Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald claimed that the issue has been “hijacked and is being used by the Labour Party and others for electioneering purposes” in response to comments made in a Peterborough Telegraph article earlier this week.
The critical comments from community leaders in the Millfield area - including a Labour councillor - were in response to the PT’s revelation that only £663,000 of a promised £7.5 million investment from the council to regenerate Millfield and New England has been spent in the past three years.
The council previously told the PT that 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”.
However, Cllr Fitzgerald has insisted that the money remains available to spend if suitable schemes are proposed.
He said: “I would say in response to the claims of ‘missing millions’ that this statement is both misleading and inaccurate. Frankly, this issue has been hijacked and is being used by the Labour Party and others for electioneering purposes.
“The simple truth is that some time ago the council allocated an indicative amount of capital spending in its capital budget, circa £7.5 million, which would have been borrowed money to be invested in the Millfield area. There was a never a pot of cash sat in the Town Hall waiting to be spent so it could never have gone missing in the first place.
“This capital budget was envisaged to be spent on fully-costed major regeneration schemes that we hoped would come forward from within the local community. Having checked with officers today it is my understanding that no such major schemes have ever been put to the council, thus very little of this budget has been spent to date. If others have a different view than that I would like to hear it.
“As we speak today there remains in the current financial year 20/21 a capital budget of £2 million specifically earmarked for Millfield and the ‘Can Do area’. The remainder of the original budget money has just been slipped into the future as there is no point allocating budget at this point with no prospect of spending it as this merely adds a fictitious pressure on the council’s revenue budget.
“Coming right up to date, we always must be as accurate and moreover as realistic as possible about what we might spend in the next couple of years on capital, and with nothing on the horizon for Millfield being put forward it is not sensible to budget for this borrowing as we would have the associated revenue re-payment to provide for in the budget.
“It seems there has been a failing here to take this forward quickly by all involved which is of course unfortunate. However, the council has previously committed to invest in Millfield and as the deputy leader of the council I am happy to repeat that commitment today. I would ask anyone with any specific regeneration ideas or schemes to write to me and I will ensure that these get looked at and a prompt answer given as to whether it will meet the council’s investment criteria.”
Cllr Peter Hiller, cabinet member for strategic planning, commercial strategy and investment at Peterborough City Council, added: “The council is committed to investing in projects in Lincoln Road - subject to available resources - where a key business case has been identified which demonstrates a real return on any investment in terms of residents’ health, wellbeing and pride in their neighbourhood.
“As a result of financial pressures on the council due to reduced government funding and the impact of Covid-19, we have not been able to invest as heavily as we would have liked three years ago.
“We are committed to the regeneration of this area which does require considerable capital investment to move it forward and we are actively seeking means to do this. We have been successful with a bid to the Towns Fund which will release £2.5 million to this project - subject to an approved business case.
“The council is committed to investing an additional £2 million for the regeneration of this area. A public consultation to seek the views of residents will take place in 2020/21.”