Steve Cox, executive director for economy and place, gave an optimistic vision of Peterborough’s future while sounding caution over potential future government restrictions due to Covid-19.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Peterborough Telegraph after taking part in a virtual investors conference, Mr Cox said the public sector has been “showing leadership” in its response to the crisis, and that progress on an ambitious and wide-ranging city centre masterplan is continuing at pace.
This includes the redevelopment of the Station Quarter, Northminster, North Westgate and the Embankment, as well as the finalisation of the Fletton Quays development on Peterborough’s South Bank.
“You may get the sense from other places that things have ground to a halt and nothing was going on, but we know we’ve got the development of the Queensgate centre happening. Lidl have completed their distribution centre in the city (at Peterborough Gateway), the Hilton hotel is coming out of the ground, we’ve got the commitment from government for the new hub at Fletton Quays and there’s been great progress with the university,” Mr Cox said.
“So while other places may have been standing still we’ve been carrying on with investment being made. It’s not just the public sector but businesses which are investing in Peterborough.
“They do their research and won’t spend their money somewhere where they don’t think they’re going to get customers.
“There is confidence and we should take heart that the confidence has remained during a difficult economic period and continues to be displayed today.”
The council is expecting to hear back very shortly from the Government on whether its £25 million Towns Fund bid has been successful.
Proposals include: a new bridge over the River Nene linking the Fletton Quays development and the new university campus, a new library and cultural hub at the TK Maxx building in Bridge Street and an activity centre at Ferry Meadows.
Already, £1 million has been allocated from the fund to improve more than a dozen city parks and open spaces which Mr Cox said is a “sign of confidence from government” in the bid.
Speaking about how businesses in the city are recovering from lockdown, he highlighted positive trends, stating: “Footfall is up to pre-lockdown levels in Peterborough which is a positive signal.
“Like everywhere we’re going to have the challenges of survival of businesses.
“As we’ve seen elsewhere in the country another lockdown could signal the end of some bars and restaurants.
“We’re as best placed as any city centre to ride out the challenges, but as the local authority - and with the support of the combined authority - we’ve got to stay on top of the needs of what our businesses, retailers and restaurants need so we can give them the support they need to thrive.”
However, Mr Cox acknowledged that progress in the city could be impacted if virus rates increase and local restrictions are implemented, as well as the end of the Government’s furlough scheme at the end of the month.
He added: “We are acutely aware that there are people who have not experienced unemployment before that may become unemployed and need support. We need to be making sure we’re aware of that and have support mechanisms and training programmes.
“The priority for us is to make sure we’re not in a position where we’re in a further lockdown or have further restrictions on our city so businesses can carry on trading and welcome customers in so they can continue to hopefully be profitable.”