Twelve-storey-high apartments plan for Northminster are blasted by Peterborough develpment watchdog

Multi-million pound plans for the residential-led Northminster development in Peterborough have been branded as ‘harmful’ to the city‘s economy and heritage.

By Paul Grinnell
Monday, 30th August 2021, 5:00 am
A visual for the proposed regeneration of Northminster
A visual for the proposed regeneration of Northminster

The scathing criticism comes from the city’s heritage and development guardian, The Peterborough Civic Society, which is urging the £14 million 335-apartment plans for the 2.7 acre Northminster site be given short shrift by councillors.

In a detailed eight page appraisal, the Society claims the plans for the 12 storey high building, which have been put together by Peterborough City Council and the Peterborough Investment Partnership, will undermine the city’s vitality and ignore decades old concern for its Cathedral setting.

The broadside from the Society is the latest setback for the high profile Northminster project - a key feature of the city’s planned £1 billion transformation - after it become embroiled in a funding row between the Government and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

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A visual for the proposed regeneration of Northminster

The outline plans for Northminster were submitted in July and envisage a K-shaped building that at its highest point reaches 12 storeys high.

If built, it will offer a range of one-bed to three-bedroom apartments to rent, town house and maisonette apartments plus commercial units and parking.

The applicants say the development will meet an urgent need for housing and will generate £1.2 million a year for the city economy and create 23 jobs.

It is expected to bring in £478,000 a year in Council Tax revenue and £47,000 each year in business rates.

But Ken Mehmed, a spokesman for the Civic Society, warned: “We have grave doubts about this application and register our objections to the granting of consent for reasons of harm which would be done to vitally important aspects of city centre planning and regeneration.”

A central concern for the Society is lack of an alternative site for the city’s market, which will be displaced by the development.

Its report states: “Until such a provision is actually in place no redevelopment of the site should be permitted.

“This application is therefore premature.”

It says the development site will occupy half of the Permitted Shopping Area that has been defined in the council’s Local Plan.

The report warns: “This is the equivalent of a significant amount of convenience goods retail floorspace.

“Some additional retail space was lost when the multi-storey car park was demolished.

“A surface level car park has been opened (100 spaces) but the overall loss of about 650 spaces and the retail units has noticeably reduced pedestrian activity here and damaged the vitality of the Northminster area.

“The permanent removal of the market would exacerbate this situation and should the market be closed before a replacement site is in operation then a significant blow to the viability and vitality of the city centre is likely to be experienced.

“Together with other recent commercial failures the situation could become of serious concern.” In addition, the sheer size and bulk of the proposed building is a headache for the Society, which fears it will ruin views of the Cathedral from across the city.

The report states: “The building mass and height is beyond all existing developments and approvals in the vicinity of the Cathedral.

“The sheer bulk adds to the enormity of the proposed building which overwhelms its neighbours.”

The Society also flags up a 1971 policy to guide city centre development, which states: “The Cathedral itself must remain the visual focus of the whole centre.

“To this end the maximum height of new buildings will in general be limited to the equivalent of five floors of offices, with further restrictions in some places to preserve particular views of the Cathedral.

The Society adds: “Since the 1970’s there has been a widespread increase in concern for the protection of what is considered a valuable heritage asset in the built environment.

“The proposed development at Northminster does not respect the setting of the Cathedral or the character and scale of its location in a number of respects.”

A separate issue of contention is car parking.

While the plans include a 50 space car park, the Society points out that occupancy rate of two people per apartment equates to 670 person.

Its report states: “It is not credible that 50 spaces will be enough and it must be assumed that tens if not a few hundred would be seeking a space to park a car not too far distant.

“The provision of on-site car parking to serve the development itself is seriously inadequate and will put pressure on local public car parks.

“This application is premature in the absence of a review of public car parking requirements in the Northminster Area.”

The Society is also warning that the proposal if approved would represent and over-development of the area and should be resisted.”

A date for a decision by Peterborugh planners on the Northminster plans has not been fixed.

But a warning just days ago that Government ministers were refusing an immediate release of the £14 million needed for the Northminster development had left a questionmark over the plans.

The cash would have been channelled through the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) as part of its £100 million affordable housing programme.

But concerned at what it says is a lack of progress and value for money, the Government has announced it is withholding £45 million of the £100 million.

That sparked an outcry from the city’s political leaders who say the money is urgently needed to ensure the development can get under way.

Northminster is one of eight development opportunities contained in Peterborough’s £500 million transformation plan.

Just one site - Fletton Quays - has been developed so far with work underway on the university site but civic leaders are keen that momentum behind the city’s regeneration is not lost.

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow fired off an urgent letter to housing minister Luke Hall MP urging a quick release of the cash.

In reply, Mr Hall stated: “I know how important this matter is to you and your constituents, and that you have supported this scheme over a long period of time.

“I am pleased to confirm that I will be writing to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority in the coming days to confirm that we will be making further funding available to support a range of schemes, including Northminster.”

But Mr Hall may have added some uncertainty to the project.

In his letter he states: “By providing the £14m requested by CPCA for Northminster we expect the project to deliver 353 affordable housing starts by March 2022.”

Yet the developers are only planning to build 335 apartments and had envisaged construction work beginning early next year with completion expected in 2024/25.