Stewart Jackson: It’s not too late for us to work together

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

Stewart Jackson MP's Westminster Life column in the Peterborough Telegraph - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

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The saga of the proposed North Westgate development crumbles on - with a tussle between Peterborough City Council and Hawksworth Properties over the former’s plans to compulsorily purchase the site and take the lead on efforts to regenerate this city centre area - something that’s been in council plans since 1971!

I’ve tried to broker a deal between the parties before now. Without success but on this occasion, my sympathies are largely with the council. Hawksworth have promised action for too long and nothing has happened and something has got to give. It was clear to me that they lacked full land ownership and much needed cash, which regrettably outweighed their enthusiasm and promises from major cinema chains....allegedly. The decision to spend thousands of pounds seeking a judicial review of the council’s planning decisions was also a waste of money and frankly a diversion.

This isn’t to say the council are free from blame for the impasse: I warned them well over a year ago that granting planning permission for what was effectively two competing proposals each with a cinema as an “anchor” tenant at the same planning meeting (!) was foolish and would prolong the needless conflict over North Westgate and so it has proven to be the case.

As predicted, neither scheme has made headway.

The bottom line is we need this last piece of the City Centre Area Action Plan jigsaw to be completed. We need new shops and restaurants, leisure facilities and good quality public open space, community facilities and quality homes. And such a project should complement an improved and refreshed Queensgate Shopping Centre with a new cinema at its heart - there’s no need for each scheme to cut the throat of the other. The two can work together and succeed, notwithstanding recent proposals to overhaul Serpentine Green in Hampton.

Fundamentally, why is a cinema so important? I believe that the city council scheme could be viable with (say) a new public auditorium for arts and culture, an ice rink perhaps or a large gym or fitness centre: None of which our city centre currently boasts.

If I were the council, I’d consult widely on these ideas, across community groups, local and regional businesses, national retailers, residents and other interested parties.

It’s not too late surely for us all to work together to make our city centre the one we know Peterborough needs and one of the best in the country.

Do you agree with me?