Freedom of Peterborough honour for 90-year-old planning expert who ‘built city’

Celebrating 25 years of the Nene Park Trust at Ferry Meadows, Wyndham Thomas, right, and Cllr Charles Swift - both were there at the beginning of the project. ENGEMN00120130923193741

Celebrating 25 years of the Nene Park Trust at Ferry Meadows, Wyndham Thomas, right, and Cllr Charles Swift - both were there at the beginning of the project. ENGEMN00120130923193741

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Once dubbed the “city builder” he is credited with effectively being the architect of modern Peterborough.

Now, respected town planner Wyndham Thomas (90) has just been conferred with the honour of the Freedom of the City – he created – by members of Peterborough City Council.

It is a fitting reward for Mr Thomas who for more than 14 years as head of the Peterborough Development Corporation from 1968, was tasked with turning Peterborough into one of the government’s sought after New Towns.

He said: “I was really surprised and delighted when I was told I might be honoured in this way.

“It’s lovely but it is a shame that I can’t get into the city centre as much now as I would like to.

“I spend much of my time keeping in touch with my family - I have four children and seven grandchildren.”

A young Wyndham thomas ENGEMN00120130328133641

A young Wyndham thomas ENGEMN00120130328133641

But, despite the passage of time, Mr Thomas is still passionate about the city.

He talks fondly of some of his favourite projects - Nene Park and the parkway roads system.

Among his triumphs was the construction of the Queensgate shopping centre.

But its lack of development makes him sad.

Queensgate is more significant to the wider region than I had first thought.

Wyndham Thomas

He said: “When Queensgate was built I had not realised how dependent the small towns and villages around Peterborough would become. The centre is more significant to a wider region than I had first thought.”

“But it has lacked development and is something the owners should look at.”

Mr Thomas was the person who engineered the arrival of big name employers John Lewis and Thomas Cook to the city.

Surveying the city today, Mr Thomas says he does have concerns about the changing population of the city.

He said: “Things have changed in Peterborough so much since my time with the development corporation.

“In particular the racial character of the city is so different. It is quite complicated now.

“Where are commercial and industrial firms that have contributed to growth? Where are the people who have the high knowledge skills?”

He was also not sure about the fountains in the £12 million revamped Cathedral Square and St John’s Square.

He said: “I think the fountains were a mistaken venture.”

He added: “I always thought it was difficult to make a viable centre attraction with a water fountain because so much depends on its continued upkeep and improvement.”

Wyndham Thomas was appointed the general manager of Peterborough Development Corporation in 1968. It had been set up to take forward the expansion of Peterborough.

During his time in charge, Mr Thomas and his team travelled the world to sell Peterborough.

The city grew from a population of about 70,000 to 120,000 people.

He was born in born in south Wales in 1924. He joined the Army, serving as a lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers from 1943 to 1947.

He married in 1947 and moved to Hemel Hempstead and married Elizabeth.

He became Mayor of Hemel Hempstead, and at the time would have been the youngest mayor ever to be appointed.

He enjoyed playing rugby and was vice-captain of the Camelot Rugby Union Football Club

He was made vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association in 1992 as well as a member of the council of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

He was awarded the CBE for his work in the New Towns project.