Are changes to the city for the better?

Thornton on Thursday column with Peterborough Telegraph's deputy editor Nigel Thornton - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Thornton on Thursday column with Peterborough Telegraph's deputy editor Nigel Thornton - peterboroughtoday.co.uk

Not long after I moved to Peterborough more than 20 years ago, there was another new arrival at Telegraph Towers.

The newspaper employed a talented journalist as news editor. It was a return home for him as several years previously he had begun his career as a cub reporter on the ET.

Shortly after his second coming the then editor had an idea (they do have them occasionally!).He wanted the news editor to do an opinion piece on the changes there had been in the city since he’d last worked in Peterborough.

To say he was unenthusiatic was putting it mildly. “There hasn’t been any,’’ he grumbled. A Mexican stand-off developed between him and the editor.

The article never got written.

But if we were to employ him tomorrow for a third time I’m sure he would write it now.

There have been many developments in the city since I arrived in early 1997 although paradoxically much hasn’t changed.

The cathedral naturally remains the city’s crowning glory, but disappointinglyis still the city’s only visitor attraction of note.

Bridge Street has been revamped but people are still being fined for cycling down it. Posh were in Division 3 where they still are, albeit it’s now called League 1.

City councillors are still behaving badly (towards each other at least) and despite the seemingly never-ending roadworks and accidents caused by bad driving, the city remains a wonderfully easy place to get from A to B.

Ferry Meadows is still a major amenity for city residents and North Westgate still isn’t.

Perhaps the single biggest change to the city is underway but not yet complete – and that is Fletton Quays.

When I arrived at the paper it was called the South Bank and people had been talking about developing it for 20 years back then!

I remember the then MP for North West Cambridgeshire, Brian Mawhinney telling me Peterborough needed more bridges across the River Nene to kickstart development and enhance its vista.

How ironic that now Fletton Quays is finally becoming a reality the city council has missed a golden opportunity to do just that and build a bridge linking it to the city centre.

But, what have been the most significant changes in the city in the past two decades?Here’s my list of the good, bad and indifferent.

They are not in chronological order, but I’ll start with the first major change after my arrival and that was the building of a prison on the old Baker Perkins site in 2005. The ET ran a campaign opposing the plans, which in retrospect seems to have been misguided - not least because up until a few months ago, nobody had ever escaped.

Not many places in Britain have had a whole new town bolted on but Peterbrough has in the shape of Hampton. Central to that huge homes development was Serpentine Green, and the biggest Tesco in Europe.

I like supermarket shopping but this Tesco overwhelmed me when I first visited it with its sheer size, and I’ve rarely ventured back despite that supreme benefit of out of town centres– free parking.

My favourite change to the city is not the biggest but is the best– and that is the demolition of the ugly old Corn Exchange and the creation of St John’s Square.It’s a small wonder of town planning although I wish those who park vans there would be hounded as hard as Bridge Street cyclists.

Another demolition –Peterborough District Hospital – didn’t go down as well with many residents, but in its place we got the ‘the superhospital’ at Bretton.

People have different experiences but me and my family have always received great treatment and care there. The hospital is a big plus for the city notwithstanding its ongoing financial difficulties.

The bricks and mortar of education has changed dramatically too, with old schools pulled down and replaced with modern state of the art facilities.

Sadly, this has not resulted in a better education for city children and the results are a black mark for the city that badly needs correcting.

A small but significant development is down to restaurateur Lee Clarke, who through first Clarke’s and then Prevost has helped up the city’s eating out game.

There’s still a way to go, but twenty years ago the city was a dessert desert and a starter and main course one too.

The city still has room for improvement (and growth). Hopefully, nothing can now stop the university, but we still need a decent-sized concert venue (that was being talked about as key to the South Bank development all those years ago!). Mrs T told me to say it would be nice to have an Ikea store (and not just a distribution centre and its lorries)and a top class Chinese restaurant would make me a happy, if probably overweight, man.

And how great would it be to build on (not literally) Flag Fen and Must Farm and have a national attraction showcasing the fantastic history that surounds this city.

So the city has changed.. for better and for worse, but at least I didn’t mention the fountains !