Take action to save Peterborough from rising Covid-19 levels

This year we’ve seen residents across the city pull together on many occasions to help one another and to encourage others to follow the rules to reduce rates of the virus.

I strongly believe it is this sense of community spirit, which makes Peterborough such a great place to live and work, which has helped to keep our rates of the virus below many other places across the country.

It is this same spirit and determination that we need to see once again from our communities, with Coronavirus now spreading across Peterborough at the highest rate we have seen since the first lockdown.

Currently we are seeing more than 200 people per 100,000 infected with the virus and it’s affecting people across the whole city – all age groups and backgrounds. Worryingly, we are seeing more people over 60 catching the virus who are potentially at greater risk.

Unfortunately, quite a few people got infected in the week before lockdown started – going out to ‘beat the lockdown’.  This is understandable, but as we warned you at the time, it means we now have further to go to halt its progress. And because of this we all need to do more.

This week our Director of Public Health, Dr Liz Robin, issued a video blog urging people to take action now to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our health services. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it on our YouTube channel.

I will reiterate her advice, because we are now seeing more people in our hospital and they are sicker than they were before, so we need to work harder to prevent our figures from spiralling out of control.

You must:

  • Reduce contact with people outside of your own household to the absolute minimum, as this is how the virus is passed on.
  • Only leave home for essential reasons – to go to school, college or work if you cannot work from home, for medical or safety reasons, to get food and other essential shopping, or to provide care for others.
  • Work from home if at all possible.
  • Self-isolate if you test positive or are a contact of someone who is – there’s lots of support to help you do this, so there’s really no reason not to.

If we don’t take action now we risk more people getting sick and potentially dying – and not just from Coronavirus. The increased pressure on hospitals and health services will affect us all.

News of a potential vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel – but it will be months before it can help us all and we need to all make a final push for Peterborough now and stop Covid in its tracks.

A Virtual Christmas Switch-on

Normally at this time of year we’d be preparing to welcome thousands of people to the city centre for our Christmas lights switch on.

Our 40ft Spruce Christmas tree is already in Cathedral Square, but sadly the public switch-on cannot take place due to the pandemic.

However, residents can still get into the festive spirit with a virtual Christmas lights switch-on instead. The 15 minute pre-recorded event will be streamed online across our digital platforms on Wednesday 2 December at 7pm.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Community Radio presenter Kev Lawrence will once again be hosting the switch-on and there will be special appearances from local guests.

xmas switch on

Please don’t turn up to this event – it is being pre-recorded to avoid large crowds gathering.

Once Peterborough reopens, subject to government restrictions being lifted, there will also be fairground rides from 2 December as well as a Christmas craft market from 2-6 December.

POSH in Parliament

I was delighted last week to see the national spotlight shining on the council and Peterborough United Football Club in the Houses of Parliament no less.

During a parliamentary debate, North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara highlighted the economic and health and wellbeing benefits of bringing spectators back to football grounds, even in a limited capacity, once lockdown restrictions are eased.

He also invited Nigel Huddleston MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to visit Peterborough, an offer he is very keen to take up.

posh logo

In addition, he said that opening the stadium – even in a limited way – would benefit the club in celebrating the life and career of Posh legend Tommy Robson.

Tommy, who made a record 559 first team appearances for the Posh, sadly passed away last month. Earlier this year he was given the Freedom of the City for his phenomenal contribution to the club, as well as his dedicated charity work.

We will continue to work closely with the football club and MP Vara to promote the many benefits that our much-loved football club delivers to the city.

We will also continue to work with the club to see what we can do locally to remember Tommy and his incredible achievements.

Temporary car park on former Northminster site

Finally, a reminder that our new temporary car park on the site of the former Northminster multi storey car park has opened to the public.

We’ve opened the car park to give residents, shoppers and businesses a helping hand in the run up to Christmas and are confident it will help the city centre to thrive once lockdown restrictions are eased.

As ever you can rest assured that we will continue to work hard to keep you safe and to keep the city moving forward.

Embankment joins other sites in future growth of Peterborough

As regular readers will know, there is much to be excited about in terms of plans for future growth in Peterborough.

Fletton Quays, North Westgate, the Station Quarter, Northminster and other city centre locations are all set to be transformed over the coming years.

I’ve been in local government for over 40 years and I can honestly say that our current regeneration plans are the most ambitious we’ve had since the Development Corporation way back in the 1960s.

Another area we are working to enhance is the Embankment and this week announced that we are moving forward with the production of a Masterplan, showcasing the 90-acre site as a year-round destination.

The development will include the new university campus, a proposed new stadium for Peterborough United, retention of assets such as the Lido, Key Theatre and open green spaces for leisure and recreational use.

embankment map

It will open up the city’s river frontage making it a destination in its own right, with the installation of a new pedestrian footbridge to Fletton Quays, subject to funding, and improving the use of open green space along the whole stretch of the river.

Last week I addressed delegates at an Investors Conference about our future plans. It was a really positive event and highlighted everything that Peterborough has going for it.

For example, did you know that over the last Century, Peterborough saw the second highest rate of jobs growth of any UK city and our enterprising population has seen the business start-up rate consistently ranked amongst the top 20 cities in the UK over the last 10 years?

There are over 7,000 businesses operating here, the A1 is on our doorstep, and we will soon be able to go direct to London King’s Cross in less than 40 minutes, a great benefit for commuters and shoppers alike!

On top of that, the city boasts a £30 million full-fibre network installed by CityFibre that reaches nearly every home and business premises.

Peterborough is growing fast, and we want it to remain a city where people and businesses can realise their ambitions. These plans will unlock even more potential within our city, creating a refreshed and welcoming environment where people want to live, work, and visit. (more…)

School promise a safe September

The first week of September is always a key time of year, seeing as it marks the start of the new school year and for many children the beginning of their education.

It may be a while since my school days, but I remember feeling excited to return to class after the long summer break and I’m sure pupils are looking forward to catching up with their friends, teachers and school staff.

As I said in last week’s column, the past year has been like no other for our schools. Everyone involved in education has had to adapt to an unprecedented situation and you have my sincere thanks for doing such a wonderful job in very difficult circumstances.

Having children back in the classroom is the best option for all concerned, giving them the chance to learn, develop and flourish.

back to school image

But I want to reiterate that our schools are safe places to return to and assure everyone that we have worked very hard in readiness for this week.

Over the summer, schools went through rigorous and detailed risk assessments, as well as clarifying how they could meet the ‘System of Controls’ – steps set out by government which a school must follow to minimise the number of contacts a pupil has during a school day.

Having worked through the assessments and put in place necessary measures to ensure adequate cleaning and ‘social bubbles’ can be adhered to, we are fully confident our schools are safe spaces.

But rest assured, we will never be complacent and will continue to thoroughly monitor the situation and adapt as needed. (more…)

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 move forward for new Posh stadium

This week, the city council and Peterborough United Football Club announced the next stage in the club’s plans to move its stadium from London Road to a more central location.

As part of a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the club and the city council this week, potential sites for its new home include the Embankment and other nearby sites in the Local Area Development Framework.

Regular readers of my column will know about our City Centre Development Framework and how we have ambitious plans to provide our city with the retail, leisure and culture that it needs for the next 50 years by attracting inward investment.

Just as a new University will boost our cultural offerings and a transformed train station with better pedestrian access into the city centre will improve our connectivity, a new stadium for the Posh would benefit our whole city.

Our shared vision is to create a new home for Posh that has everything it needs to sustain its playing at a higher level and to work its way through the leagues over the coming years. This new state-of-the-art stadium would also be designed to be used for conferences, concerts, exhibitions and events, which in turn will attract new business, tourism and investment to Peterborough.

Already the club brings in over £7million of revenue to our city each year, boosting our tourism, creating local jobs and improving the health and wellbeing of over 1,000 young people from our communities each week. A new stadium would only increase the benefits for city and residents.

We will now be working closely with the football club to find a suitable location and next steps to achieve this shared aim – watch this space for further updates!

Signing on the pitch

 

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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…)

Why we want St Michael’s Gate

On Monday we announced plans to purchase 72 homes on St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell.

It’s a decision we thought long and hard about, after being offered the chance to buy them by current owners Stef and Philips, but it’s one that makes complete sense financially and for the people of our city in housing difficulty and I will tell you why.

Firstly, it allows us to continue offering these homes as temporary accommodation to people in need for many years to come. The alternative would be more expensive bed and breakfast accommodation which doesn’t meet our aspiration to offer everyone their own front door. Since we agreed to lease the properties in 2016 we have been able to provide temporary accommodation to almost 400 families at St Michael’s Gate.

Secondly, it makes good financial sense and immediately saves the council money. Owning these properties rather than leasing them saves £600,000 a year. 

Thirdly, if we didn’t choose to buy these homes, someone else would. Perhaps another council with a housing shortage as severe as ours looking for somewhere to place their homeless families, or a developer wanting to redevelop the land.

I understand that councillor Shaz Nawaz, leader of the labour group, has commented about the fact we are paying above the valuation price for these properties. It is true, we are, but for the many good reasons stated above.

We respect and understand the valuation, but we also know that a property’s real value is in fact what someone will pay for it, and if we did not buy them another council would. In addition, if other councils were using these properties to house their homeless families, we would then be providing council services for all of these families, placing further burden on our already stretched budgets.

Councillor Nawaz has also recommended that we should have bought these properties back in 2016. I’ve got news for him – we never had the chance! The first we knew about them was when we were offered them for rental by Stef and Philips three years ago.

I am pleased to say that we are also setting aside money to install new windows for the residents. Over the past year we’ve made a variety of repairs and modernisations, including new boilers and heating systems in all homes, paid for by the Local Enterprise Advice Partnership (LEAP) fund. 

Providing enough homes for everyone in our city has been one of our biggest challenges in recent times, because of the steep and sudden rise in demand. But our homeless strategy is working – we no longer have to house homeless families out of the area and the number of families in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73

This has been achieved by working with hundreds of families at risk of homelessness – with the aim of keeping them in their own homes, by working with our partners to build hundreds of new homes, by buying 51 homes on the open market and by working with landlords to secure an additional 48 homes.

But if we don’t act now to purchase one of the largest sites used for temporary accommodation in the city, we risk losing the ground we have worked so hard to gain in recent times. (more…)

Posh ground deal now a step closer to completion

Peterborough United is a club that is dear to my heart. I’ve been a fan for 56 years after being introduced to the club by my wife Barbara – it’s where we went on our first date!

So it was a great honour to walk onto the pitch on Saturday ahead of their second home game of the season against Ipswich Town, which they went on to dominate, before conceding an equaliser in the last moments.

Donning my trusty blue and white Posh scarf, I joined the owners of the club to sign a Heads of Terms agreement, which signals the final stages of sale of the ground back to the club, where it belongs.

Signing on the pitch

For those of you unaware of the history, back in 2009 the council bought the stadium and its surrounding land from a property developer to ensure its ownership stayed in the city.

Since then, the city council has unlocked the potential of the surrounding land, leading to the creation of the Allia Future Business Centre and the Vista carbon neutral development which is home to 295 households.

And there is more to come. When the stadium is returned back to the club – hopefully by the end of the year – the council will retain the London Road car park, which will be used to build 82 affordable city centre apartments, through the council’s Meadesham Homes partnership.

As well as generating some really good business and housing developments for this area of the city, the finances stack up as well.

The council has exceeded its expectations in terms of its return on investment from the sale, by generating a hefty £3.9million. Plus, the extra homes and businesses mean we will continue to collect £491,000 a year in business rates and a hefty £2million in council tax.

At a time when every penny counts in the council’s budget, this income is not to be sniffed at and represents a good deal everyone in our city.

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Still a fan half a century later

Before I write about anything else in my first blog of 2018, I would like to say a huge well done to Peterborough United for a fantastic game at the weekend.

I took the journey to the Villa Park ground with my grandsons on Saturday fully expecting an entertaining game, and by the time the first half ended, it was clear it would be just that.

All the players really stepped up and delivered a superb team performance, with Jack Marriott and Ryan Tafazolli delivering a perfect header from the corner to secure a 3-1 win.

My grandson Lewis went as far as to say it was the best football match he’d ever seen. Let’s hope he sees an even better one against Fleetwood or Leicester at the end of the month.

New developments

Sticking with the POSH theme, it’s a little known fact that my wife Barbara and I went on our first date together at the London Road ground just over 54 years ago. It was a memorable date for many reasons and we’ve been POSH fans ever since.

We got married in 1964 and just a few years into married life, I remember hearing exciting plans for a new development at North Westgate, a promising area near to the train station.

NorthWestgateDevelopmentMapView

Over the years many developers have come forward with big ideas on how to regenerate this site, which lies in an important location but is very much under-used, none of which have come to fruition.

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