Opinion: ‘Building back better for all of us’

Wayne Fitzgerald, Conservative Group leader and newly elected leader of Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 30th May 2021, 4:59 am
Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald.

I am the new leader of Peterborough City Council following Wednesday night’s annual council meeting.

Peterborough is a place that I have been lucky enough to call home for the past 41 years. It is where I chose to set down roots and raise my family and it is a city where I have served as councillor since 2006. I’ve been a cabinet member and latterly deputy leader for a good number of years now – so I know my way around a bit.

Those that know me well recognise I care passionately about Peterborough and I can clearly see it has enormous potential to be even better.

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It is for these reasons I look forward to being able to fly the flag for Peterborough - locally, regionally and nationally - as leader of the council. I am real-ly excited about the coming year and I would like to tell you more about some of the priorities that I shared with members of the council last night.

In the past 15 months we have faced some of the biggest challenges of our lifetime. Our staff have put in herculean efforts to keep everyone safe, and I cannot thank them enough for what they have done for the people of this city.

It has been an immense challenge for the council, as it has for so many of our residents, but it has also shone a bright light on the role that councils play in a crisis. Let’s not forget the refuse collectors, social workers, cremation and burial staff, and the many others all working hard to provide services for local people.

Looking ahead, it is now my priority to get us back to a more normal way of life as quickly as possible so that we can build back better here in Peterborough.

In the past year we’ve not stood still – we’ve seen plans for a dedicated university continue at pace with diggers now in the ground. At Fletton Quays, construction is well underway for the new Hilton hotel and on the adjacent site a new government hub is rising fast from the ground, anchored by the Passport Office.

I’ve not made it a secret…I want the Embankment to become the jewel in our crown, whilst protecting all that is good about it. I want to see an enhanced riverfront, where families can have a picnic and people can meet in cafes and restaurants. A new theatre offering, with capacity to host larger audiences.

Our City Centre Local Development Framework has identified and details key areas to be developed in the coming years, such as the station quarter, North Westgate, Northminster and Rivergate.

All this work should ensure we progress from a small to a medium-sized city and one which will make us an even more attractive place to live, work and set up business. But I do want to see it happen faster where possible and I will be working with officers to try and speed up progress to bring all our plans to fruition.

The government’s new Towns Fund when combined with match-funding means we have almost £50 million to spend on a variety of projects across the city. In addition, we have a plan to attract up to £600 million of private investment to carry forward those schemes – that will bring more jobs and provide quality housing for the many more people now living here. We will continue our plans to establish a housing revenue account (HRA) so we are once again a council that is building houses for local people.

I want us to be even more transparent and to allow people to have a connection with those they have elected to serve them. As part of this I will be launching an Ask the Leader online session, where members of the public will be able to ask questions of myself and my cabinet about subjects which matter to them.

I will also be making good on our promise to introduce free bulky waste collections for all residents and introduce a host of other measures to tackle flytipping. Dumping waste is unacceptable and we will work hard to stamp it out and to prosecute those who blight our city. I will also be looking to improve the environment around us, and we plan to reduce air pollution across the city, making us not only cleaner but greener. We will continue our efforts to become carbon neutral by 2030 so that all can enjoy healthier, happier lifestyles.

Crucially, we will continue to work with the government to ensure ongoing funding for Peterborough is sufficient to support those core services we all rely upon. We know that we offer better value for money than other similar authorities and we provide well-run, low-cost services –our auditors confirm this year after year.

From our ongoing discussions with government, it is clear they recognise our unique challenges and our huge efforts to deliver services as efficiently as possible. This gives us a solid basis on which to continue this dialogue with ministers on their plans concerning the funding of local councils.

There are exciting, yet challenging, times ahead for our great city, which is why it needs a strong Conservative administration to drive forward the growth and prosperity agenda for the year.

With a focus on our priorities and providing the critical services our residents need and rely on, together we can continue to ensure that Peterborough is a place that offers growth, prosperity and opportunities for all.