City crisis is lesson for the nation - Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich

John Holdich ENGEMN00120131211162123
John Holdich ENGEMN00120131211162123
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As a local authority, Peterborough City Council is a member of the national Local Government Association and I recently met with its chairman, Lord Porter.

I wrote to Lord Porter in December on the matter of homelessness and how the situation we have experienced in Peterborough could be examined at a national level. The central focus of this letter was around St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell and I was keen to meet Lord Porter to discuss how we can work together to try and urgently stop a situation like this from happening again.

Lord Porter understood the situation that we face in Peterborough and said he had taken an interest in the story. He recognised that it was unfair that landlords can serve notice on such a large number of people in one street. He would welcome a change that would place a cap which might, for example, restrict the number of properties in a particular area or street that a landlord could do this.

I was pleased to hear that he would be requesting that the minister Marcus James MP visits Peterborough to hear the issues that we face first hand, both on the St Michael’s Gate situation and homelessness in general.

He wants to use our example in Peterborough so that the hard lessons we learned through St Michael’s Gate can be shared wider. I am pleased that people are sitting up and listening at a national level so that change can be made to stop a repeat of St Michael’s Gate. We continue to be proactive to try and cope with the high levels of people needing housing support.

Although housing is at a premium, everyone who finds themselves sleeping rough has an offer of accommodation from us. There is no need for anybody to sleep rough in Peterborough and not every town and city adopts this approach. There are a range of services and options that are offered to every rough sleeper but we strive to look for more.

We are set to lease 53 properties in Elizabeth Court from Cross Keys Homes to provide additional temporary accommodation for homeless households. By using accommodation at Elizabeth Court, rather than hotels or bed and breakfasts for the equivalent number of homeless households, it’s estimated the council would save close to £800,000 per year. Peterborough is performing better than any other city in the UK for housing stock growth (Centre for Cities). This will accelerate further in coming years thanks to our devolution deal with government and our partnership with Cross Keys Homes. We are acutely aware of the pressures on our housing system and of course want to help those who find themselves in housing difficulty.

It’s a huge challenge, like it is for most local authorities at the moment, but a challenge we can win if we continue to think innovatively to provide additional homes, and if we have support on a national level. We are all aware of the significant shortage of housing in the UK, and we need to push forward developments in Peterborough to alleviate this pressure.

I was thankful for Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson raising the future of one of the developments in Parliament last week, particularly as it would involve two new school builds. The Masterplan for Paston Reserve will deliver around 1,000 new homes overall along with supporting facilities.

There has been some delay with the landowners, however we are told progress is now being made to ensure the development happens as swiftly as possible. We are also hopeful of a project delivery group being formed which will ensure that the council, stakeholders and the community are fully informed of progress.

Council officer Ernest Mensah-Sekyere has been doing some fantastic work to support children in his home country of Ghana. I spoke to him recently and was impressed by his efforts, particularly working with the team organising the Perkins Great Eastern Run. All the remaining t-shirts, bibs and medals from last year’s event have been used by Ernest to donate to college and school athletic competitions in Ghana. He commits a lot of his time to helping those less fortunate in Africa and I am pleased to see how he is supported by Peterborough’s community. If you have anything to donate, for example old running tops or trainers, email Ernest on emensetch49@gmail.com