Opinion: ‘The questions that hang over Peterborough’

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

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 22nd January 2022, 10:15 am
There are questions hanging over Peterborough.
There are questions hanging over Peterborough.

In last week’s PT there was an excellent review of the Urban art exhibition written by Eva Woods, a student at Nene Park Academy.

It won’t be long before she’s offered a permanent writing job.

In her review, Eva wrote: “Here in Peterborough, we are not used to being challenged. We need new art and new perspectives to bring our world in line with the 21st century.”

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Well said Eva!

So, last week my wife and I visited the museum and art gallery in Priestgate to see the Urban art exhibition.

Although it cost £8 each, this exhibition is just what Peterborough needed. Any good art is provocative and many of the pieces on display certainly are. The exhibits are a riot of colour, fascinating techniques and great design.

In true BritArt style many of the artists have names that, like some fashionable craft beers, are mysteriously provocative – Bambi, West Country Prince, Hush, My Dog Sighs, Bleck le Rat and Pure Evil.

Inevitably the stars of the show are British grandees who loom over the exhibition like familiar pantomime dames – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Banksy.

If the discerning art collector visiting the exhibition wishes to purchase something then, if you’ve got a birthday coming up, there is plenty of Banksy stuff available, prints from £500 up to £85,000 for a stencilled radiator, or a whopping £2m for Heavy Weaponry Colour.

All joking aside, the exhibition is well worth a visit – it’s rare that Peterborough gets such a varied collection from a range of modern art talent. I may well be tempted to splash out £7.50 on an exhibition poster by the excellent Connor Brothers.

The exhibition runs until May 29 so there is no excuse for not popping to have a look.

Be prepared to be surprised, angered, delighted and stimulated, that’s what art is all about!

Our eight-year-old grandson is a bright little spark.

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I! He knows his times tables and can churn out correct answers with the speed of an old-fashioned 
Casio talking calculator.

He has pretty neat handwriting and proudly informed my wife and I that he has been one of the few in his class to have been awarded a pen licence at school. Incidentally, while I’m at it, may I say ‘thank you’ to his teachers as well as all Peterborough teachers for their hard work during these peculiar Covid times.

Over the Christmas and New Year period I asked him: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

He replied, “a legend”. This greatly amused my wife and all other members of the family.

Now, this single word answer got me thinking about Peterborough’s own hopes for the future, both aspirational and realistic. I want Peterborough to be known as a ‘legend’ and I’m sure all Peterborians would agree.

The city’s MP, Paul Bristow, is often talking up the city and regularly uses the hashtag #ProudOfPeterborough on Twitter.

Indeed Paul regularly applauds local businesses and has visited more local restaurants than most of us have had hot dinners. Whilst I thoroughly approve of being positive towards Peterborough, surely now is the time to ask direct and searching questions about the future of our city.

By the end of 2022 there are certain crucial questions that need answers.

I emphasise that I am asking these questions as a committed Peterborian.

I want to be as proud of Peterborough as the next person but, as a member of the civic society, I feel the need to be questioning, inquisitive, enquiring and realistic as well as positive.

There is no escaping the fact that Peterborough is not in a happy financial state.

By writing this I am not being negative, I’m merely being realistic. Both local and national government cannot hide away.

We live in a time when local authorities have been severely restricted as to what they can provide for citizens and national government has done all it can to restrict local powers and to control from the centre. In the same way that our young grandson aspires to be a legend, I want people of the future to be able to say, “Peterborough, now there’s a legend.”

So, there are many questions that hang over our city at the start of 2022. Here’s my ‘Magnificent Seven’.

1. Is Peterborough still in charge of its own finances or has the city been taken over by central government?

2. Are the areas covered in the council’s £22.9m Town Deal bid as part of the Towns Fund actually happening?

3. Is the Embankment Masterplan going to be realised?

4. Is the new football stadium going to be built on the Embankment?

5. Is the Key Theatre still open?

6. Is the future looking bright for Bridge Street and the city centre?

7. What is happening in Queensgate and is the new cinema complex open yet?

In my last column of 2022 (assuming that the PT will still have me) I shall revisit these same questions and examine progress.