Peterborough to take ‘climate action’

On one of the hottest days on record last summer I presented a motion to Full Council urging members to declare a climate emergency and commit to reducing the council’s carbon use to net-zero by 2030.

What followed was quite unusual – every single member in the chamber, regardless of which colour rosette they wear, supported it. If you watch our Full Council meetings live on Facebook, you will know this happens once in a blue moon.

As I said that night, we discuss many important items in the council chamberbut none of them matter if we have no planet to live on.

At a cabinet meeting on Monday members will consider a plan which sets out how the council will start to work towards becoming carbon neutral.

The Carbon Management Action Plan includes a top 20 pledges, which includes replacing the mayor’s car with an ultra-low emissions vehicle, considering leasing additional office space to reduce energy demands and investigating whether we could dim street lighting further. It also commits to reviewing the council’s electricity and gas contracts and moving towards 100 per cent renewable energy tariffs and 100 per cent carbon off-set gas tariffs.

There is lots that we are doing already – many of our schools have solar panels and rain water harvesters, we’re dimming street lights to reduce energy use and building more homes in the city so that people are less reliant on cars and more likely to use public transport. However, the action plan is our first major step in delivering our commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions.

Cabinet members will be asked to endorse the plan and it will then go before Full Council on 4 March for final sign off. We are planning for this day to be designated ‘climate action day’ when we encourage staff and residents to do their ‘extra bit’ to reduce their carbon impact on that day. It is hoped that if someone reduces their impact on one day, then they might be persuaded to do it more frequently.

council chamber

I have solar panels on my roof to heat water which has reduced our energy use and bills – I’ve got loft insulation and cavity wall insulation too for the same reasons. We recycle as much as we can and have reduced the amount of waste we produce.

In the words of a wellknown supermarket chain, every little helps. The action that we can take individually and as a city can make a difference and it also sends out a clear message that we must all change our ways. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do so. (more…)

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.

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.

Fining flytippers and stamping out scammers

When you travel around the country you realise there are some issues that affect every town and city.

Flytipping is one of those issues. No matter where you live, it seems that a small minority of people find it acceptable to dispose of their waste illegally.

On Monday I chaired a cabinet meeting where members discussed a report by a cross-party task and finish group which I set up to investigate and make recommendations on how we might reduce flytipping.

Councillors who sit on the group presented their recommendations, which included expanding the bulky waste collection service to allow one free collection of up to five items per household per annum, reviewing the Household Recycling Centre’s opening times and for a proposal to be worked up which allows commercial waste to be disposed of at the recycling centre for a charge.

When you consider that two thirds of fly-tipping comes from households, it’s clear that we also need to do more to educate residents of their responsibility when it comes to disposing of their waste – a further recommendation of the task and finish group.

This week a new campaign has been launched by RECAP, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Waste Partnership, which urges people to make sure their waste is being taken away by a registered waste carrier, to a suitably licenced disposal site.

If you pay someone to take waste away on your behalf, check that they have a waste carrier’s licence and you can also check the company on the Environment Agency’s website before using them. Be aware, if someone flytips your waste, you as well as the person who flytips, could be landed with a hefty fine.

The vast majority of our residents are clearly using the facilities that are available. The Household Recycling Centre has proved a huge success since it opened in February, with 170 tonnes of additional recycling deposited there since February, compared to the same period the year before. The knock on effect is that there is 200 tonnes less residual waste being deposited.

Leader opening recycling centre

The recommendations that have been made by our cross-party working group are not a panacea, but they are a step in the right direction to reducing levels of flytipping and the money the council spends each year clearing it up – currently in the region of £200,000.

That’s money we can better spend providing care for the elderly, supporting children in need, creating housing and providing the many other services that our residents need. (more…)

Peterborough’s post-election priorities

Last week’s local elections saw the Conservative Party remain as the largest overall party on the council.

I would like to say a big thank you to those who voted and everybody involved in the organisation of the elections.

The council’s elections team has worked tirelessly in recent weeks and they were helped by hundreds of dedicated folk who staffed polling stations and counted votes on the night, so a big well done to you all.

Our focus now turns to the year ahead and delivering the services that residents told us were important to them when we were knocking on doors in the run up to the elections.

election count

Top of our agenda will be those residents who need our help the most – so keeping children and young people safe and allowing them to reach their potential and supporting adults and older people who need our help to remain living independent and happy lives.

We will continue to work closely with our schools to support them to attract good quality teachers and raise attainment levels. Plans for a university continue to progress and within a year I would expect to see planning permission in place for the university campus building on the embankment.

People who are in housing difficulty remain our priority and we will be working with them to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place and where this is not possible, supporting them to find suitable accommodation. We will also continue to support new house building projects so that we have a good supply of housing of all tenures coming forward to meet the needs of our growing city.

I know that the cleanliness of the city is a priority for our residents and that’s why we launched our own trading company to provide waste collection, street cleansing and other services. Doing so has given us more control over the way these services are provided.

We will continue to invest in our roads and cycleways, particularly in areas of the city where we are experiencing high levels of growth, so that people can continue to travel around our city with ease.

I also want us to work more closely with our residents so that they can help us to improve our communities. We are seeing good examples of this across the city, such as the Good Neighbours Scheme in Castor which supports the elderly. I believe we can help encourage many more initiatives like this, therefore putting our communities at the heart of everything we do.

There is much work to be done over the next 12 months to ensure we can continue providing the services that our residents need, against a backdrop of ever decreasing government funding and the need to make millions of pounds of savings.

As the largest party on the council, with support from our fellow opposition members, I believe that we can meet the challenge. (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…)

Looking at new ways to provide waste and recycling services

This week the council and its partner Amey have announced their intention to end the waste and recycling contract and establish a new way of providing services.

It’s one of a number of budget proposals for 2017/18 announced tomorrow (Friday) which, including measures agreed at the end of last year, look to save around £28million to allow us to deliver a balanced budget in times of increasing demands for services and ever reducing government funding.

It’s too early to say how waste and recycling services will be provided in the future, but it is likely to be a joint venture partnership with a private organisation. What’s important is that any new arrangement will allow the council more control over how services are provided and ensure that a percentage of commercial income generated is returned to us to provide services for residents.

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Consultation on devolution deal

Yesterday our region was mentioned as part of the Chancellor’s budget speech.

As some of you will be aware discussions between councils covering Cambridgeshire, Peterborough, Norfolk and Suffolk have been taking place with government recently.

These talks have now resulted in a devolution deal for East Anglia from the government.

The offer is to transfer a number of powers and funding from central government so they can be decided locally. The government wants councils to form an East Anglia Combined Authority which would cover the areas just mentioned.

My decision to agree to debate this offer from government now allows every city councillor the opportunity to have their say on whether the proposed deal benefits the city and our residents.

It can only be right that a deal of this magnitude and importance is open to extensive public scrutiny so that we can listen to views from across our city before councillors decide if this is the right deal for Peterborough.

A public consultation will therefore be held and a final decision on whether we become part of a combined authority will be decided by Full Council – this is when every city councillor votes on the issue.

The government’s deal is worth more than one billion pounds of new money to support economic growth in East Anglia over the next 30 years. As well as new decision making powers for the region on issues such as investment in infrastructure, growth, house building, jobs and skills.

For Peterborough, the deal includes commitments from government to develop an independent university in Peterborough. You can read more by visiting our website.

Peterborough City Council would keep its sovereignty and continue to deliver a vast range of services as we do currently – even if we are part of a combined authority. 

I’m keen to hear as many views as possible from residents and businesses. So when we launch the consultation I would encourage you to take part and have your say.

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It’s new year – how about a new you?

It’s the time of year many of us resolve to make a fresh start and change our lives for the better.

If you want to get fit, stop smoking, recycle more, or lend a helping hand in your community then there are lots of facilities, groups and services in Peterborough to help you reach your goal.

Getting fit…

Peterborough’s leisure provider Vivacity is offering no joining fee at its six gyms during January.

The facilities available to use at the gyms – in particular, at the new Vivacity Premier Fitness in Hampton – are superb. These include swimming pools and state-of-the-art fitness equipment.

If you like to set yourself a goal, runners are already lining up to be part of the Perkins Great Eastern Run 2016. A record number of people have pre-registered for the event, which falls on Sunday 9 October, you can register your interest for the half marathon and fun run using the online form.

My wife and I were among the 7,000 people that took part in last year’s event, by completing the 5k Anna’s Hope fun run which takes place alongside the half marathon.

(more…)