I would like to start this column by wishing everyone a Happy New Year and all the very best for 2022.
I also hope you enjoyed a good Christmas and were able to spend some time in the company of family and friends.
At this time of year I like to look ahead to what the next 12 months may bring and 2022 promises to be an exciting year, with several major developments being progressed and others coming to fruition.
You only need to take a walk around the city centre to see this with construction at Fletton Quays and the new university gathering pace.
The university will open its doors to students in September, kickstarting a wide range of local benefits for years to come. Young people will be able to study for degrees here in Peterborough, rather than leaving our city to do so and never returning. Our businesses will have a better crop of people applying for jobs as the university will be offering the qualifications that people need to find a job locally.
The new government hub building at Fletton Quays is also set to be completed this year, becoming the base for over 1,000 civil servants from HM Passport Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The new Hilton Garden Inn with rooftop bar will be completed too.
Future development of the Embankment will move forward in 2022, the transformation of Northminster with 350 new homes and facilities will get under way and we hope to develop a modern, vibrant new market in Bridge Street.
A new ‘Place Board’ will be set up to create a vision for Peterborough that makes it easier for the city to market itself both nationally and internationally, and to help create a feeling of pride and belonging for residents.
However, the new year will also bring some big challenges, particularly around the council’s budget.
Our number one priority right now is focussing efforts on setting a balanced budget for 2022/23 and beyond.
This will include making tough choices about stopping or pausing spending in areas that we can no longer afford. Our financial situation is extremely severe and I am sorry to say there will be more painful decisions to come.
Fundamentally, we need to stop doing what is no longer vital and doesn’t add value, because we cannot afford it.
We have a £26m gap in our finances for next year and have already identified savings totalling £9.5m to close this. We are now working on a second phase of proposals which will be published shortly.
We will meet the challenge that is facing us, for the sake of everyone living in the city who relies on the services that we provide.
In our quest for savings, it was with a heavy heart that we recently proposed the temporary closure of the Key Theatre and Werrington Leisure Centre.
Our aim is to secure the theatre’s future as a successful performing arts venue for Peterborough, alongside the many other cultural venues and assets already operating across the city. To this end, we remain in discussions with interested parties who may be able to take over the running of the theatre. We have been approached by six separate organisations and all but one of these are already operating successful theatre venues.
We are also working hard to ensure that the very successful Key Youth Theatre group can continue to operate from the building whilst it remains closed, until at least March. The same goes for the Chalkboard restaurant – we are committed to supporting the owners to either continue to operate from the Key or to identify an alternative location.
One of my hopes for 2022 is that we can all get back to a more normal way of life.
We have lived with Covid-19 and its many challenges for nearly two years now and it would be great if we could enjoy everyday life free from the constraints of the virus.
For the time being however, Covid cases in Peterborough remain very high and are rising, like many places, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
So once again, please do what you can to protect yourself and your loved ones and limit mixing with people outside of your household as much as possible. Meet people outdoors if you can and if you are meeting up, take a rapid test before you go.
Most importantly, if you have not done so already, get your booster vaccine, and if you’ve not had your first two doses, get those too.
This week sees the return of schools across the city and we are actively working to ensure that pupils, teachers and staff can all work safely.
Our director of education, Jon Lewis, has written to parents highlighting the rise in Covid cases and reminding them of the latest national guidelines and what to do if their child catches Covid.
One of the biggest challenges that all schools are facing, nationally and locally, is a lack of teachers, however, we have prepared for this and headteachers have done a magnificent job in building up a portfolio of people who can support them when staff become ill.
We are also starting a programme of testing all secondary school pupils from today, this is in order to pick up on the virus early and to help us keep the schools open.