Large investment in Peterborough city centre will ‘spur recovery’ from coronavirus

The Towns Fund bid includes a bridge over the River NeneThe Towns Fund bid includes a bridge over the River Nene
The Towns Fund bid includes a bridge over the River Nene
A large investment in Peterborough’s city centre will help spur the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, it is hoped.

Tom Hennessy, chief executive of Opportunity Peterborough, the not-for-profit body which aims to boost economic development in the city, was positive about future plans which include the opening of a new university at the Embankment in 2022.

Peterborough has also submitted a bid for £25 million to the Government as part of its Towns Fund programme which includes:

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. A new bridge over the River Nene that would be used by pedestrians and cyclists

. A masterplan for the Embankment

. A new library and cultural hub at the TK Maxx building in Bridge Street

. A National Bronze Age extension to the museum

. A Lakeside activity/climbing centre at Ferry Meadows

. Improved routes from the train station to the city centre

. Opening up land for the development of new homes and offices

. An enterprise, training and business incubation hub to support new city businesses and start-ups

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. A training centre for green technology skills, aimed towards the construction and automotive sectors

. Creating safer, easily accessible routes for pedestrians and cyclists to the train station, city centre and elsewhere

. Enhancement of public realm and open spaces to support the wellbeing of residents and helping the city to move towards the goal of becoming carbon neutral.

On top of the Towns Fund and new university, a bid of £1 million to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority for “short term improvements” to the city centre to encourage people to return has also been made.

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Speaking to the Peterborough Telegraph, Mr Hennessy said: “With the university we will start seeing that breaking ground on site. Feasibility studies are being done for the Station Quarter. There are a lot of catalysts for growth in the city centre. That’s only going to be a positive for the city as a whole.

“Our economy is doing okay. We’re seeing higher than average increases in unemployment which is the nature of our economy. There is a higher than average number of contract workers and agency workers in the distribution sector in particular. But flexibility means can have a very quick recovery as well.

“The general feeling is we’re going to recover quicker than projected earlier on in the crisis.”

Asked if there will be long-term changes in Peterborough due to the pandemic, Mr Hennessy replied: “There are bound to be. But it’s going to accelerate some changes we were seeing on the high street anyway.

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“We’re still seeing relatively low returns to offices, around 30 per cent of previous activity. That will impact on the city centre in particular and retailers and restaurants there. That’s part of the picture we’re seeing nationally.

“We’ve got to look at those challenges and look at how we change what the city centre has to offer. The Towns Fund, and when the university and Station Quarter come on line, that will have a big impact.

“We’ve seen a shift over recent years from office space to residential. While we need more high quality office space in the city centre, increased footfall from residential living will help to support the city centre economy if we do see a reduction in people returning to the office.”

Mr Hennessy also gave his thoughts on striking the balance between boosting cycling in the city centre by closing off roads to cars, and supporting businesses.

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Mr Hennessy said: “There’s concern from businesses in some quarters which is understandable, particularly on the retail side of things. Covid is the last in a long line of issues for the high street. Not just in Peterborough but nationally.

“Anything that will look to impact on accessibility to businesses, I can understand their concerns. I hope plans will formulate that take on board those concerns in a serious way.

“But anything to increase an active lifestyle and develop a more sustainable city and improve air quality should be pursued also. Getting that balance is tricky in certain places. We have to work with stakeholders and businesses to get the right solution for everybody.”