Hopes and fears for the future of Millfield as anger remains over ‘missing’ £7.5m

A buzzing hot-spot of multi-culturalism with an international food market and carnivals, or a slowly decaying area where house prices drop as residents flee. These are two of the contrasting pictures which have been painted for the future of Millfield.

Monday, 23rd November 2020, 4:30 am

Both visions of the future were suggested by Pastor Tim Bedward-Jones from Peterborough International Christian Centre who is also chair of the Millfield and New England Regeneration Group (MANERP).

Pastor Bedward-Jones was speaking to the Peterborough Telegraph about his hopes and fears for the area going forward, as well as the ideas he claims have been dismissed by the authorities.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Barclays bank in Lincoln Road, Millfield, is set to close. EMN-160425-174254009

The council said the Conservative-run Cabinet had “reaffirmed its commitment to investment in the Lincoln Road area,” but highlighted unprecedented spending challenges which it said means “difficult investment decisions are being undertaken and a small number of funding projects have had budgets redistributed”.

The failure to spend the money previously allocated for the area prompted anger from local residents with a Facebook group called ‘Millfield’s Missing Millions, 7.5 Million to start with’ even being set up.

Moreover, residents in Millfield have called for a ban on new alcohol licenses being issued after describing the area as a “disgrace to the honest and law-abiding” due to anti-social behaviour linked to street drinking.

More than 60 people living in Millfield said problems caused by the high number of off-licenses in the area selling alcohol include: drug dealing, fighting, harassment, noise, littering, public urination and theft.

On top of that, two bank branches in Lincoln Road (TSB Bank and Barclays) are due to close shortly.

So, what does the future hold for Millfield?

Mohammed Saeed is vice chair of Community First, a grassroots organisation which is tackling problems in the Millfield and New England community.

He said crime, homelessness and drug taking are on the rise, while fly-tipping continues to blight the area.

And although he is frustrated by the lack of promised spending by the council, he believes it is up to the charity to take the lead in making a positive difference.

He said: “I was raised here since I was five-years-old. I’ve been to school and lived and worked in the area. I see problems at street level with anti-social behaviour and cleanliness, including fly-tipping. All of these issues are clear as soon as you step out the door.

“If there’s no money that’s fine, we understand, but to give us false hope and not turn up with the funds, that doesn’t help the morale of the community.

“We want to create a harmonious community for everybody to enjoy.”

Mr Saeed said government cuts and the loss of youth centres is a major problem, especially with lockdown having a big impact on the livelihoods of young people.

This is something Community First is looking to address through a new youth club which it hopes to re-open in December, as well as tuition classes thanks to initial funding of more than £5,000 from the BGL Group.

“We hope to create pathways,” he said. “There are a lot of solutions to problems.”

The charity has seven trustees who are all volunteers, as well as one employee salaried through the Government’s Integrated Communities fund.

Mr Saeed, who lives in the Millfield area, voiced frustration that £14 million has been earmarked for a new leisure centre in Werrington but that “the street lights in Millfield are not working”.

He added: “We’ve got some amazing places within the community which are not utilised. We’re not going to see the £7.5 million. We’ve made as much noise as we can. That’s not a problem now, it’s not like we’ve not been in this position before.

“We’ve been to numerous meetings about the issues in Millfield and what we found was the council pulled the money from the area. It said Covid was the issue but this was at the start of Covid. Once election day comes we are going to have our say. We will know what’s been done to us.

“We’re going to slowly try and take the power back. Under legislation, whatever powers the laws give us we can use to give power back to ourselves so we can decide as a community how stuff gets spent, so when decisions are made they are carried out.”

This includes seeking to designate places in the area as Assets of Community Value. This means if the owner wants to sell the land or building, they must contact the council who will notify the community group that nominated the asset which then has six months to make a bid.

Meanwhile, Pastor Bedward-Jones remains irked by the “missing” £7.5 million.

He told the PT: “We want straight answers. It’s been passed around so many desks but nobody seems to want to address it to say ‘we’ve changed our minds’. There are various rumours it’s been reduced.
“If they reversed the decision I was told this would happen when I got involved. I was cynical and said they would not do that, but it does appear to have happened. Maybe I was a bit naive in the first place.”

The frustration is that the chair of MANERP believes there are great ideas to improve Millfield and New England, but that action and money never follows the vision.

He said: “There are many good examples in our country of inner-city regeneration. With a little bit of money, true consultation, some good forward-thinking, doing a blank sheet approach and getting the right people to the table, cities can see great results. 

“I don’t get why Peterborough can’t be the same. There are things buzzing around like the Stagecoach bus depot moving which could be a great opportunity to revitalise the area.

“There are so many great shops and businesses, there is a great opportunity to do something incredible, to rejuvenate the area to make it a jewel of our city rather than something which is hidden away and not talked about at the council.

“We need something which brings people together in culture, food and music that can be somewhere people go and join together. It would give the whole area a lift, rather than just being offered new street furniture and a tidy up.

“Something significant which draws people together and celebrates diversity - a platform to bring people together. There are a lot of things which could do that.

“Why can’t we have seasonal lights in Lincoln Road celebrating festivals which happen during the year? The city council gave away the (artificial) Christmas tree - that could have been used for festive lights rather than just having darkness and bleakness.

“Another idea was a market place with an international feel where people can celebrate and eat together. Local businesses could spill out onto the street. 

“We could close streets to have a carnival. Again, it brings people together.

“The only time I’ve seen a celebration of people coming together was when the Olympic torch came down Lincoln Road. 

“It doesn’t take much to lift an area. Lots of people have ideas but are told there’s no money there.

“We also need investment to bring businesses back into the area.

“Also, the statistics say people in Millfield live 10 years less than the rest of the city, but with no investment it won’t get better.

“People will leave and prices will go down which is a shame as it’s a great part of the city.”

Asked for his thoughts on the future, he replied: “I’m an optimist. I like to look for the best and believe it can happen. The pessimistic side says it will be the same old and we will be let down. 

“There is so much potential to be harnessed in the area, so much good which should be celebrated and encouraged.”

Mohammed Jamil, who has a business in Millfield, has been a city councillor in the area for the past decade.

The Labour and Co-operative member for Central ward said: “I believe that Peterborough City Council have deliberately chosen not to invest in the Millfield area. The £7.5 million has been talked about for over seven years, countless community events were held to consult with members of the public and officers took away ideas. Relevant councillors were consulted and they too shared their ideas. Nothing came of these ideas as there was no will on the part of the council to spend the money.

“Sadly, this administration are happy for the area to rot away.”

Peterborough City Council has been approached for comment.