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…)

Sharing city’s secrets of success

Our city centre is a real source of pride for me. The work we’ve done in recent years has made it spacious and welcoming and I believe it’s never looked better.

The extensive transformation of Bridge Street through to Cathedral Square and Long Causeway has attracted significant new investment into the heart of our city.

We now have a vast array of new and attractive places for everyone to shop in, eat, have fun or just simply relax in.

And in case you’re thinking, ‘well, John would say that’ – it’s not just me who shares this view.

Last week, we received a phone call out of the blue from BBC Radio Kent, after its producer had visited Peterborough. He was thoroughly impressed with our city centre and described it as having a cafe culture look and feel, reminiscent of a European city.

cathedral square

He wanted us to talk on the radio station to share the secrets of our success, in the hope that these could be mirrored in Chatham.

Cabinet member councillor Marco Cereste spoke to the station on Monday about the work that we and our partners have done over the past decade to help revitalise the area.

He pointed out that ten years ago, the city centre would virtually shut down at 5pm and we have worked hard to inject some life into it after hours to attract more residents, visitors and businesses.

Not ones to be complacent, we’re currently in the process of setting up a Business Improvement District, which will help support and promote city centre shops.

All UK high streets have had a tough few years following the rise of online shopping, so please keep using them. For me, nothing beats browsing for an item in real life. (more…)

Phase two of the budget proposals 2017/18 have been published

Last week we published our final set of proposals which set out how we will close a £28million gap in our 2017/18 budget whilst investing in services and the city’s infrastructure.

Every year we face the challenge of managing increasing demands on services with a reducing amount of money. And this year has been no different.

But I’m pleased to say that for a further year we are proposing a balanced budget without any reductions to services. Instead we are investing in the services which are most important to our residents and supporting the continued growth of the city.

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New Innovation Lab unveiled this week

In his first Autumn Statement as chancellor, Philip Hammond announced plans to help British technology start-up companies by investing an initial £400million into venture capital funds.

This demonstrated an understanding that the UK needs to encourage and spearhead innovation and keep pace with the USA and China.

Supporting entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors is something we put a lot of emphasis on in Peterborough and I am delighted by this week’s unveiling of The Innovation Lab.

This new resource at the Allia Future Business Centre in Peterborough will help turn ideas into realities, in particular for those entrepreneurs who want to make a positive, sustainable impact on the world.

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PES launched with additional powers to tackle issues across the city

When I became leader of the council 18 months ago my post bag was full of letters and emails from residents about issues such as anti-social behaviour, begging, illegal parking and poor quality housing.

I listened to those residents and looked at what we and fellow agencies could do to better tackle these issues, at a time when funding is scarce and manpower is limited.

This week we fully launched the SaferPeterborough Prevention and Enforcement Service (PES) which brings together council, police, fire service and prison staff into a single managed service. The team has been in place since April, however council staff now have the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme powers issued by Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s chief constable to be able to enforce against a greater number of issues.

The idea is that together we can offer a quicker, more visible response to the issues that you have told us impact on your quality of life. Council prevention and enforcement officers, who you might see walking round in new blue uniforms, now have the ability to take action against a wider range of community issues including littering, dog fouling, begging and cycling on pavements. They also retain existing powers including parking and housing enforcement.
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