It’s no surprise to us at Peterborough Civic Society that the sudden closure of the Northminster Car Park has generated serious public concern together, in some minds, with suspicion that there may be a hidden agenda at work here.
The closure is having adverse consequences throughout the city centre. Regular patrons of the car park find themselves deprived of a convenient and well used facility. The alternative car parks on offer at Brook Street and Wellington Street are patently unsatisfactory in terms of distance from both the market and other shops, and from leisure facilities, including the Peterborough New Theatre. Disabled and elderly users face particular difficulty, with no indication so far that the Council has given them any special consideration. The plight of the various shopkeepers trading beneath the car park is even worse, as they face the destruction of their livelihoods.
The market traders also feel under imminent threat as rumours swirl around the city that the Council has already agreed a deal to redevelop both the car park and the market, and perhaps other buildings as well, all without any public discussion and debate.
The city is no stranger to controversy of this kind. Only last year, the Council faced serious embarrassment over its mishandled plan to demolish Rhubarb Bridge. Its over hasty commitment to demolition without either public consultation or proper consideration of alternative options turned out to be a spectacular own goal.
Will Northminster Car Park prove to be Rhubarb Bridge Mark 2?
The Council needs to accept that only the maximum degree of transparency and accountability on its part will now satisfy the public that the decision to close the car park has been both necessary and proportionate.
In that respect we need to know:
When the decision was made to undertake a structural survey of the car park
Whether, at that date, the Council had already embarked on discussions about redevelopment with external parties (or was preparing for such discussions).
Whether the Council will be publishing the brief that it gave to the car park surveyors. Whether the Council will publish the surveyors’ report in full.
Whether the Council will be commissioning a fully costed report on the measures necessary to bring the car park back into use, so that “no change” will remain available as an option for comparison against any redevelopment proposals that may be forthcoming.
We at the Civic Society recognise that the redevelopment of the Northminster Area has a proper place on the planning agenda. Reference to it can be found in Policy no LP47 on page 105 of the Local Plan. That Plan was finally approved only last month. It would be no surprise to find that eager developers are already probing to gauge the extent of the opportunities that may be available to them.
A well thought through redevelopment proposal could potentially provide new car parking and a better future for the market, but any such proposal will need to be prepared and presented in a way that respects the legitimate interests and concerns of all parties, including the market traders, other shops, leisure operators and car park users.
Peterborough Civic Society believes that the Council therefore needs to prepare and publish a detailed planning brief for Northminster on which all can have their say. If such a document were then to be approved, the redevelopment opportunity should be thrown open to all prospective developers, so that the public can be assured that the Council will achieve the best possible returns on this key site both in planning and financial terms.
Councillors must now ensure that if and when redevelopment occurs, Peterborians will be able to feel proud of the process as well as the outcome.
Vice-chairman, Peterborough Civic Society