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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Applauding our NHS staff and key workers

Last week people across the country stood on their doorsteps and gave a round of applause for NHS staff who are working tirelessly to help those suffering from the effects of the Coronavirus, or indeed other conditions or illnesses.

I have always had a huge amount of respect and admiration for our NHS and consider it to be one of the best health services in the world. We are now seeing this, day in, day out.

For me, the pandemic has also shone a light on the services that we provide which residents need and rely upon in times of crisis as much as they do every other day of the year. Care for the elderly, support for children in care, bin collections and burial services are just a few examples of those services which we have no choice over providing – see my vlog for more on this.

Our adult social care staff are playing a crucial role in helping the elderly and vulnerable adults to stay safe in their own homes, particularly those who are self-isolating, providing personal care and assistance.

Last week they supported 65 people out of hospital and back into the community, freeing up beds at the hospital. Home care plans and packages have been put in place for each person so that they can recuperate at home and regain their independence.

Our housing team continues to support rough sleepers in the city and has provided self-contained accommodation for every vulnerable rough sleeper to allow them to self-isolate.

Council staff, working in partnership with the British Red Cross, are preparing and delivering parcels of food and emergency supplies for the most vulnerable who are shielding from the Coronavirus. The Government has promised that a national food distribution scheme will be up and running very soon, but until then we’re ensuring that those residents who need food, medicine and emergency supplies are looked after.

If you are at home and shielding because of serious health or medical conditions and we have not been in touch, please contact us via our website or on 0345 045 5219.

Our co-ordination hub, which I told you about last week, continues to target support for those most at risk. If you’re someone who wants to help, but aren’t necessarily sure how, then please visit our website and register your interest.

I know that many people appreciate the efforts made by council officers such as those I have mentioned – there are many more I have not name checked.

It made me smile to learn that residents have been leaving messages of support on their wheelie bins for our Aragon Direct Services bin collection crews! These staff cannot work from home and they know the service they provide is vital.

thank you bin notes

I would like to put my own thanks on record, for every council staff member who is working around the clock to keep people safe and well and informed, for every NHS worker, every police officer, every supermarket staff member and for each and every person who is working together to get us through this most testing time.

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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…)

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.

Council keen to keep links open

Listening to residents and acting on their concerns is a crucial part of the role for the city council’s cabinet, not least during the consultation period on our annual budget proposals.

Yes, we are having to make tough decisions on some services due to a severe cut in Government funding, but we will always try to do our best to meet the needs of the community when they approach us for support.

In the case of Bretton Water Park, I am delighted that a solution has been agreed to prevent us from having to close the facility.

Vivacity have offered to run this popular facility during the summer months and the organisation is ideally placed to do this as they also look after a number of other leisure and sports sites in the city.

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Election results have caused me a few headaches

When you’ve been a councillor for as long as I have, there are few things in the world of politics that shock you.

Even though I wasn’t surprised by last week’s election results, it’s fair to say it has caused me a few headaches. No doubt the same can be said for our Prime Minister!

Losing the East ward by-election means the Conservatives do not have a majority on the Council. We still have more seats than any other party, but collectively all those other members added together outnumber my group by one.

This means that there will have to be a special meeting of the council next Tuesday, called an extraordinary meeting because it’s outside of the usual schedule. This will be to discuss the number of councillors from each political party that sit on our committees, so that they are proportionate to the balance of councillors.

As I said in my speech to annual council last month, I want to do all of this working collaboratively across the council with all political groups. This is something I have done throughout my political career and something that comes naturally to me to get the best result for the city and our residents.

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Selective Licensing will help us tackle rogue landlords

Something that I believe will make a noticeable difference to our city over the coming years is the introduction of a selective licencing scheme.  As you know we went out to consultation on new proposals in October and it comes to an end today.

Designed to protect vulnerable tenants in our city and support good landlords, the scheme will require property landlords in a number of city wards to apply for a licence.

As part of the consultation we held a number of public events to hear people’s thoughts on the proposals and listen to any ideas they might have had. We also sent letters to around 40,000 residents, landlords and businesses. In total we’ve heard from well over 1,000 people.

The next stage is for one of our scrutiny committees to give their comments and recommendations on the changes we’ve made to our proposed scheme following the consultation.

This is an important initiative which will tackle poor living conditions, overcrowding and rogue landlords that operate in our city.  We have also been working with the many good landlords in the city to ensure they have the support they need to tackle anti-social tenants.

Under the scheme, landlords would have to buy a licence to rent out their property in certain areas of the city.  If the landlord has been professionally accredited the fee would be £50 for five years.  If they aren’t accredited the fee would rise to £600 for the same period, the equivalent of £10 per month.

The scheme will last for five years and a new one would have to be proposed if we needed to continue it beyond this.

In total, if approved over the coming months, the scheme will cover over 6,000 properties in 356 city streets across Peterborough. Or around 38 per cent of the city’s private rented stock.

All areas proposed had a certain level of private rented accommodation and met at least five or all six of the criteria set out within The Housing Act – that included high levels of migration, anti-social behaviour and poor property conditions.

I am determined to drive up living standards in areas of the city and, if approved, we will prosecute landlords who do not meet the standards set out in our selective licensing scheme.
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