Opinion: ‘We must restore pride in our city’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 30th May 2021, 4:57 am
Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz at the full council meeting.

I would like to begin this article by thanking Gillian Beasley for her service – she is retiring. She’s been nothing but brilliant.

I am a proud Peterborian; this is where I grew up, where I was educated, where I built my business, and where I am bringing up my children. Given this, it’s more than a little disheartening for me to read that we have one of the highest dissatisfaction rates in the country according to demos.

Apparently, 28% of Peterborough residents believe that the provision of facilities they believe are important is closer to bad than to good.

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I don’t think it’s right to dismiss this as mere pandemic blues. We know what we need to do as a city: we need to diversify our economy, build up its amenities, invest in bids for making the city a cultural capital, improve local transport. We all know this. You may even get a cross-party consensus on what needs to be done. However, agreement is not the same as action. We do not yet have a comprehensive plan in place to remedy this.

Peterborough has much to be proud of: our history is rich and extensive. I don’t understand why we haven’t been able to lure more filmmakers here, particularly to the cathedral. Our role in the history of Britain’s railways has left us with a legacy of being an ideal place for those who want to raise a family yet have the convenience of a London commute. And yet, we seem to be dissatisfied.

Perhaps the dissatisfaction lay more in the direction of travel than in where we are at present. At the moment, we have administrations both in our city and Westminster which have been in situ for over 10 years, about 20 in the case of the city council. It’s difficult to answer the question, “Where are we going?” when you’ve run out of ideas on how to get to a different destination. The map has been exhausted and we’re in unknown territory.

The pandemic has forced a rethink for many businesses and many governments. We are all going to have to navigate the new normal: this is likely to mean an extra layer of vigilance, another round of booster jabs to supplement the annual flu shot. Work has shifted from the office to online and it is entirely likely it won’t go all the way back to what it was. This moves the centre of gravity from London to Peterborough; it means that those who used to commute into the city are more likely to need better facilities at home.

So, what is the plan to adapt? So far as I can tell, there are words which acknowledge this truth, but little that is concrete. The hope may be that somehow the old normal will reassert itself and the mix of retail space and old policies will yield results. This is a strategy that befits no one but an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand.

As the council begins its business, the Labour Group will continue to press the administration to wake up to the new realities. It may not be able to address this dissatisfaction gap, but certainly it can offer a vision about how it can be dealt with. Or perhaps they simply can’t.