Happy New Year for 2021

This is my first column of 2021, so I would like to start off by wishing everyone a happy New Year.

The past twelve months have been a year like no other, resulting in big changes to our daily lives and having to sacrifice some of the things we all love doing.

There is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout continuing but with the new lockdown under way, I must once again implore everyone to follow the guidelines and take extra care.

So to recap the lockdown rules, please don’t invite people into your home who you don’t live with all the time, don’t go out unless it is essential – and when you do take particular care because of this new variant of the virus is so much easier to catch.

Avoid crowded areas, don’t gather together in groups, don’t ignore signs or the advice of our marshals who are out on the streets to help and support you.

You also need to continue to wear face coverings in shops, keep socially distanced and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

stay home poster

We appreciate that the current situation is very difficult for some people, and there is support for those who may be lonely or isolated, or who suddenly need very practical support– and I would encourage them to phone the countywide co-ordination hub on 0345 045 5219.

 

For anyone whose mental health is being more severely impacted, there is the Lifeline support number 0808 808 2121 which operates daily from 11am to 11pm and for people with a mental health crisis you can phone the NHS 111 number and ask for Option 2.

Council projects able to progress despite pandemic

Not many of us will look back on 2020 fondly, however there were silver linings like the heart-warming way our communities pulled together to help one another.

There were many unprecedented challenges for the council but at the same time we’ve made great progress on a number of significant projects.

Our ambitious regeneration plans moved forward at pace over the past year and will play a key role in ensuring Peterborough remains a great place to live, work and play for many years to come.

Fletton Quays is one of our proudest achievements, featuring our council’s offices and hundreds of state-of-the-art apartments. The site’s development is coming along nicely with work on the new Hilton hotel progressing, along with the construction of a government hub, set to be completed in 2022.

Construction of our new university is also under way and the benefits it will bring to our city and the region will be enormous and last for generations.

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.

Meanwhile, our exciting work to redevelop Northminster is moving forward and we hope to submit a planning application later this year, so watch this space.

Towns Fund to be dedicated to five key projects

Another significant achievement of the past year was our successful bid to the government’s Towns Fund, granting us £22.9 million. The funds are earmarked for the following five key projects which we are moving forwards:

  • Riverside Development and Connections – Creating a masterplan for the Embankment, the new University campus and Middleholme.
  • New and improved visitor and cultural attractions – These include a new library and cultural facilities for the city, as well as improved visitor attractions.
  • Developing the Station Quarter – Creating a welcoming route from the train station into the city centre and opening up space for new homes and offices.
  • Enterprise and Skills infrastructure – Building a new enterprise training and business incubation hub to support new city businesses and start-ups, and a training centre for green technology skills.
  • Future green city – Creating safer, easily accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists to the train station and city centre from key sites around the city.

These projects have been specifically designed to increase the wellbeing of residents, boost visitor numbers and adhere to the city’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Peterborough’s time really is now and we are fully committed to creating a city of growth, prosperity and opportunity.

A huge thanks to our key workers

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of our key workers, council staff and dedicated band of volunteers for their sterling efforts over the past year.

So many of our residents are key workers – doctors, nurses, police officers, social workers, supermarket workers and many, many other professions – they all deserve special praise and their continued efforts in these difficult times are truly invaluable.

As always you can rest assured we will continue to work to keep you safe and keep the city moving forwards.

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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Budget proposals for 2021/22

Last Friday we published a first set of budget proposals for 2021/22 which begin to explain how we will deliver the services that we know our residents need with the funding we have available.

Budget setting has been a challenge in recent years with our funding from government reducing by over 70 per cent in the past decade, but the Covid-19 pandemic has raised the bar on this challenge next year.

To put it simply, we need to make savings totalling £36m – that’s almost a quarter of our net revenue budget, i.e. the money we spend each year on providing services.

In recent years we’ve had to make many millions of pounds worth of savings to balance our budget. We’ve done this by reviewing all the services we provide to make sure they are as efficient as possible, by reviewing contracts to get better value and by increasing our income generation – we now generate £78million of external income annually.

At the same time our population continues to rise – we now provide services for more than 202,000 people, we have more older people requiring care, more children needing school places, more children with special educational needs and more children in care.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on the council, as it has many businesses and organisations across our city.

These include a forecast loss of £2.4million in parking revenue, a council tax deficit of £2.8million as many people are unable to pay and an increase in households receiving council tax support, as well as an additional £13.8 million on providing enhanced Adult Social Care services.

This first phase of proposals details how we will save £2.7million but the scale of the challenge will require additional funding and solutions – we cannot meet the challenge by savings alone.

stacks of coins

As a result we are discussing with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and our MPs about potential solutions to the financial situation.

This will not just help us to continue to deliver essential services, but will allow us to continue our highly effective support in fighting the effects of Covid-19 in Peterborough.

And let’s not forget how successful that work has been.

We’ve worked with communities to reduce infection rates from a position of having the sixth highest rates in the country, to below the national average and our scheme to contact trace people who have tested positive for COVID-19 currently has a 77% success rate.

At one point we were one of the best in the country for distributing £32m in business grants and awarding 100% business rate relief for designated businesses totalling £40.3m, plus we have supported vulnerable residents through the Peterborough Coordination Hub.

We’ve had our first meeting with MCHLG and I am pleased to say they have promised to work closely with us. They recognise that even with the considerable support already provided to local government, there will be individual authorities with unique circumstances, such as Peterborough.

Delivering a balanced budget next year is the most severe challenge we have faced, but we will find a solution so that we can continue to work hard to keep people safe, support our businesses and to keep our city moving forward.

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Progress for Peterborough University

In the past few months our unwavering focus has been on helping people who have needed our support through the most testing of times.

Whether it’s adult social care supporting residents in their own home, the countywide and city coordination hubs helping hundreds of people across the city who are shielding or vulnerable, refuse crews who have worked tirelessly to ensure our bins were emptied regularly or bereavement staff who have continued to support families who have lost a loved one – they, and many others, have all played their part alongside colleagues in the NHS and other sectors.

In the background we have also continued to press ahead with the many projects that will ensure our city can recover from the coronavirus. It is vital for our residents and our businesses that we do, so that Peterborough continues to prosper, improve and grow at the rate it was pre-COVID.

One of those projects is the delivery of a dedicated university for Peterborough, which took another big step forward this week with the submission of the planning application for the Wirrina car park site, off Bishop’s Road.

In a double boost, the Government has agreed to fund 90 per cent of the £13.5 million research super hub from its local growth programme. I’ll be able to tell you more about this in the coming weeks, but it is a key element of our new university which will set us apart from many others.

It has been a great few weeks for the university with Anglia Ruskin announced last month as our higher education partner to deliver the curriculum and manage the university.

Plans really are progressing and it won’t be long before we see the first students walk through the doors in just two years’ time.

A R U site

A dedicated university for Peterborough will see huge improvement in the opportunities available to our residents, the success of our businesses, and on informing external perceptions of Peterborough as we progress from a small to a medium sized city and one which will become an even more attractive place to live, work and set up business.

I can assure you we will do everything in our power to ensure that our new university is a real success and grows to become a vital part of the fabric of our city. We are already a city with a beautiful cathedral and our new university on a green attractive riverside, parkland, campus will help cement and enhance our reputation.

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Hilton Garden Inn signals finishing touches to Fletton Quays

Yesterday I donned my high visibility vest and hard hat to see the first spade put in the ground at the site of the new Hilton Garden Inn hotel and apartments that are coming to Fletton Quays.

The renowned Hilton brand coming to Peterborough will give wonderful views across the city from its rooftop bar, including the river and Peterborough Cathedral. It is expected to be completed for us to enjoy by Spring 2022, with apartments being built alongside the hotel ready to move in by Summer 2022. The development has been brought about by the Peterborough Investment Partnership – which I chair – which attracts investment into the whole city.

As well as being a great place for us all to visit, it also signals the final finishing touches to Fletton Quays as a visitor destination. This development – and is the case with all new developments in our city – will provide not only short-term construction jobs, but additional long-term jobs and investment from the 100+ people who will be living in the apartments.

In addition, the beginning of construction has meant that the council has signed off on a £15million loan that will see the council make £500,000 in revenue, as we are able to access better interest rates than developers.

Our vision for Fletton Quays was to kickstart major development of a site that had laid bare for years and together with the Peterborough Investment Partnership we have done this, while continuing to boost our economy for years to come. (more…)

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…)

Peterborough’s high street declared UK’s most thriving

At a time when many high streets up and down the country are struggling, I was pleased to learn that here in Peterborough we’re bucking the national trend.

Our high street has actually grown by one-per-cent. Yes, I know this doesn’t seem like a massive rise, but due to the changing shopping habits of consumers and the rise of internet shopping, this is quite an achievement in today’s world.

AskTraders which completed the study went on to declare Peterborough as having the No.1 thriving high street by comparing cities based on retail growth, bank openings and number of ATMs.

Bridge street

We know our visitor dwell times (the amount of time people stay in our city centre) is 101 minutes, that’s much better than the UK benchmark of 73 minutes.

And it seems businesses agree with this vote of confidence and are investing in our city at an unprecedented rate – which wouldn’t be happening if they didn’t think they could get their money back.

Not only has John Lewis recently unveiled its £21million revamp – the largest spend on any John Lewis store nationally in 2019, but work will soon begin on a £60million extension to Queensgate, which will deliver a state of the art 10 screen Empire Cinema and the Draper’s Arms refurbishment is due to finish next month.

We also had plenty of new store openings last year, with a good mix of large and small chains and independents, like Deichmann, Swarovski, Tap & Tandoor, Hayes Travel and Bean Around BE.AR coffee shop.

Yes, we have discount stores, coffee shops and vape shops, but if you look at where people are spending their money, that’s what they want.

My point is that I believe high streets will always have a part to play, but they need to change with the times and deliver what their shoppers want in order to stay successful.

And there could be more good news on the way for Peterborough’s high street in the form of a Business Improvement District (BID) later this year.

We are currently asking businesses if they would like to set up a BID and so far we’ve had 141 responses from businesses – 67 per cent want it to happen, with the rest saying they don’t mind and only one respondent saying no.

If it goes ahead it will be business led and could potentially release up to £1.75million over five years for investment in the city, which could be spent on things like additional summer events to boost footfall, more floral displays and extra security in the evenings in the city centre.

If any business would like to be involved please complete the business survey. (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…)

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…)

Looking forward: Peterborough University and Doubling Green Spaces

The next few years promise to be an exciting time for higher education in Peterborough.

The work that we are all doing now to create a dedicated university will, I believe, transform our city for the next 100 years and beyond.

It will change the aspirations of our residents, giving everyone the chance to attain the highest skills they are able to, in order to apply for the jobs offered by our employers.

The research that we are doing now means that we can be sure of this – and this approach is what will set our university apart from every other across the country.

Almost 80 businesses recently responded to a survey undertaken by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority asking what kinds of courses and skills they would like to see delivered at the new University of Peterborough. 

Employers said that skills in mechanical and structural engineering, mathematics, science and certain health and social care skills were in demand now and would be in the future. The most popular areas were business, IT and digital and sustainability skills, with newer and rapidly progressing technology such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity likely to be in significant demand in the future. 

Of course, it’s not just what is taught, but how it’s taught, and employers told us that work-based learning through higher apprenticeships would provide the most benefit.

Our employers have told us quite clearly what skills they need and the industries likely to prosper in future years, which will ensure that the curriculum delivered will both help students into well-paid, secure jobs, while also addressing the current and future skills needs of the local economy.

In further good news, a project management team has been appointed to get us from where we are now to the first students walking through the doors of the new university in 2022.

The team from Mace will lead on the delivery of the university, including planning permission for the building, the actual build project and the creation of the curriculum.

They have a good track record in this industry, delivering projects like the University of Northampton, and their expertise and experience will be invaluable.

The university we are creating for Peterborough will break the mould for what higher education can deliver. It will make other cities think differently and consider how its educational offering is connected to the local economy. 

These are exciting times for higher education in Peterborough, and will lead to greater aspirations for our residents, as well as enabling us to keep hold of our talented people, by making our city more attractive for them to live, study and work.  (more…)