Construction of ARU Peterborough begins

Our exciting regeneration plans for Peterborough are the most ambitious this city has seen for decades and a real source of personal pride.

A key part of these plans is ARU Peterborough, the city’s new £30 million university and this week marked the very start of its construction.

On Tuesday I gathered with James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Professor Roderick Watkins, Vice Chancellor of ARU, for a special sod cutting ceremony at the site.

Sod cutting

Despite the freezing conditions this event really warmed my heart because it felt like such a significant moment in the project, which has been several years in the making.

I can’t wait to see ARU constructed and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations to come.

Our ambition is to launch a job creating, employment-focussed university that will deliver courses targeted specifically towards industries across Peterborough where demand currently outstrips availability of skilled workers.

The university is on track to open in September 2022, catering initially for 2,000 students, with numbers projected to rise to 5,000 by 2025 and 12,500 by 2030.

In the first five years after opening, it will create an initial 170 university jobs and 300 supply chain jobs, in addition to 50 temporary construction jobs while it is being built.

The ARU is part of our commitment to ensuring Peterborough is a great place to live, work and relax for years to come.

With the Fletton Quays development progressing at pace, the city centre recently transformed and the regeneration of the Station Quarter, North Westgate and Northminster all in the pipeline, the city’s time really is now. (more…)

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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Further developments on Peterborough’s horizon

As regular readers will know, my love for Peterborough burns brightly and I’m really proud of the work we’ve achieved in recent years to develop our thriving modern city.

I want to help build a city that future generations will be proud of and that’s why I’m really excited about our latest announcement that the much-anticipated North Westgate project is moving forward at pace.

This week the council gave approval to commence land assembly for the £150 million scheme which will play a crucial part in the city’s future.

The council and our partners Hawksworth Securities PLC, have entered into an agreement to begin acquiring land at the site, kick-starting exciting plans to re-vamp the area and create hundreds of jobs.

The scheme will provide new homes, office premises, a hotel, and supporting retail, restaurant, café and leisure uses, set within extensive new public spaces and landscaping.

But although we’re developing for the future, we’re also considering the present in ensuring that the popular Brewery Tap pub and Westgate Church remain within an enhanced public realm setting.

While the Council is in a unique position of being able to use compulsory purchase powers, if required, the aim of both parties is to secure the remaining parcels of land through private treaty negotiations, as far as possible.

Like Fletton Quays, the redevelopment of North Westgate will generate growth in this under-utilised part of the city and is part of our long- term aim to extend and revitalise Peterborough city centre.

North Westgate ties in nicely with our plans to open up the Station Quarter area of the city, creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and creating space for the development of new homes and offices.

It also complements our planned regeneration of the Northminster site, with architects continuing to work on a design brief to move this forward.

As I have said previously, Peterborough’s time really is now, we want to make our city an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 years.

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Plans for new library and culture hub announced for city centre

Last week I told you about the funding bid we had made to the Government as part of the Towns Fund to further transform our city.

The development of our cultural infrastructure is a key part of our bid for up to £25million from the Fund and I can now tell you about one of the projects that we hope it will be able to support.

The council has announced its intention this week to purchase the TK Maxx and former New Look buildings in Bridge Street to be able to transform them into a new city centre library and multi-purpose hub.

The hub would include community facilities, meeting rooms, rehearsal rooms and studios, space for independent businesses such as a community café, together with access to facilities for community learning and education.

New library

It would be a fantastic addition to this part of the city – close to the new university campus and Fletton Quays – allowing us to equip even more residents with the skills they need to secure employment and get on in life. It will also ensure the units don’t remain vacant when TK Maxx moves its store into Queensgate next year.

We’re looking to purchase the buildings for just under £4million, plus stamp duty and land tax, and contribute up to £5million towards conversion and refurbishment costs, although we expect part of these costs to be met following confirmation of our Towns Fund award.

In addition, we’ll be able to make money out of the project, including commercial income from the second and third floors of the building and the former New Look shop. We’ll also be looking to sell the existing Central Library site and Chauffeurs Cottage to developers to generate an income for the council.

This is a really exciting project for our city, which will breathe new life into Bridge Street and create fantastic opportunities for our residents. And if our Towns Fund application is approved in full, it will be the first of many exciting developments to come!

We have a vision for Peterborough and yet again we are seeing that vision become a reality.

You can rest assured the council will continue to work hard to keep services going, its residents safe and well and to keep the city moving.

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Plans for a new Northminster

At the moment it seems there is not a week that goes by without there being progress on the redevelopment of our city centre.

Last week plans for the new university were unveiled to the public at the cathedral and just before that we announced that investors are being sought for a revamp of the train station and surrounding land to create a new gateway into the city centre.

This week we announced plans to breathe new life into the Northminster area which includes the City Market, the multi-storey car park which is currently being demolished and Laxton Square.

Northminster is an important part of our city centre but it doesn’t receive the investment and number of visitors it should do currently. Many of the buildings were constructed during the 1970s and are showing their age and a number of restaurant and leisure related businesses have closed down.

We know that without regeneration and investment the area will not improve and we have to do something about it.

We don’t have the money to redevelop the site ourselves, so we’re proposing to transfer it to the Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP).

The council set up the PIP in 2015 and it has led the transformation of Fletton Quays from a derelict, brownfield site to a scheme which includes office space, apartments and a car park, with a Hilton hotel and a gin and whiskey distillery visitor attraction on its way.

The PIP has done a fantastic job at Fletton Quays and the announcement of plans for a Government hub and the construction of a Hilton hotel are the most recent signs of its success.

Initially it would prepare a concept scheme for the site with a view to securing outline planning approval and attracting private sector development interest and investment.

I know that some readers will be concerned about what this means for our market.

Naturally, the market traders would need to vacate the existing site whilst any redevelopment was taking place, but during this time we would look to provide a market from another location.

market northminster

Going forward, there could be a market on the Northminster site or elsewhere but with plans being at a very early stage it is too soon to speculate.

The existing market is 57 years old and in need of modernisation or replacement. This investment in Northminster will one way or another allow us to achieve that.

This is an exciting time for Peterborough. Our city is thriving and we are ready to work with investors and our communities to drive forward the next stage in Peterborough’s growth.

The next four years will be crucial to delivering a Peterborough that’s an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 to 100 years. (more…)

City Centre Framework – a new era for Peterborough

As you probably know by now, last week I announced my plans to step down as both council leader and councillor after the elections in May.

I’ve been serving the residents of Peterborough now since I was in my 30s and at the age of 75 both my wife Barbara and I have decided it’s time to achieve the many things we have on our bucket list while we are still able to.

Although I know I’ve made the right decision, there’s a part of me that wishes I could stay to experience the next four years, which I predict will deliver big things for our city. I’ve double checked with my granddaughter and I believe I’m suffering from what the young people describe as FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out!

On Monday, our new MP Paul Bristow and myself met with Paul Grinnell, business editor at the Peterborough Telegraph, to update him on the next stage of the City Centre Local Development Framework.

As regular readers of my column will know, this document looks at the city centre and identifies and plans key areas to be developed in the coming years, such as the station quarter (the area around the train station), North Westgate, Northminster, Rivergate and the university.

We know that the time is now for Peterborough. Our economy and high street are thriving, we’ve got the new university and New Towns funding on its way and crucially, the backing of the Combined Authority to help us make the progression from a small city to a medium one.

aerial view of Peterbrough

The stars are aligned in our favour, but like the Peterborough Development Corporation in the 1960s, the only way to make sure residents get a good deal is to do this in an organised way, with a clear aim – that’s why the City Centre Framework is so important.

It will deliver a city centre that will herald a new era for Peterborough, one in which we can use investor money to secure our ongoing economic success and to create a centre that rivals the likes of Birmingham and Manchester.

Yes, it’s aspirational, but we know investors are interested – just look at the new Government hub relocation to Fletton Quays, the revamp of John Lewis (their most expensive in 2019) and the forthcoming multi-screen Empire Cinema.

That’s why we’ve created a new investor marketing campaign to enable us to cherry pick the right investors to help us deliver this. The next four years will be crucial to delivering a Peterborough that’s an even better place to work, live and play for the next 50 to 100 years. (more…)

Happy New Year – here’s to a prosperous 2020

The start of a new year often leaves people with feelings of excitement and trepidation of what the year may hold.

That’s certainly how I feel about 2020. There is so much to look forward to in the year ahead for our great city, but like all councils we are still in the midst of one of the most testing financial challenges in our history. This will continue to force difficult decisions about how we provide the services our residents need with the money available.

But I would like to start the year on a positive and when you look around the city there are lots of those.

We have some really exciting developments taking place; there will be announcements about progress on some of these soon and about new developments.

Fletton Quays has been transformed during the past couple of years and there will be further progress in 2020.

a view of fletton quays

Plans for the gin and whiskey distillery and tourist attraction will be submitted in the first part of this year and construction of the Hilton hotel and skybar will begin soon. It has also been confirmed that Fletton Quays will also host a government hub, bringing together 1,000 staff from 2021. I call that a huge vote of confidence in our city!

Across the wider city centre, there will be some exciting news about the potential development of sites in our City Centre Prospectus. This includes the station quarter, university site on the embankment and Northminster car park and the area around it including the market. This unlocks the potential for exciting opportunities such as major multi-use commercial sport/leisure facilities to be developed.

When you consider that the cost of land in Peterborough is a third of the price of land in London, we should be a prime location for businesses moving out of the capital. The costs of doing business are much more competitive here and our Masterplan looks to capitalise on that.

I’m also excited this year to see our university project progress. We expect to submit a planning application for the new building in the spring, around the same time we’ll be announcing our academic partner, and then work on site begins in the autumn.

Major music acts coming to Peterborough in 2020

On a lighter note, we have some fantastic music acts coming to Peterborough. My family and I have tickets to see Westlife in June and Little Mix will be on stage a week or so later. I’ve heard rumours too of a third concert this summer!

And of course I am looking forward to the 2020 Olympic games and the Euro football tournament.

It is true that we have another testing year ahead of us financially, but there is much to look forward to. The time is now for Peterborough and we are ready to take the city to the next level.

Call for fly-tippers to be given harsher penalties

I was pleased to read that the Local Government Association is calling for tougher sentences to deter fly-tippers.

The LGA found that only five per cent of court-imposed fines for fly-tipping offences in England in the past six years were above £1,000 and only a sixth of them above £500.

We’re determined to crack down on fly-tipping and littering and it will remain one of our priorities when our in-house team to tackle environmental issues and crimes takes over from Kingdom at the end of the month. This new team will tackle problems across the whole council area, as well as the city centre.

We want to work with the government on reviewing sentencing guidelines for fly-tipping, so offenders are given bigger fines for more serious offences. We know from previous experience that we can influence change – a good example being how our councillors visited the Home Office to ask for more help in moving unlawful encampments on if they are having a detrimental impact on the wider community.

Thanks to our lobbying the government has set up a formal review group to see whether police powers can be strengthened to allow unlawful encampments to be moved on much quicker.

Relocation of Visitor Information Centre

And finally, a reminder that the Visitor Information Centre on Bridge Street has now closed.

the former visitor information centre

Instead, visitors to the city are guided towards the Town Hall and those wanting to access services such as blue badge applications and bus passes will need to walk just a few footsteps to the Customer Contact Centre.

Remember that you can find out more about all the events happening in Peterborough, as well as places to visit and stay, at www.visitpeterborough.com.

A happy new year, I hope 2020 is a healthy and happy year for you all.

Times are hard financially but our city is continuing to prosper

In last week’s blog I spoke about the huge budget challenge that we face next year and the need to deliver savings following the publication of our budget proposals.

Lots of you have been reading them and using our online survey to tell us how you feel. Please continue to comment so that we can understand your views before making final decisions.

I cannot deny that we are proposing changes to some services that I wish we did not have to, but we have also gone to great lengths to limit cuts to services. The Peterborough Telegraph’s front page last week implied we are making £33m cuts – I can assure you that’s not the case.

Service cuts are a last resort, instead we are achieving millions of pounds worth of savings by providing services differently, for example jointly with the county council, renegotiating contracts to achieve best value and thanks to additional money from the Government.

At times like this it’s easy to lose sight of the many services we provide for our residents on a daily basis and the successes that we achieve.

We’re looking after more older people and ensuring those in hospital have the support they need to get them home as soon as possible, maintaining some of the lowest delayed discharge rates in the country. We continue to invest in our Family Safeguarding approach to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children and young people, meaning the number of children in care is lower than most other councils of our size.

Our highways and transport services are some of the best in the country. It’s just been announced that we’ve been ranked joint top authority in the eastern region in this year’s National Highways and Transport survey which is fantastic.

We’ve ensured that the ever-increasing demand for school places has been met by continued investment in new and improved school buildings. As a result, more children than ever before are being offered their first preference school. Plans are on track to deliver a dedicated university for 2,000 students by 2022.

We’ve led the successful re-development of Fletton Quays which is modernising the city’s skyline, further boosting the economy and creating hundreds of new jobs and housing. We’re unlocking the economic potential of the Station Quarter and North Westgate in order to make them attractive to investors and a city centre development framework is being developed to secure our future as a larger city destination, supporting future tourism growth and increasing opportunities for residents. We’re launching a Business Improvement District in the city centre to help businesses to prosper locally, compete nationally and also to help drive inward investment.

We continue to tackle homelessness by securing housing locally to meet the predicted long term need for housing in the city. Over the past 12 months we’ve removed the need to house homeless families out of the area and the numbers in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73 in October 2019.

Never have times been harder financially, but I strongly refute accusations made by some politicians that our city is not prospering.

Yes there is lots of work to be done to help everyone in our city who needs it and yes we need more funding to provide the services that we need to. But thanks to the dedication of our staff, our partners and the majority of councillors, we are making a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis.

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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…)

Peterborough offers support to former Thomas Cook employees

We all knew that city-based travel firm Thomas Cook was struggling when it shed jobs and closed stores earlier in the year, but I don’t think any of us thought that the 175-year-old travel industry brand was on the brink of collapse.

I feel greatly for the staff members and their families at this difficult time, and of course customers too who are either looking to get home or have seen their holiday plans scuppered. This will have an impact as well of course on the wider city and those companies that provided services to Thomas Cook.

We will be doing all that we can to support affected staff members, signposting them to other jobs and places where they can get help and support. There will be a jobs fair at the Town Hall next Wednesday (2 October) organised by our colleagues at Opportunity Peterborough specifically for the Thomas Cook staff. Any companies interested in taking part should email info@opportunitypeterborough.co.uk or call 01733 317417.

I am confident that many of those people who have lost their jobs will have transferable skills and will be an asset to other companies in our city. They are in a good position to find new employment – our economy is strong, there are jobs available and businesses are continuing to choose to invest in Peterborough.

Each year on average we see in the region of 2,500 new jobs created and there are hundreds of new businesses launching every year. As a result, our unemployment rate is below the national average.

You only have to read this newspaper to see that businesses are moving to Peterborough and want to invest in our city. The Construction Industry Training Board is relocating to the top floor of the council offices at Sand Martin House, creating 200 jobs and extra income for our budget too which we will be using to provide services for residents. There are plans for a new supermarket at the former Toys R Us store and in August, Big Motoring World announced a £5 million move to the city, generating more than 300 jobs. Add to that the countless smaller businesses that are moving to larger premises and increasing their headcount.

This week Queensgate released further details about its £60million extension which will include a ten-screen Empire cinema and new restaurants and shops. Work will begin early next year and once completed will create hundreds of new jobs across the cinema, restaurants and shops.

Not only that, it will be a great asset for our city and its nightlife and will mean more footfall for retailers, more things to do for visitors and retail opportunities for residents. At a time when other city centres are struggling, Peterborough is bucking the trend. 

Our local economy is strong and we have  lots of new job opportunities appearing each day and even more on the horizon. I hope this gives the former workers of Thomas Cook some comfort as they begin looking for employment in the coming weeks. (more…)