With the local elections just weeks away - and restrictions on media reporting between now and then - I’m sad to write that this is my final column.
I announced last January, just before the pandemic hit, that I wouldn’t be standing for re-election and instead retiring and drawing to a close a career in politics spanning 44 years. Of course, the elections were postponed last year, but my decision remains.
I owe it to my wife Barbara and the rest of my family, who have steadfastly supported me over the years, to give them more of my time.
I know that I will leave the council with mixed emotions – sadness for the people and responsibility that I will miss, pleasure for the extra time I will have to spend with family and friends, and a huge sense of pride for the successes I have achieved over the years.
In fact, one of the proudest moments of my career in politics has been the way the council has worked tirelessly – supported by so many individuals and groups – to ensure that everyone who has needed support during the pandemic has received it.
That has included assisting the hundreds of people who have been shielding, or are more vulnerable to the effects of the virus, through the city’s support hub and the hundreds of people we have helped to self-isolate – handing out £500 grants to those that qualify, totalling £648,000 to date.
We have worked with councils across Cambridgeshire to provide a countywide contact tracing service to contact people who have tested positive for Covid-19 - those the national team could not trace - and we have provided financial support to 3,800 businesses, delivering more than £46.6 million in business grants and £42 million in business rate relief. Many of those businesses may not have survived without that support.
Our refuse collectors who have gone out during the highs and lows to collect our waste, our social care staff who have continued to care for our most vulnerable – I could go on.
Another highlight and a great source of pride is the development of a dedicated university for Peterborough, something we have needed for many years to prevent our talented young people leaving the city and to offer our employers a good crop of people to apply for jobs.
The first teaching centre opens in September 2022, along with the research and development centre to create a net zero technologies cluster in the city. In the next few years there will be a second teaching site to grow capacity to 5,000 enrolments per annum and there is the potential for a second phase of the research and development centre and, much further down the line, a third teaching site.
This project will have a huge impact, not only on what the city will look like in 20 years’ time, but on the opportunities available to our residents, the success of our businesses and on informing external perceptions of Peterborough.
I am also very proud of the work that has taken place over the past decade to redevelop our city centre. Cathedral Square, St John’s Square, Bridge Street and many other parts have had new life breathed into them.
At Fletton Quays, construction is underway for the new Hilton hotel and on the adjacent site a new Government hub, anchored by the Passport Office, complementing the apartments and office space that has already been built.
Looking ahead, our City Centre Local Development Framework identifies and plans key areas to be developed in the coming years, such as the station quarter, North Westgate, Northminster and Rivergate.
Looking a little further back, I was proud to be responsible for the creation of the city’s housing association, Cross Keys Homes, which allowed us to spend over £100 million modernising properties. There is no way we could have spent that money on new bathrooms and kitchens if we had not set up the housing association, owing to the percentage of rental income the council, as the homeowner, was required to pay back to the government. So many residents benefitted from that decision and still do.
I have so many other decisions I am proud of – the millions we spent upgrading or rebuilding every school in the city, my backing of the council becoming a unitary authority, giving us more decision making power locally, or my support for the creation of the combined authority, which has seen at least £100 million coming to our city which we may not otherwise have had – I will have to keep details of those and the many more projects and people I would love to mention for my book, if ever I write one!
I think what I will miss the most about being a councillor is having the ability to help people. It is a gift and a privilege that I have never taken for granted. That said, I plan to keep in contact with some fantastic council officers, many of whom work tirelessly across our communities, so that I can still help people where I can. I am also sad that it will be the first time in 142 years that there has not been a Holdich on one council in the city or another!
I believe that Peterborough’s future is incredibly bright and that the time is now for us to take the city to the next level. I will be keeping an eye on things, that’s for sure.