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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Introducing the new Cabinet for Peterborough

Well, our Annual General meeting of Council is over for another year and, as Leader of the Council, I have appointed my Cabinet, who I would like to introduce to you.

I have discussed over the last year the significant financial challenges we face, probably the most testing in the living memory of local government. I have also set out priorities for the Council, which you have told us are important such as fly-tipping, keeping our streets clean, tackling homelessness, looking after vulnerable children and older people and building a strong economy. The Cabinet and I are determined to work timelessly to deliver these priorities for you and so without further ado, here they are! (more…)

Determined to keep community centres open

Since 2010 more than 500 community centres have closed nationally. In Peterborough that figure is zero.

It’s understandable when you consider the financial strain many councils, including our own, are under following unprecedented cuts in government funding and rising demand for services.

It would have been very easy for us to follow suit, however, we’ve taken a different approach to be able to protect these important community hubs and keep them open.

Our 48 council-owned community facilities have been successfully run by voluntary community organisations for many years.

We are now going one step further and transferring full responsibility for management and running of community centres from the council to community organisations under a Community Asset Transfer Scheme.

This will save the council considerable yearly running costs, at a time when every penny is needed to cope with rising demands in adults and children’s social care and to keep open vital services such as libraries, parks and open spaces.

The alternative would be to close them, something we have strived to avoid.

We faced a similar situation with our library service, where we needed to make a saving. We managed to keep every library in the city open, for longer hours, by introducing self serve technology.

We’re currently on the look-out for new management organisations for two of our community centres, Copeland in Bretton and Thistle Drive, in Stanground, as the current groups are no longer able to continue.

Copeland Community Centre back garden with swings
Copeland Community Centre

Each of the centres would need to be operated as a social enterprise by a constituted group who would be responsible for overall management and generating a profit sufficient to cover day to day running costs and on-going repairs and maintenance.

Anyone interested in taking over the running of Copeland or Thistle Drive, can find out more on the Bid for a community centre page on the council website.

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Commercial strategy is paying off

This month my Cabinet colleagues and I will be asked to approve the council’s first commercial strategy.

It doesn’t sound the most exciting document I admit, but it’s actually very important as it sets out how we’ll further generate income by selling our services, investing and operating more like a business.

With our government funding only going one way, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services our residents rely upon without generating the income we do.

Last year we made £72million through investments, sharing of services, providing services for other organisations, property rental and fees and charges.

For example, we generated £2.7million by selling the energy produced by our energy from waste plant and our commercial property portfolio which is worth £21million generates an annual income of around £3million – that’s a 14 per cent return.

We share our planning and trading standards departments with other councils, bringing in £4million annually and our £15million loan to Propiteer Hotels Ltd for the building of the new Hilton hotel at Fletton Quays will make us £500,000.

impression fletton quays

Our sharing of services with Cambridgeshire County Council, in particular the chief executive and her senior leadership team, has delivered sizeable savings.

I could go on, but these are just a few of the ways we’re generating income and working in a more commercial way to be able to provide the services you need, despite an 80 per cent cut in our government funding.

And with that funding due to decrease even further in years to come, we have got to find more ways of generating our own income. Our commercial strategy will help us to do that. (more…)

Peterborough’s bright future

Let it grow, let it grow – Fletton grows

We are at an important moment in Peterborough’s future development as a city.

Earlier this year, the first stage of the Fletton Quays development was delivered. It will be complete by 2020.

And just last week, a planning application for North Westgate, which will include office accommodation, homes, cafes, restaurants, a hotel and a public square was signed off by planners.

Future peterborough

These two important milestones, represent a new age for Peterborough, as it looks to transform into a larger city and a destination in its own right.

Over the next 15 years, our population will grow from around 200,000 to 235,000. That’s a massive increase of over 17 per cent.

We are literally building the future. The infrastructure and landmarks our children and our children’s children will come to see as iconic to our city’s look and feel. That’s why it’s important we get it right.

LDA Design is a Peterborough based landscape architect company, which specialises in redeveloping urban areas so they work best for the people that use them.

To give you an idea of their credentials, LDA were the brainchild behind the Olympic Park in London and its post-games transformation, the University College of London’s pioneering new campus and have won hundreds of awards for what they do.

Now they have kindly agreed to lend their services to the council free of charge, to create a 20 page development framework – or blueprint – of what our city should look like in 2035.

As a Peterborough based firm with city born and bred owners, they have a vested interest in making this their most exciting and innovative creation yet.

The blueprint welcomes visitors to our city with a large plaza outside the train station, guides them through North Westgate, through the city centre and out to an arena/concert hall by the river.

After watching 2035’s equivalent of Ed Sheeran, you could then either catch a water taxi to Nene Park, pop up to the new university campus further up the Embankment, or grab a gin a tonic at the distillery at the Fletton Quays development and POSH stadium.

It’s a bold design, packed full of retail, leisure and entertainment features. But it’s one which will help secure our future as a larger city destination, boosting tourism and opportunities for local residents.

The design will be on our website from next week for you to look at and comment on.

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Stadium sale is great news for city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helping the local economy grow

It has taken a few months to complete, but I am delighted to say that the new junction in Bourges Boulevard is now finished.

The junction is making it easier for motorists to access the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) car park close to Peterborough railway station, which is heavily used by rail commuters.

Not only that but a new pedestrian crossing which has been installed as part of the work is improving access to and from the city centre.

I went to have a look earlier this week and must say I’m very impressed with the finished work.

Construction got under way back in February and has seen ramped access to the car park created, as well as a right turn lane and carriageway re-surfacing.

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Excited by move to Fletton Quays

As you may be aware, the council is in the process of moving to brand new offices at Fletton Quays and the first teams have already moved in.

We are becoming the site’s anchor tenant, kick-starting an innovative re-development of this prime area alongside the river Nene which had been derelict for over 40 years.

All our teams will be moved in by the end of August and everyone is excited by the prospect of working in a state-of-the-art building.

Sand Martin House

The Fletton Quays development is the first regeneration project delivered on time and within budget by the Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP), an innovative partnership between Peterborough City Council and GB Strategic Land Fund.

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Now to tackle root cause of problem

On Monday evening it’s our annual full council meeting at the town hall and as usual this will be a significant event.

Not only will we be confirming new appointments, including a new Cabinet member and Mayor, but I’m going to be outlining some exciting new policies which we’ve been busy putting together.

Whilst we were out canvassing ahead of the elections one of the major issues that kept cropping up on the doorsteps was fly-tipping and more specifically what the council is doing to tackle it.

Fly-tipping is a nationwide problem, it happens for a multitude of reasons and it is difficult to tackle as many authorities, not just ourselves, are finding out.

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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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