We are constantly being told that Peterborough is a growing city, aiming to have a population of not far short of a quarter of a million by 2030. The council has signed up to ambitious housing targets and now the implications of those are being felt as people in Castor object to the proposed new township near their homes.
But what our city is lacking is similar ambition and forward thinking about its transport provision. Since the Tories took control of the Council in 2002, any long term thinking has been progressively stripped out of the city’s Local Transport Plan. It still talks about a transport hierarchy where preference is given to walking, cycling and public transport but the rest of the plan is largely a long list of road building and road widening schemes.
We did have a very limited park and ride scheme at Christmas but the Tories scrapped it. There was a site reserved for a railway station in the plans for Hampton but in the latest version of the council’s Local Plan it has been removed. We used to have a reasonably integrated evening bus service where all buses left Queensgate at quarter past the hour but Stagecoach changed it and it is now a mess.
Across the country air quality in city centres is a cause for concern and traffic is the major cause of this. In Greater Manchester, the Labour candidate for mayor, Andy Burnham, has said that improving air quality is his number one priority. In Peterborough, air quality is mentioned in our public health strategy but apparently nothing is to be done about it.
Other cities are making long term plans. We may not yet be quite big enough to have a tramway system like Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester but we need to be planning something equally forward thinking and ambitious.
Lib Dems opposed the model on which the Cambs and Peterborough Combined authority has been created. We opposed the creation of an all powerful elected mayor. The Tories told us no powers held by the council would be passed up to the combined authority but that turned out not to be true: the entire transport planning function is going to come under the powers of the mayor.
But therein may lie a small beacon of hope. The mayor will have the power to invest in improving public transport across the county- take on the power to franchise bus services, creating a chance to end the virtual monopoly which Stagecoach enjoys.
The bookmakers are predicting it will be a straight fight between the Tory candidate and Lib Dem candidate, Rob Cantrill. Rob is an experienced businessman and local councillor but most relevant is that he is committed to investing in a sustainable transport network.
The combined authority is already stuffed with Tory leaders, so having a Tory mayor will make little difference. But on transport in particular, having a Lib Dem mayor offers a real chance for real change across Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.