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…)

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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Celebrating one year of Safer Off the Streets

With the temperatures starting to fall and the colder winter nights not that far ahead, I was pleased to learn that we have helped 44 people to leave the streets and into accommodation in the past year.

That’s thanks in no small part to the Safer off the Streets partnership, which was launched a year ago today, on World Homeless Day.

On this day I joined colleagues from 19 other organisations across the city in Cathedral Square, including The Light Project Peterborough, Peterborough Soup Kitchen and Hope into Action to pledge to work together to help and support rough sleepers off the streets.

It’s a shocking fact that the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is just 47 years. Take a moment to think about that – it’s the same age as Gwyneth Paltrow, Liam Galllagher and Cameron Diaz. Who do you know who is 47 or thereabouts?

We don’t want people dying at such a young age in our city, which is why it’s the central aim of the Safer Off the Streets to get individuals off the streets and into accommodation and/or employment.

Thanks to donations from city residents, via the contactless card reader in St Peter’s Arcade, cash collection boxes at the Town Hall and Visitor’s Centre and the website www.saferoffthestreets.co.uk, the partnership has raised over £12,000 in just a year.

Those who donate can feel confident this is being used to help and support rough sleepers in leaving the streets. Indeed, the vast majority of this money has gone to The Garden House, which is run by the Light Project Peterborough – a place for rough sleepers to access everything from a friendly welcome and a cup of coffee to assistance in finding a home and a job, GP services and art therapy.

The Garden House acts as a hub for all partners in the Safer Off the Streets partnership, including our own council officers who assist people off the streets and into accommodation.

Now, as the weather is getting colder again, the Safer Off the Streets partnership is giving people even more ways to help – including launching an Amazon Wish List of items that can be bought to help the charities involved.

If you haven’t heard about Safer Off the Streets yet, please take a moment to find out more via its website www.saferoffthestreets.co.uk or search for the partnership on Facebook. (more…)

Peterborough’s empowered community

Not so long ago the services we provided for residents were largely paid for by the government or by people like you as council tax.

Times have changed – our main government grant now makes up just 2.47 per cent of our total budget.

Nowadays almost a fifth of our budget – £72million to be exact – is money generated by the council, to fund the vital services that we provide for an ever expanding population. 

We do this by, for example, selling the energy produced from our energy from waste plant, renting out our buildings and sharing expert teams such as trading standards and planning with other councils.

On Monday cabinet members will be discussing a scheme that has generated the council a hefty profit and offered some of our residents free energy.

Almost five years ago we partnered with Empower Community Management LLP to deliver solar panels on residential properties across the city and the UK, investing £23million capital funding in the process.

It’s been a real success story for the council, with thousands of residents benefitting from the installation of solar panels at no cost to themselves and free energy. Importantly, it’s also generated a hefty return on our investment – £2.6million in the past four years. This is money we have been able to use to provide valuable front-line services for residents at a time when government funding has been drastically reduced and demand for services has grown rapidly.

fitting solar panels

The loan was only ever short term – that’s the reason we have received such a good rate of return on it – and we are now close to passing our investment in this scheme to a company that will repay our loan and continue to manage the solar panels to the benefit of those already signed up.

Without income generating projects such as this, we couldn’t deliver a balanced budget and provide the services that you and thousands of other residents rely upon.

We’ve got plenty more ideas too, which I will tell you about as soon as I am able. (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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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.

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.

New schools and new starts

This September hundreds of children will start school for the first time and many more will make the jump from primary to secondary.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, we’ve once again faced huge pressure to meet a rising demand for school places.

In fact, as of the national offer days in April and May, we had offered 5,580 children a school place for September – that’s 132 more than last year.

Despite the increase, we were still able to provide the vast majority of children their first place school – 90.4 per cent for primary applications and 85.6 per cent for secondary – with 97 per cent offered one of their three preferred schools.

We’re able to achieve this success because of careful planning by our school admissions team and of course the investment we have made in schools in recent years – and continue to make – to increase the number of places.

We’ve extended and rebuilt schools across the city and new schools have opened in Cardea and Hampton in recent years so we can continue meeting the needs of our growing population.

Only last week the government announced it had approved applications for two new schools in PeterboroughManor Drive Academy at Paston Reserve which we’re progressing with the 4Cs Academy Trust, and a new Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided primary school at Hampton Waters. Both schools are targeted for opening in 2022, subject to further discussion with the Department for Education. It was really good news and a credit to those who worked on the applications when you consider that only 18 per cent of bids for funding were successful and we had two!

In 2017 the government also agreed to fund a new primary school at Paston Reserve. This along with the secondary school will cost in the region of £32million – money we would have to find if our bid had proved unsuccessful.

With demand for school places only going one way, we continue to plan to meet future demand.

Work starts on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes early next month – again funded by the government. Other projects are due to conclude over the summer, including extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary.

Regardless of the significant pressures on our budget, meeting the demand for school places is one pressure that we will always have to meet. And that’s not just because we have a legal duty to do so, but because the future success of our city is founded on the youngsters of today being offered a high standard of education in buildings that allow them to reach their full potential. (more…)

Bringing Peterborough’s communities together

Our city is built on a long history of migration. We are diverse, vibrant and proud to celebrate our differences as together these are the things that unites us.

Because of this, we are a welcoming city and on the whole I think that people from different backgrounds get on well together. You only have to attend one of the many cultural festivals we host in the city each year, such as the Italian or Diwali events, to see that. But of course there is more we can all do to bring people together to break down barriers.

John and Barbara Holdich in traditional dress

Last year we were recognised for our community work by the government, who invited Peterborough to be one of five areas to take part in its integrated communities strategy, to improve and showcase successful integration across the UK.

As part of this, we’ve just launched the Peterborough Communities Fund which is an opportunity for people to make a real difference in their community.

Local groups and organisations can apply for funds to deliver projects that bring our communities together, whatever their background, race or religion.

People can apply for grants of up to £20,000 – but we’re equally happy if you just need a few hundred pounds; we know that often just a small amount of funding can make a huge difference.

Applications are invited from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors and we also welcome joint bids from groups who want to bring communities together. Ideas that have the potential to run and run are particularly welcome. (more…)