Civic Pride: We need to promote decency and cleanliness and reclaim the streets

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At 4.00pm on a many Friday afternoons I regularly meet a friend of mine, David, at The Ostrich pub in North Street, writes Toby Wood of Peterborough Civic Society.

We chew the cud and put the world to rights in a convivial atmosphere whilst drinking decent beers served by barman David. (Incidentally I do know a few other people who are not called David).

At 6.00pm I leave the pub and walk to Midgate to catch a bus home.

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However, recently this walk has become increasingly unpleasant. Two Fridays ago I left The Ostrich and walked past a chap sitting in the North Street doorway of the old Westgate House next to a pile of human faeces.

A makeshift homeless shelter in a Peterborough city centre shop doorwayA makeshift homeless shelter in a Peterborough city centre shop doorway
A makeshift homeless shelter in a Peterborough city centre shop doorway

Round the corner I had to be careful not to be knocked down by a shrieking car racing down Westgate.

Next I saw a smartly-dressed young man urinating in a doorway.

Then to Midgate where a man in a sleek black car parked on the pavement was shouting and berating a group of three young women, the only words I could make out were similar those used regularly by Dominic Cummings.

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The bus took 30 minutes to arrive, during which time I watched two people dozing under a grubby white duvet in a doorway. Remember, this was 6.00pm, not midnight.

What would Clark Gable have made of Peterborough city centre?What would Clark Gable have made of Peterborough city centre?
What would Clark Gable have made of Peterborough city centre?

As part of my work with the Civic Society, I give talks to community groups in and around the city, about 50 so far. Many of those attending tell me that they no longer visit the city centre. Phrases such as “I don’t bother now that John Lewis has closed” or “we only go as far as Brotherhoods Retail Park or Serpentine Green” are common.

Up to now I bravely battle on, defending the city centre as best I can.

At the end of blue plaques talk I ask the audience who they would like to propose for more blue plaques. Answers include Ernie Wise, Peter Boizot, members of various ethnic minorities and Clark Gable, the Hollywood film star who was stationed nearby during WWII and who regularly came into the city centre for some Saturday night fun.

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I very much doubt that Mr Gable’s experience would have been the same as mine. Indeed, had there been misdemeanours on a 1940s Saturday night, I reckon there would have been people around to ‘sort them out’.

Let me be clear. I’m not blaming individuals for what is happening in 2023. I’m not having a go at Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, Cllr Mohammed Farooq, Paul Bristow MP or other local leaders.

The problems are deeply-rooted, multifarious and complicated and will not be solved by litter-picks, flower-tub planting or installing lamp-post poppies, worthy though those activities might be.

So what can be done?

The initial step is admitting that there is a city centre problem in the first place.

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Then, as a city, we have to come up with a plan that affects, discourages and changes certain behaviours.

We need enforcement to be visible and operating after 5.00pm.

We need effective policing by people who understand the people, appreciate problems, know the trouble spots and who have the skills to anticipate problems before they arise.

We need to show in no uncertain terms that we mean business!

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Incidentally, if anyone tells me that these things are already in place, then they’re not working!

If action is not taken – and soon – then people like me will a) visit the city centre less; b) only visit during the day or possibly c) enjoy a few beers at home, thus ensuring that the city centre night-time economy shrivels and dies.

Peterborough is your city, our city and my city.

Together we need to reclaim the streets, promote decency and cleanliness and work together to find achievable solutions.

Using a bit of local parlance we need a ‘summit to do summat’. I’ll drink to that!