Brexit, homes and my hardest decision
I think that everyone would agree that 2016 will long live in the memory; and no doubt in history. I could never have predicted both Brexit and Donald Trump winning the US election at the start of the year.
This week I wanted to look back over the past 12 months; the successes the city has achieved and the challenges we have tried to overcome.
As many of you will know, this city is one of the fastest growing places in the country and we have continued with regeneration projects to support this.
Work is now underway on the £120million regeneration of Fletton Quays which will transform this eyesore into something we can all be proud of. I can’t wait to see our vision for the site become reality with hundreds of homes, leisure and retail facilities, office space and a new arts and culture hub.
We’ve also invested in the redevelopment of Lower Bridge Street, now well underway, and the area over Town Bridge linking up to Fletton Quays.
With the green light also given to major developments at Queensgate and Serpentine Green it’s very positive to see investment in the city going from strength to strength.
This investment continues to boost the local economy and benefits residents with more than 1,500 new jobs announced in the city during 2016.
One of the proudest moments of the year for me personally was the agreement of a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough devolution deal. Councillors from across the county voted to back the deal that will now unlock at least £770million of new funding for local infrastructure projects and to build much-needed homes.
We already have good plans in place to ensure that many city families benefit from the specific new homes funding as well as investment for the continued growth of the city and establishing an independent Peterborough University.
It is however fair to say it’s been a mixed year for schools in the city. I’ve written at length about the challenges we face and the disappointing primary school attainment results. The review I’ve commissioned for the new year will assess whether there is anything further we can do to support schools in raising attainment, with the limited powers we have as a council.
But it’s important to mention that the city saw improvements across the board for GCSE results in 2016 and our A-level pass rate was again above the national average. Both were great achievements for pupils and teachers alike.
In February Peterborough was ranked fourth in the UK for the rate of house-building. Although this places the city as one of the best in the country there is still a great need for more homes in the city.
Therefore I was pleased to announce our plans to form a new housing development company alongside our partners at Cross Keys Homes. This new joint venture partnership will build all types of housing including temporary accommodation, affordable, market rent and outright sale homes.
We’ve seen this year that there is also a need for more temporary accommodation as we, and the majority of the UK, have seen a growing number of families accepted as homeless. Without any doubt this year has presented one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve had to make in my political career - when we decided to use properties on St Michael’s Gate. I’ve already vowed to work with other councils to ensure this situation cannot happen again.
We have also just introduced a new selective licensing scheme that will improve standards of housing in the private rented sector and tackle rogue landlords.
Around 6,000 properties have applied for a licence across several areas of the city which will allow our officers to have a more active role in ensuring all private tenants are able to live in housing that is safe and of a good standard. Of course the vast majority of landlords are responsible and I would like to thank them for their positive response to the scheme which looks to improve the quality of life for everyone in these areas.
These housing officers are also part of the SaferPeterborough Prevention and Enforcement Service (PES) which was launched earlier this year - bringing together police, fire and council officers with enhanced powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.
The team has produced some impressive early results including fly-tipping prosecutions, tackling overcrowded properties and moving on unauthorised encampments. We are now looking to introduce more powers to the PES and are currently consulting on two Public Space Protection Orders.
Next week I’ll be looking ahead to 2017 and I hope you all have a very enjoyable New Year with your family and friends.