Like many people in Peterborough, I am an outsider. But I’ve lived here since 1984, so, whilst I can’t claim to be a native Peterborian, I do call the city my home. I am a Yorkshireman by birth and, as my Grandad used to say to me many times: “If you are born in Yorkshire, you will always be a Yorkshireman”: He could never understand why in those days I supported Lancashire County cricket club, which is where we lived at the time.
I have written before in this column about identity. One of the things that annoys me about some of the people we now call “Brexiteers” is that their view is sometimes moulded by a dislike or suspicion of people who do not share their identity: in this case a dislike of people from other European countries. I think it’s healthier and less divisive to define identity by what you like or value about the place where you were born or where you live. So I want to talk, for the remainder of this article about Peterborough.
I came to Peterborough almost by accident. I worked for a company in London, Lloyds Life, who relocated here. I remember being shown a brochure where every photo of Peterborough had clear blue skies, the landscape was a bright alluring shade of green and all the residents shown had happy smiling faces. Of course, it’s not really like that but we do have a lot going for us.
Residents in many parts of Peterborough enjoy acres of green open space. The new town areas of the city were built on what is called “Garden City Principles”. The Peterborough Development Corporation gave the council a large endowment to help them maintain the trees, shrubs and green open spaces….but the council spent it on something else….as councils often do.
Some people complain about allegedly “overgrown” trees and bushes or uncut areas of grass. Some even say that the trees or shrubs “cause crime”.
But we must reject such notions. Our trees and green spaces are a massive asset; increasingly they are being shown to be a key to improving health and well-being; and the honest truth is that people cause crime, not trees and bushes!
Our council leader constantly tells us that we have great transport system. We have, allegedly, the fastest travel to work times in the country. But what he means is we have a network of urban motorways and travel by car is really fast….or it is until you gets stuck in one of the increasing number of traffic jams on roads into the city centre.
The parkway system is a legacy of the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC). Let’s be proud of it but let’s not fall into the trap of believing that the only way to expand the city is to build more roads and widen existing ones.
The PDC’s one big failure was to plan an effective public transport system for a growing city. We have quite a good bus service in parts of the city for much of the day. It’s useful to get you into the city centre but not good for other journeys. And the buses get stuck in the same traffic jams as the cars at bottlenecks such as the Town Bridge.
Some cities have tramway networks, others are planning to bring back trolley buses. The question I ask is where is the long term transport vision for our city?
The council has plans to expand the city. We have a fast growing economy. Both of these can be positive things. But the growth needs to happen in an environmentally sustainable way. We need more housing, not just for people coming into our city, but for the children of people already here, as they grow up and have families of their own. A lot of house building is happening around the city but we still have a massive homelessness crisis. So we have to ask the question: are we building the right type of housing?
I have flagged up a few issues. But I still think our city is a great place to live and work. I remember the slogan from the 1980s: “Don’t you wish all cities were like Milton Keynes”. Let’s create a City here in Peterborough that local people can be equally proud of.