Opinion: ‘Peterborough’s green spaces need to be treasured’

Toby Wood, of Peterborough Civic Society, writes...

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 11:45 am
An artist's impression of how Lincoln Road could look after improvements are made

‘Not always green but always pleasant land’

Oh it really is a very pretty garden

And Dogsthorpe to the Eastward could be seen

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Wiv a ladder and some glasses

You could see sycamores and larches

If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between.

This is one of the choruses in an old Gus Elen late-Victorian/Edwardian music hall song which gently pokes fun at the crowded urban world of gasworks, chimneys and poverty in London’s East End.

Of course I have adapted it to offer a Peterborough slant, but the song was typical of those making light of poor housing conditions.

We tend to forget how constraining those housing conditions were and how difficult it was for people to manage their daily lives.

Peterborough still has a large number of ageing houses, of course nothing as cramped and oppressive as East End London, but nevertheless deserving of maintenance and improvement.

Twenty-first century living has increasingly shown up the difficulties of living in a tight space, which is one of the reasons why £4.5m has been designated to help improve parts of the Millfield area of the city. Those who know the area far better than me argue that this is a drop in the ocean, with improved housing being a far greater priority.

But the nub of the problem is quite clear – creaking infrastructure. One only has to look at an old postcard of Lincoln Road from 100 years ago to realise that cars, vans and delivery vehicles have transformed the area from quiet to (over)crowded.

One of the things that the Millfield area suffers from is lack of open recreational space, the area known as the Triangle and the newer Gladstone Park being the only significant open spaces. So, for the rest of this piece I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the importance played by open space.

Peterborough can be rightly proud of its people, its buildings, its history and its achievements.

But just as people can shout, “look at me, me, me” and buildings such as our glorious cathedral can be so imposing as to demand to be viewed from both near and far, other aspects are often unsung.

One of the best teachers I ever worked with was quiet and unassuming, yet efficient and organised.

Despite the fact that he was softly spoken his voice demanded attention. When he talked the children stopped what they were doing, turned to listen and paid attention. They knew that every word and instruction was worth listening to and relevant to them. Peterborough’s unsung hero is no less quiet and unassuming and exists amongst us without being loud or cocky. Peterborough’s unsung hero is its open space. Notice that I don’t write ‘green space’. Although green spaces are important, particularly environmentally, open spaces can be much more than ‘green’.

There are obvious examples of spaces that we all know, love and use – Ferry Meadows and Nene Park generally are obvious examples, but are certainly not the only large areas of open space for Peterborians and visitors to enjoy. The city has registered Green Flag parks at Central Park, Itter Park on Fulbridge Road and Manor Farm Park in Eye. I could write a whole column about Central Park and the delightful new Willow cafe which the current Mrs Wood and I have visited on a number of occasions throughout lockdown – a true lifesaver!

The city council’s website notes the following nature reserves and wildlife areas for the area which “offer many diverse habitats to encourage a very wide range of wildlife” – The Boardwalks at Thorpe Meadows, the woodlands at Thorpe Meadows, Cuckoo’s Hollow at Werrington, Holywell Fish Ponds at Longthorpe, Eye Green, Woodfield Park between Dogsthorpe and Welland, Woodston ponds, Thorpe Wood woodlands, Stanground Wash at North Street and Stanground newt ponds at Holylake Drive.

Of course the Embankment is included in this list and we all keenly await the city council’s masterplan proposals to find out how the existing open spaces can be best enhanced and utilised.

Let us also not forget how house builders can also provide open spaces which can be integrated into developments. I live on the edge of Dogsthorpe, a vast housing estate built in the early 1950s with wide streets and many yards between the odds and evens. Houses have large gardens and there are even some houses arranged around spacious crescents. Admittedly land was cheap in those days! And let’s not forget the huge contribution made to the city by the Development Corporation in the 1970/80s. Bringing things up to date, our son lives in Hampton and his flat overlooks a lovely wide lake (hence his photo of a swan and cygnets recently published in the PT).

Open spaces are vital for our wellbeing, our physical and mental health. Open spaces are significant indicators of how we care for, and value, our citizens.

I challenge readers to write to the PT extolling the virtues of your local open spaces, perhaps via the letters page. Over to you!