City centre ready to begin welcoming back shoppers

This week I’ve got more exciting news about the re-opening of our city centre from Monday following a relaxation of the government’s lockdown restrictions.

The city council has been working hard with the Combined Authority, Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough Positive over the past few weeks to give businesses the support and guidance they need to re-open confidently, and in a way that’s COVID-safe.

I know many of you will be delighted that the city centre is opening up again, while others will be a bit more cautious about venturing out. That’s why we’re putting lots of measures in place to help keep you safe, like pop-up cycle lanes, wider pavements, more street cleaning, floor and bench markings which show you how to keep a safe distance from others, and we’ll be continuing free parking in all council-owned car parks until the end of June.

Bridge street

And to welcome you back to the city, a number of our Covid-19 coordination hub volunteers are giving up their free time to act as volunteer marshals for the first week – supported by council officers. They’ll be on hand to guide you through the new measures, but more importantly they’re there to make your shopping trip a happy and safe one.

You can see all the details of the changes taking place in the city centre on our website and we’ll be sharing tips and advice on our social media pages. This will include things like checking in advance that the shops you want to visit are open, avoiding peak times of 11am to 2pm, walking and cycling if travelling short distances and reminders to wear a face covering on public transport.

Please share this information with your friends and family who may be planning a visit, especially those who don’t have access to the internet.

By shopping local you will be supporting our great city businesses, protecting local jobs and helping our economy to bounce back from the pandemic. (more…)

Celebrating Volunteers’ Week

This week is Volunteers’ Week – the annual celebration of all the wonderful people who go above and beyond to help others.

Volunteers really are the backbone of our city and support people to an extent which many will never appreciate. Charities, support groups, leisure attractions such as Nene Valley Railway – none of these would be able to meet the demand they do without an army of loyal volunteers.

But in recent weeks the coronavirus pandemic has shone an even brighter light on these volunteers, including the many who have so willingly signed up to help others during these most difficult times.

There are hundreds of people across our city who are supporting people who are in need, collecting medicines and food and doing other good deeds. In Castor and Ailsworth in my ward, five residents got together and set up a COVID-19 support group and recruited more than 80 volunteers in just five days. That’s an incredible achievement.

There are well established networks too which have had to call on even more support from volunteers to meet demand. Peterborough Foodbank has long been supported by a dedicated group of volunteers, but the service has recruited an additional 80 volunteers to help it cope with a 98% increase in the numbers of people being fed compared with the same time last year.

Our support for people who are most in need through the Peterborough COVID-19 Support Hub could not have been delivered without volunteers. Many are providing emotional support for people struggling with isolation, whilst others are collecting and delivering food and medicines or supporting organisations such as Family Voice by packing and delivering food parcels.

Even now as restrictions begin to ease, the work of the volunteers remains vital. For example, to begin re-opening our city in a manner that is safe, volunteers will be taking up marshalling and information support roles, ensuring that the crucial social distancing and safety measures are adhered to.

And as people continue to shield from the virus, the volunteers supporting the Countywide Coordination Hub will be vital to ensure this group of people has the support it needs.

pboro hub pic

So please, if you know someone who is volunteering, take time to show them how much you appreciate their efforts this week.

This evening I will be joining (virtually!) Acting Police and Crime Commissioner, Ray Bisby, for a Clap for Volunteers at 8pm in support of the invaluable contributions our volunteers continue to make to support people during Covid-19. Please join in too.

You can also share your thanks on social media using #ClapforVolunteers and #PboroTogether

Update on social distancing measures

The lockdown measures have been reduced further this week, with people now allowed to meet in groups of up to six people in outdoor settings, including gardens, whilst maintaining social distancing of 2 metres.

It comes as a relief to people like my wife Barbara and I, who have longed to be able to spend time with our children and grandchildren.

People who are shielding from the virus have also been told that they can go outdoors with members of their own household, or if they live alone, with one other person from another household who is isolating.

And of course, children in reception and years 1 and 6 were able to return to school and early years settings this week across many parts of the city. I would like to thank every school and early years setting for the extensive efforts they have gone to in order to make this return as smooth and safe for the children as possible.

We have also seen the launch of NHS Test and Trace which, in theory, will allow us to track every case of the coronavirus to thwart its spread in our communities.

The more people who use this system correctly, the more effective it will be at stopping the spread of the virus and the safer it will be for you and your loved ones and the faster we can lift the lockdown. So please use it.

More information about how the system works and what we need you to do is available at www.peterborough.gov.uk. Alternatively, if you develop symptoms, please call 119.

Online Booking system for Household Recycling Centre

When the Household Recycling Centre at Fengate reopened last month, I promised I would review the situation for vans and trailers as soon as possible.

So, I am pleased to say that on Wednesday we reopened the site to vans and trailers, however visits need to be booked in advance at www.peterborough.gov.uk.

HRC fengate

The online booking system is a temporary measure and will allow us to stagger access for these vehicles throughout the day, limiting queues and ensuring continued access to everyone who needs to make an essential visit.

You can rest assured the council will continue to work hard to keep its residents safe and well and to keep the city moving.

Peterborough pulls together for Mental Health Awareness Week

The past couple of months have been difficult for us all and I think it’s fair to say that most of us have suffered mentally through not being able to see family and friends and to socialise in the many ways we are used to doing.

For young people and those with pre-existing mental health conditions it has been particularly hard. Research carried out by Young Minds found that 83% of young people have said the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse.

This is really worrying and provides even greater reason for us to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and to talk about mental health and how we can all support one another better.

Throughout this week people are being asked to celebrate acts of kindness in their own lives and communities and to create a few more.

Every day I hear about kind acts taking place across our city – the pandemic has truly brought out the best in many people who are using their time to ensure others are safe and well.

Many of these stories come via our Peterborough COVID-19 Support Hub, run by the city council, which is assisting groups and organisations to help those in need, as well as supporting people directly to access food and medicine and in many other ways.

pboro hub pic

For example, Peterborough Asylum and Refuge Community Association (PARCA) received a request for emergency food for a family of four recently. Moez Nathu, CEO of PARCA, delivered the emergency food within a couple of hours of the request being made.

The Peterborough Foodbank, which has been doing fantastic work in our city for many years, has recently recruited an additional 80 volunteers to keep up with demand from those who need help accessing food during the pandemic. All these people are giving their time for free to help those most in need.

Just last week an urgent call came into the city council’s hub from a lady who needed medication for her son that evening. The call was received at 5pm and by 5.40pm SERV, a local bikers group, had delivered the medication to the family.

It’s these kinds of examples that make me proud to live and work in Peterborough.

If you need help from the Peterborough Hub, please visit www.peterborough.gov.uk/coordinationhub or call 01733 747474, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Lots of information and advice around mental health is available at www.keep-your-head.com. In response to the pandemic, the Lifeline helpline, a free mental health support service, has increased its hours so people can call 0808 808 2121 and receive help between 9am and 11pm Monday to Friday and 2pm to 11pm on weekends and Bank Holidays. (more…)

A reflection on Peterborough in 2020

Today I should have been drawing to a close a career in politics that has spanned more than 40 years.

In January I reluctantly announced I would be retiring from the council at the local elections, for health reasons and to spend more time with my family.

Those elections should have taken place today, but because of the pandemic have been postponed.

I’m pleased that I can continue to serve the city for a further year, using my experience to lead the council through this particularly challenging time.

It gives me great pleasure to do so when I see the fantastic efforts being made by people and organisations across the city to help others.

They say that adversity can often bring the best out in people and that is certainly what we are seeing once again in Peterborough.

In my own village of Glinton we have a bank of volunteers helping people to access food and medicine and with other needs. The Friendship Club which my wife Barbara runs is also supporting people who are isolating, running a buddy scheme which see members regularly ringing villagers to check they are OK.

In Castor and Ailsworth there is a team of more than 70 volunteers supporting those who need help, posting mail, collecting food and organising online quiz nights.

Villagers in Ashton and Bainton have been donating non-perishable food items by placing them on their doorsteps in shopping bags tied with brightly-coloured ribbon. This is then delivered to Peterborough Foodbank for sharing with those in need.

But it’s not just the villages – these acts of kindness are taking place across the whole city.

Members of the Husaini Islamic Centre have been helping those who need support and producing online sermons, lectures and prayers to be streamed into people’s homes.

Atif Iqbal, a secondary school teacher, has co-ordinated and prepared Ramadan gift bags for prisoners at HMP Peterborough.  Items such as prayer mats and the holy Quran were donated by the Muslim community, businesses and organisations. Secondary school teachers have also been making protective visors for health services.

Peterborough Foodbank has recruited more than 60 new volunteers to help those self-isolating. Since 23 March, it has fed more than 1,300 people and given away 6,021 kilograms of food, enough to make 14,335 meals.

City College Peterborough has a small army of staff making and delivering 100 packed lunches to the homeless each day. About 150 hot meals are also cooked and delivered to students and Cross Keys residents that are self-isolating and don’t have other support.

These are just a few of the many examples which show how people are helping others to stay safe and well in these difficult times.

Of course, I should also mention the council staff who are working hard to keep the city moving and supporting those who need it – our social workers, refuse and recycling crews, school staff and many more.

Only this week I heard that our passenger transport team that usually takes children to and from school has been transporting a man undergoing cancer treatment to his hospital appointments. He was unable to access his usual public transport and it was taking him two hours to make the journey. Our passenger transport team is now taking him to his appointments which is making the experience much easier for him.

Please, continue to think of the people who live around you and check they are OK. Just a phone call once a week may be all it takes for that person to feel supported. (more…)

Climate Action Day – thank you for participating

I’d like to start by saying a big thank you to everyone who participated in our first ever Climate Action Day.

The support we had from residents and organisations across the city was fantastic. Facebook and Twitter were awash with pledges from people sharing their experiences of walking to work, consuming zero plastic and planting trees.

As you might know, I went vegan for the day, which wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. In fact, it will make me consider alternatives to meat and dairy products in the future.

Climate action day montage

The timing of the action day was to coincide with Full Council being asked to rubber stamp an action plan which sets out how we’ll begin working towards making the council net zero carbon by 2030.

I’m pleased to say that councillors backed the plan which commits us to doing a whole host of things to cut our carbon emissions.

At the meeting councillors also signed off the 2020/21 budget, but it wasn’t without fireworks.

Unfortunately, some members took advantage of the fact two Conservative councillors had to leave the meeting for family emergencies and voted against the budget.

Every councillor in the chamber that evening knew how critical it was for us to be able to set a budget, but they were willing to jeopardise that by voting against the proposals, all of which they had previously had the chance to comment on and discuss. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats wanted us to spend even more money!

Luckily our two absent voters were able to return and the budget was passed. However, the challenge continues as we now look to find a way to balance our budget in future years.

As it stands, we have a £16m hole to fill in 2021/22 and will face similar challenges in years that follow. We cannot continue to meet this challenge year after year with one off savings and by salami slicing budgets. We have to find a way of providing the services that we need to, with the money that we have available.

That is what we are now working on, a complete redesign of council services. This won’t be easy, but with our funding reducing year on year and demand increasing, it is essential.

What we need in these unprecedented and challenging times, is for all members to pull together for the good of the council and the city. This is not about which party you represent; it is about doing what’s best for our residents, the future of our council and the city.

Experience tells me that this is what our residents want, and it is what I want.

POSH’s Tommy Robson to receive Freedom of the City

I’m a lifelong Peterborough United fan so it gives me great pleasure to announce that the council has recommended that one of its greatest ever players receives the Freedom of the City.

A special meeting of Full Council will take place on 26 March to decide whether to award the honour to Tommy Robson, who holds the club record for the greatest number of first team appearances and has raised thousands of pounds over the years for local charities, most notably the Amazon children’s ward at the former Peterborough District Hospital.

I saw Tommy play many times and he was a real crowd pleaser; everyone on the terraces loved him. He was a flying machine down the left wing which is why he scored so many goals and created many more.

He remains a stalwart of the club, volunteers his time to help good causes and is a thoroughly nice bloke to boot.

As many will know, Tommy was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease last summer and it has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family. I hope this recommendation will lighten the load temporarily and show him how highly he is regarded by many across our city.

Civic Awards – congratulations

Finally, I would like to congratulate everyone who received a Civic Award last week. There were some very worthy winners this year, including people who had gone to the aid of a pensioner being attacked and those who had dedicated their lives to helping others.

civic awards at town hall

I was particularly pleased to see that Dave Ellis had been awarded a lifetime achievement award. He was given the award for his work volunteering, having supported hundreds of airmen and air cadets over the years.

Dave has done a huge amount for our city and there are many RAF cadets past and present who have a lot to thank him for.

Peterborough businesses on the increase

I was pleased to read in this newspaper recently that the number of newly registered companies in Peterborough was higher than anywhere else in the county.

New figures show that there were 1,295 business start-ups last year, bringing the total number of companies in the city to an impressive 7,160.

cowgate

That’s really good news and shows that our efforts, alongside our colleagues at Opportunity Peterborough, to position Peterborough as a great place to do business is paying off.

I see evidence of this frequently and only last week Coloplast opened a new £9million distribution centre which is a huge vote of confidence in the city.

Another city-based company operating globally, Photocentric Limited, has just been awarded £1.8million by the Combined Authority to create a flagship UK centre for 3D printing excellence.

I showed the Mayor of the Combined Authority, James Palmer, around the company, which designs and manufactures 3D printers and resins. We were both impressed at the level of expertise on show and the innovation taking place in our city.

Photocentric was founded in 2002 at Workspace House in Woodston with just one employee. Today, 18 years later, it employs 145 people in the city and 40 more in its US subsidiary in Phoenix, Arizona, with a current turnover of £11m. Photocentric has ambitious plans to double its turnover in 2020, exploiting its unique 3D printing technology.

We are at a crucial stage in Peterborough’s growth – we’re regenerating many key sites across the city centre including Northminster, the railway station and North Westgate and the new university is on track for a 2022 opening. Therefore, it’s important we continue to support businesses and position Peterborough as a premier location in the UK for ambitious businesses.

Opportunity Peterborough offers free of charge guidance, signposting and connections with knowledge and research centres for local businesses.

On the subject of Opportunity Peterborough, it’s hot off the press that they’ve been awarded £715,000, subject to state aid approval, to set up a smart manufacturing association as a joint venture with the Combined Authority. Manufacturing is one of the city’s biggest sectors – we’re home to giants like Caterpillar Perkins and Baker Perkins as well as smaller cutting-edge firms like Photocentric and Radical Sports Cars.

The association will help the sector stay at the cutting edge and really drive forward innovation. It’s an important part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough economy too – manufacturing accounted for 13% of our area’s economic growth between 2010 and 2017. (more…)

Join us for #PboroMarchForth day

Next Wednesday, I will join hundreds of city residents in ‘marching forth’ for the environment, by taking part in the city’s first ever Climate Action Day.

You might remember that back in July, Peterborough City Council declared a climate emergency and committed to reducing its carbon emissions to zero by 2030. Since then we’ve had a cross party working group looking at different activities, projects and awareness raising events that could help us achieve this.

Our Climate Action Day event is something the whole city can take part in. It’s held on March 4 and we are calling it – yep, you’ve guessed it – March Forth for the environment.

As part of March Forth we are asking residents to make a personal pledge to change one aspect of their daily routine for a full 24 hours to reduce their carbon emissions.

This could be going vegan for the day, walking to work or making a pledge to use zero plastic.

By challenging people to ‘have a go’ at reducing their climate emissions for just 24 hours, we hope to show just how easy it is and hopefully inspire some of you to continue your challenges either long-term or for a couple of days a week over the next year.

There will be lots of prominent city residents and businesses taking part, such as city firefighters, the police, Peterborough United, Peterborough Civic Society and of course, journalists from the Peterborough Telegraph.

And I strongly urge you all to make your own personal pledges for the day and to share updates on how you are getting on using the #PboroMarchForth hashtag throughout the day.

I’ll be going vegan for the day and while I think it will be fairly easy for lunch and dinner, I’m struggling at the moment to think about how to replace my morning cereal and milk.

I know there’s various dairy free milks out there at the moment, but there’s so many it’s confusing and I have no idea which ones go well with fruit and fibre branflakes. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

(more…)

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.