Joel Lamy’s top five Peterborough political moments of 2015

General Election Count 2015.   Stewart Jackson  wins his seat EMN-150805-131254009
General Election Count 2015. Stewart Jackson wins his seat EMN-150805-131254009
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With 2016 now upon us, Peterborough Telegraph reporter Joel Lamy has cast his eye back over some of the major political moments in Peterborough over the past 12 months after a year of attending council meetings and the general and local elections.

The year saw the unseating of the outspoken Conservative Peterborough City Council leader Marco Cereste who was replaced at the top of the chain by his deputy, Councillor John Holdich.

But while that may have been a shock to most who felt that Mr Cereste’s re-election was a mere formality, it does not make Joel’s top five moments from a busy year sitting through an array of both memorable and painful council meetings.

The Top Five

1. Election night (and morning for that matter) proved a dramatic affair both nationally and locally. Here, Conservative Stewart Jackson was seeking a third stint as Peterborough’s MP, but the seat was expected to be closely-fought with Labour sending in some of its biggest hitters such as Yvette Cooper and John Prescott to try and canvass support.

Ukip, too, were expected to win a lot of votes.

The build-up to the election became even more heightened a week before the vote when a poll by Lord Ashcroft had Labour’s candidate Lisa Forbes in the lead.

So there was a lot of tension at the Peterborough Showground where the results were counted, and when Mr Jackson was announced as the winner it provoked a remarkable victory speech which must have topped any heard up and down the country that evening.

Yes, Lazarus was back from the dead.

Full story and video - Re-elected MP Stewart Jackson in controversial victory speech

2. Peterobourgh was crying out for a re-development of the derelict North Westgate site. So when developers promised to come in and transform the area with £100 million spent on a new cinema, restaurants, shops, homes etc it felt like the long wait was finally over after several false starts.

But next door, Queensgate Shopping Centre decided it too wanted a cinema. And as it turned out the city centre was only big enough for one multiplex, so a decision on who to back had to be made.

Both developments were up for consideration at the same Peterborough City Council meeting, with councillors being warned that approval for Queensgate almost certainly meant killing hopes for the North Westgate transformation to go ahead.

So in a packed out room in the council, a dramatic couple of hours unfolded as councillors decided whether to back the Queensgate development, or reject it and give a clear run for the North Westgate revamp to finally take place.

And so #GateGateGate (as it was billed on Twitter) began.

Full story - Green light for two cinema-led developments in Peterborough

3. Peterborough’s squatters had been making a name for themselves by occupying a number of buildings in the city, polarising opinion on the Peterborough’s Telegraph website and social media accounts.

But their biggest stunt came as they noisily “took over” the Town Hall, promising not to leave until all homeless people had been given a place to sleep.

With the police inside the building keeping the peace, it was left to Gillian Beasley, the council’s chief executive who receives a salary of £170,000 a year, to break the impasse as she walked homeless man Kevin to Bayard Place where he was to meet the council’s head of housing.

The sight of them walking together and chatting on Bridge Street was one of the most unlikely photos of the year.

Kevin was to be offered short-term accommodation while Ms Beasley later became chief executive of Cambridgeshire County Council, combining her role with the city council.

Full story and video - VIDEO: Council chief intervenes as squatters ‘take over’ Peterborough’s Town Hall

4. What seemed like a normal, uncontroversial council meeting burst into life twice thanks to two motions proposed by councillors.

First, there were arguments over allowing Syrian refugees to settle in Peterborough which became quite personal, but this was just the prelude to a motion to take down the photos of former mayors who have been convicted of electoral fraud.

Attacks flew in at the proposer of the motion, Councillor John Knowles, with the most powerful and controversial one coming from veteran member Cllr Charles Swift.

In surely the most astonishing speech given by a councillor all year, Cllr Swift defended two former mayors guilty of electoral fraud, accused councillors of bending electoral laws, and even said he himself was not “whiter than white.”

Then gently reminded that the new Chief Constable for Cambridgeshire police was in the room, a non-plussed Cllr Swift said: “With great respect I’ve known chief constables in the past and they’ve been rogues.”

Full story - ‘Many councillors bend electoral laws’ - Motion to remove images of fraudulent Peterborough mayors is condemned

5. The building of homes at the former Peterborough District Hospital site hit a snag in 2015 when developers claimed that their costs had gone up and the money they expected to make had fallen below their original estimates.

Threatening to stop the demolition of the former hospital, they came before councillors to ask for a reprieve worth hundreds of thousands of pounds on the contributions they agreed to pay for receiving planning permission on the site, and they also asked that they no longer be required to provide any affordable housing.

The plea drew quite a negative response from councillors on the council’s planning committee who reluctantly agreed to alter the previous agreement.

But one councillor went slightly further than the others in showing her displeasure at the developers. That was Cllr Ann Sylvester who queried how homes - which are not far from London and are near a railway station, bus centre, school, supermarket and shops - were now less in demand than before.

She then delivered the knockout line, explaining how even her cat could flog a house under those circumstances.

Amidst the usual squabbles which take place when a group of councillors get together, this was undoubtedly a put-down of the highest quality.

Full story - Six-figure money plea pays dividends for developers at former Peterborough District Hospital site

What are your favourite moments of 2015? Let us know in the comments, email: news@peterboroughtoday.co.uk or tell us on Facebook or Twitter.