Businesses – please get in touch if you’re struggling

I don’t think it will be a great surprise if I confess that this third national lockdown is really testing many city residents, myself included.

It’s the start of a New Year which is normally the time for celebrating and looking ahead, but all our lives have been affected by the virus and many things we love doing remain on hold.

One of the many devastating aspects of the pandemic has been the affect on businesses and the uncertainty they face. I regularly speak with local business owners so I know how tough things have been and how hard they are working in difficult conditions.

As a council we are committed to helping businesses and I’m immensely proud that we have distributed over £35.5million in business grants and £41million in business rates relief since the start of the pandemic, with more to come during this latest lockdown.

stacks of coins

Around 2,800 city businesses have benefited from the extra cash, which has been used for everything from paying the rent, to investing in PPE and future proofing their business for a Covid-19 world.

This week the PT spoke to Kai from PKai hair salons in Hampton and Westgate. He told the newspaper that his business wouldn’t have survived without this essential Government funding and that the application to the council was straight forward and quick to receive.

If you are a business that’s struggling financially due to Covid-19, please do get in touch with us and we can check if you meet the eligibility criteria set out by the Government.

You can find out more about the grants scheme on our website.

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Council’s new homes target exceeded

As regular readers will be aware, I take great pride in the recent development of our city and our ambitious regeneration plans which will ensure we continue to grow bigger and better.

We are one of the fastest growing cities in the country – ample proof that Peterborough is a place people want to come to live and work in.

Our rapid growth presents challenges, arguably the biggest of which is ensuring enough homes are being built to cope with demand.

I’m pleased to say that the number of new homes built in Peterborough in the past year has exceeded the targets we set ourselves.

In total 1,145 new homes were built in the city between April 2019 and March 2020, well above our local plan target of 942.

Delivering good quality housing is key to our vision for making Peterborough an even better place for us all to live, work and relax.

It also reinforces the confidence we and others have in our city and will go a long way in attracting increased investment from developers, retailers and the government.

This comes alongside the regeneration of Fletton Quays, the multi-million redevelopment of Queensgate Shopping Centre including a multi-screen Empire Cinema and plans for a new university in 2022 to boost the economic prosperity of our young.

As I always say, Peterborough’s time is now and there so much for us to look forward to.

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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…)

Peterborough – overcoming challenges together

At the time of writing this column I am preparing for a meeting of Full Council where we are due to sign off our first set of budget proposals for 2020/21.

As I have said many times, this year is remarkable because of the very severe financial challenge that we face, but it is also remarkable for another reason – for the support we have received from organisations across the city wanting to help us to continue providing services.

I have been impressed by how our partners in the voluntary sector in particular have not only understood our challenges, but have stepped up to help us.

KingsGate Community Church for example, one of the faith groups who partner together to run Peterborough Foodbank and Carezone, providing furniture and white goods for families in crisis.

Take a look at the council’s social media pages today and you will see a video that we have published showing the excellent work of the volunteers at the church.

After publishing our budget proposals in October, KingsGate got in touch and offered to work with us to be able to remove all council funding for the services they provide from April 2021.

We are very grateful to Kingsgate for providing an incredibly important service to our communities, helping those in the greatest need to end the cycle of poverty.

Other organisations too have shown their support. Age UK has agreed to a reduction in funds for some services and Vivacity will be working with us to further reduce its reliance on council funding. (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…)

Extra funding secures Peterborough’s bright future

In last week’s column I spoke about the urgent need for an uplift in our government funding to allow us to continue meeting the growing needs of our residents.

In the space of three days we received two announcements about millions of pounds of extra funding that could be coming our way for things like schools, care for the elderly and regeneration.

I’d like to say that the government is an avid reader of the Peterborough Telegraph and responded directly to my column, but in reality I think it’s the result of persistent pleas from this council and many others across the country for urgent recognition of the desperate funding shortages in local government. 

In the Spending Round announced in Parliament last Wednesday we learned that extra money will be provided for education, adult social care and homelessness – in all these areas we have seen huge rises in demand. 

The number of people reporting to us as homeless in particular rose by 43 per cent in 2016/17 and has continued to rise ever since. We’re doing lots to meet this challenge – buying our own homes, partnering with Cross Keys Homes on a joint venture to build homes and working with landlords to make more homes available for rent, but we desperately need more funding to meet the growing need.

We’re yet to know exactly how much extra we will receive in each area, but for education we expect to see an additional £2.9million for schools. This is great news, but of course schools will need to factor pay increases and inflation into that which reduces the net gain. We also expect to receive in the region of £2.4m to provide education for children with special educational needs.

Then on Friday we received further good news from the government that we are one of a number of areas chosen to bid for funding of up to £25million from the New Towns fund.

It’s a further example of how our behind the scenes lobbying is starting to pay off, with recognition that we are growing without the investment to back it up.

The government has said it wants the money to be used to boost our economic growth prospects, with a focus on transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture.

We’ll now be working together with partners to put together our bid, but we won’t be starting from scratch. We already have plans in place which this money could be used for, to accelerate our planned growth in future years. For example, we are already on track to be the third Gigabit city, this money could take this even further. Plans are also progressing at a pace now for a Peterborough University – a funding boost could help us to deliver more and quicker.

It’s heartening to know that our pleas are being heard, but I will continue to lobby those in Westminster so that Peterborough is at the forefront of their minds when allocating additional funding in the future.
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In support of the #CouncilsCan campaign

If you follow the council on social media then you might have spotted that we supported the Local Government Association’s #CouncilsCan campaign to highlight the breadth of services we provide for residents and the urgent need for certainty in our government funding.

Council services touch the lives of everyone – for some it might be their weekly bin collection or trip to the library or sports centre, for others it might be the care package they receive which allows them to remain living at home or the intervention of social workers which has protected a child from harm.

On Monday, councils across the country sent a very clear message to the government that with financial certainty, #CouncilsCan continue to support and build thriving communities.

In the past decade we’ve continued providing the services that matter to local people, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding and an unprecedented rise in demand for services. 

We’ve done this by becoming more commercial, managing demand better and being more innovative in the way we provide services.

We make £72million every year through investments, sharing of services, fees and charges and other means – that’s 17.5 per cent of our total budget. For example, every year we generate £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy-from-waste plant and we share our planning and trading standards expertise with other councils, bringing in £4million annually.

On the demand front, we support many adults and older people to use technology and adaptations at home. This is great for the resident as it helps them to stay in the home they know and love, but it’s beneficial for the council too, and the taxpayer, as it avoids a more costly care home placement. We’re also working more closely with people at the first stage of housing difficulty to support them to remain living in their own homes.

We’re also running services more innovatively. For example we’re transferring responsibility for community centres across to community organisations with the skills to run them on our behalf, thus ending our financial liability for them. Our libraries are another example – when other councils have had to close libraries, all of ours have remained open and for more hours, despite a reduction in the overall budget, thanks to new technology.

As these examples demonstrate, we are a well-run and ambitious council. But with demand continuing to rise, in 2020/21 we need to find in the region of £25m of savings to deliver a balanced budget and build a bridge to continued financial security.

Next month we will publish a first set of budget proposals for consultation which I will let you know about when I am able to. In the meantime, I assure you that we are leaving no stone unturned in our quest to meet next year’s challenge to be able to continue providing vital services for our residents. (more…)

Work continues on 146 new Peterborough homes

Over the past year we have seen a 56 per cent rise in the number of families who present themselves to the council as homeless.

This mirrors national trends publicised by the homeless charity Shelter that one in every 200 households in the UK does not have a place to call their home, a shocking figure that is difficult to get your head around in this day and age.

This is an absolute priority for us and regular readers will know that I have made a personal commitment to do everything in my power to help families back into stable long-term accommodation.

Every Monday morning I meet with key officers to find out how the situation has changed in the city on a weekly basis and what we are doing to address this.

Through our approach of building, buying and working with landlords we are now starting to see the fruits of our efforts, with additional affordable rented homes becoming available across the city.

We now have 43 private properties sublet to us by private landlords and we’ve just finished buying an additional 50 homes across the city, the majority of which now have families living in them.

And more good news is on the way. Last week the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority pledged to spend more than £6 million in the city to build 146 new affordable homes in three sites – next to the Werrington Centre in Staniland Way, in Crowland Road, Eye Green and on Drakes Avenue in Peterborough.

Leader at Medesham building site

Last week, I joined Councillor Steve Allen, the council’s cabinet member for housing to take a closer look at the Crowland Road, Eye Green site, which is being built by Medesham Homes.

Brickwork has now finished, and the site is ready for decorators, electricians and plumbers teams to swoop in to get the 35 homes habitable and ready to welcome their first residents by Christmas.

Seeing as the planning permission was only approved in February this year, that’s pretty good going!

I’d like to thank all those involved in getting these homes up so quickly and playing their part in helping get a further 35 families into affordable, decent homes.

As Deputy Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority I’ve campaigned hard for this additional investment. In total, Peterborough has received £9.85 million and we are halfway towards our target of creating an additional 2,000 affordable homes by 2021.

We remain committed to reaching this figure by any means necessary, working with our housing providers to explore all options, including setting up a Housing Revenue Account – a return to council housing. As always, I will keep you updated on our progress and the positive impact this will have on homeless families across our city.

Peterborough No. 1 for commitment to renewable energy

Following on from last week’s Full Council meeting in which we declared a climate emergency in Peterborough, I was pleased to see the city has been ranked No.1 for its commitment to renewable electricity in a recent report.

The UK Powerhouse quarterly economic report places the city at No.1 in terms of the number of solar panels placed on homes since 2017 per head of population, with a whopping 12 per cent or 9,100 residents investing in this form of renewable energy.

City Market continues to trade

Last week the council was forced to close the Northminster car park due to a possible risk to public safety – something we take extremely seriously.

If the second report confirms initial views on the car park’s structural condition, we will need to make the difficult decision to either repair or demolish it.

But whatever the news on the car park is, I want to reassure you all that the City Market remains open for business and will continue to trade.

City market trading

We are working closely with those who run the market and if it becomes too difficult for them to operate from the current location, we will find it a different home and will make sure that any change of location is really well communicated.

There are some great stalls and traders in our City Market and I would encourage you to make a visit, particularly if you haven’t been for a while, and see what you might have been missing.

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…)

Advancements in affordable housing

You may have seen in the media at the weekend that young adults are half as likely to own a home now as they were 20 years ago.

The claim was made by the Local Government Association in a report titled Understanding the Local Housing Market, which warns that many young people face renting into retirement as high rents hinder their ability to save.

It is a problem, which is why we work closely with housing associations and home builders to achieve a good mix of new housing in the city, including affordable homes to buy and rent.

In the past five years 5,328 new homes have been completed in Peterborough, with 1,074 of these affordable. Housing associations have provided an additional 150 homes for affordable ownership and rent, with a further 252 anticipated in the current financial year.

Only last week Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority approved funding of £1.2 million to acquire a 5.1 acre site in the north of the city for around 60 homes, with 30 per cent of these affordable.

The combined authority has also agreed funding of £735,000 to convert 21 new homes from open market sale to affordable rent at Belle Vue in Stanground. It’s the second site to be developed by Medesham Homes, the joint venture partnership between the council and Cross Keys Homes.

In May, the city council agreed to provide almost £6.2million to Medesham Homes, funded from Right to Buy receipts, to deliver 35 new affordable homes at Eye Green.

These projects are all really encouraging and are part of a long term plan to deliver homes across the city for everyone, whether it’s for the private sector, social rent, shared ownership or private rental.

The city council has also invested £10million for the purchase of homes off the open market for use as temporary accommodation for families who are homeless and awaiting permanent re-housing. So far we’ve purchased 51 properties and anticipate being able to buy a further eight.

Our city continues to grow faster than many other parts of the country with significant levels of growth and housing experienced in the past ten years. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of this slowing down, so it’s important that our efforts to create new housing don’t either.

Continuing the A47 dualling campaign

Last week I attended a reception at Parliament hosted by Brandon Lewis MP, along with the Mayor of Cambridgeshire James Palmer and businessman Rob Facer of Barnack Construction, to support the campaign to dual the A47 between Peterborough and 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.

At the meeting I made sure I represented Peterborough’s interests and explained that dualling the sections on our patch would bring huge benefits, reducing journey times and congestion and supporting our vision to see more local economic growth.

Future road proposals

In further good news, the combined authority has agreed to include two Peterborough road schemes on its list of priorities. This list is then shared with the government for a decision on funding.

The two projects are access to the new university site on The Embankment and linking the A47 better with Eastern Industry, taking the pressure off Eye and Parnwell.

Congratulations to Safer Off the Streets!

The city’s Safer Off the Streets partnership is celebrating this week after winning a regional award at the Britain and Ireland Awards, organised by Premier Christian Radio.

The partnership, which scooped the ‘Best Start-Up’ category, helps on average two rough sleepers to leave the streets a month since it began in October last year and has raised a whopping £8,000 for charity.

SOS receiving their award

I know many of you, myself included, have donated money either online or via the contactless card reader in St Peter’s Arcade, the money goes towards the running of the Garden House in the cathedral grounds.

The Garden House is run by the Light Project Peterborough – which also won an award – and does a fantastic job of creating a welcoming environment for rough sleepers thanks to its kind-hearted volunteers.

Another of the scheme’s partners, Care Zone, which operates out of Kingsgate Community Church, also won an award at the ceremony, which is a great achievement.

I’d like to say a massive well done to all those involved in the Safer Off the Streets partnership and to the Light Project for their efforts over the past nine months. Next stop is the national awards, let’s put Peterborough on the map for the right reasons!

Council newsletter

Finally, did you know the council now sends a e-newsletter to residents every week? It includes a link to my blog and other important news about the council. You can sign up at www.peterborough.gov.uk.