Opinion: ‘Improvements help our great city’

Toby Wood, of Peterborough Civic Society writes...

Saturday, 17th July 2021, 10:40 am
Views from Cathedral Square
Views from Cathedral Square

I’ve been putting the world to rights now for many years, but it has to be said that progress is slow.

So I apologise in advance if some of you have read some of these arguments before but certain things do need repeating.

I keep returning to the subject of Peterborough city centre and the changes that have been made over the years as well as what could happen in the future, particularly as we, individually and collectively, gradually leave lockdown.

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Our city has certainly made a great effort to make the centre an attractive and calm place in which to shop, wander and linger.

Let’s face it, when you have a magnificent cathedral and guildhall to look at you can’t go wrong.

I can often be found sitting on one of those concrete cubes at the edge of Cathedral Square watching the world go by. I can look south along Bridge Street with its leafy trees, west across Cathedral Square and into Cowgate, north up to Long Causeway and, of course, east towards the cathedral and minster precincts.

I suppose if I sat there long enough I might see just about every Peterborough citizen at one time or another!

However, there is one thing that continues to annoy me, one annoyance that still gets me, one splinter in my finger of optimism (steady on Toby!). And that is just how easy it appears to be for traffic to continue to access the areas around Cathedral Square and its environs.

It seems that all sorts of traffic is still able to park. Now I’m fully aware that some cars and vans are legitimate, whether that be those attending St John’s Church or delivery vehicles. But priority must surely now be given to those businesses attempting to a) recover from the Covid battering and b) contribute to the council’s aspiration to encourage Peterborough’s cafe culture.

On the Queen Street/St John’s Square area, close to The Queen’s Head and Turtle Bay, efforts have been made to provide a vehicle-free environment, safe for both customers and pedestrians walking into Queensgate. Removable silver posts seem to be being reasonably effective and the enclosed area feels friendly and safe.

I was recently talking to Sean, one of the owners of The Stoneworks craft beer bar (happy fifth birthday by the way!), who said that the bar was ready and able to add a number of tables and chairs to the area outside the bar. However, he was concerned that the staff would be arriving at work only to discover that cars and vans were parked over the area designated as an outside area.

This uncertainty makes it very difficult for Sean and his colleagues to plan. He even said that he could contribute to a plan for demarcating the area if necessary.

In terms of providing sensitive, pedestrian-friendly barriers, it strikes me that the planters in Cowgate are a great attempt and generally work well – shame that they are not always planted up.

Perhaps we ought to encourage a local gardeners’ volunteers’ group to take responsibility for this.

Just saying!

Installation of these planters could be extended from Cowgate into Church Street.

I fully appreciate that the ‘elephant in the room’ is the cost, in fact not a single elephant, more a herd – but perhaps the city council can access grants, attract sponsorship or use Towns Fund money to make these improvements happen. I know this is easy for me to write, but if Peterborough aspires to be a city of flair, culture and aspiration then this should be a ‘quick-win’ project. I know that Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, the leader of the council, and his deputy, Cllr

Steve Allen, are already looking to improve the streetscape – the new pavement seating and umbrellas outside the Lightbox on Bridge Street are testament to that.

There’s no two ways about it – Peterborough is on the up and many people have aspirations and even dreams for the future. As we come out of lockdown and attempt to return to some sort of ‘new normal’ the time for change is no longer in the future – it’s now.

Find out more about Peterborough Civic Society here: www.peterboroughcivicsociety.org.uk