which is always an important and exciting time for children.

The good news is that the vast majority of pupils will be attending their first preference school – out of the 2,821 applications 91 per cent have been offered their first choice.

In total, 98 per cent of pupils were offered one of their three preference primary schools, which is tremendous.

This achievement has been made possible thanks to continued good planning by our Education team, who have worked to create thousands of new school places to keep up with the city’s rapid population increase over the past decade.

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In position to deal with challenges

Last Wednesday night saw our budget for the next financial year and proposed 5.99 per cent council tax rise (including an Adult Social Care precept of three per cent) approved at full council following debate.

As I have previously stated, due to substantial cuts in funding from central government we are in a position where we have to make difficult decisions.

However, we have worked hard to ensure that vital frontline services such as adult and child social care, waste disposal, libraries, winter gritting, trading standards and prevention and enforcement are maintained.

The decisions that were made around the budget in this meeting will ensure we are in a good position to deal with the financial challenges that will come our way throughout 2018/19 and beyond.

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