City centre needs an action plan

Cathedral Square EMN-190326-071617009
Cathedral Square EMN-190326-071617009

Last December council leader John Holdich published a consultation leaflet ‘Our Aspiration – A Framework for Development,’ whites Kem Mehmed of the Peterborough Civic Society.

This colourful publication, drawn-up by locally based consultants, is welcomed by the Civic Society. It contains some visionary ideas some of which we can support unreservedly, others are more debateable. A site for the proposed University campus on the Embankment and the redevelopment of North Westgate with a mix of residential and commercial offices are supported. We are unsure about relocating the market. If the market is seen to be currently in the wrong place, why should it suddenly become successful if transferred to Rivergate?

What is needed is an ‘Action Plan’ which has been worked up through a thorough analysis of the issues which exist and are to be faced in the future, rather than the existing piecemeal planning. In this process the involvement and active participation of a wide range of stakeholders is essential.

This has been done in the past, but not since 2008. Back then an extensive consultation was carried out by the city council in partnership with Opportunity Peterborough resulting in the publication of the Peterborough City Centre Action Plan. It identified a number of ‘issues and options’ covering subjects such as; business space, university, retail, cultural, housing, parking, public realm, River Nene, cathedral views.

Events rather overtook the steady progress of revitalising the city centre. After a decade or so of intense research, consultation and plan formulation the global financial crash of 2007/8 put almost all investment in commercial development on the back burner. So much forward-looking urban planning in Peterborough had, perhaps created a touch of fatigue and as the city council had the duty to update its statutory Local Plan this took priority. The Local Plan was rolled into a City Centre Plan, and both were adopted in December 2014.

Development in the city centre has not been completely absent since 2008. Some significant capital investments have been made, most significantly in the improvements to the public realm financed through the public sector. Until the advent of the joint venture scheme, Fletton Quays, no single major development in the private sector has been seen in the city centre for many years.

The Local Plan is essentially a Development Control ‘Bible’. It may be seen to point the way, but does not actively push forward projects which will deal with issues and challenges which threaten the vitality of the city centre. What is needed is a comprehensive, all embracing plan of action. The Civic Society suggests that the city council should take the lead role in the drawing-up of a new City Centre Action Plan in partnership with the Combined Authority and Opportunity Peterborough. A fast track method could be employed using a dedicated team from the council’s in-house planners and other professionals. There must be input from advisors with urban design, landscaping and financial expertise. We also feel it is vitally essential to involve a wide cross section of other stakeholders - community groups, individuals, further education providers, land owners and businesses who have a genuine interest in the future of the city centre. As a focus for involvement a City Centre Forum might be set up. We in the Civic Society believe that these suggestions point towards a more positive future for Peterborough city centre.

Please take part by giving us your view.