Keeping the success story going

I recently visited the Roxhill Gateway site in Peterborough to support its potential selection as a construction hub for the multi-million pound expansion of Heathrow airport. This major infrastructure project will bring an estimated 12,900 jobs and £15 billion of economic investment to the East of England, from which Peterborough has a chance to take a significant share, writes ames Palmer, Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Sunday, 29th July 2018, 1:00 pm
Heathrow visit to Gateway Peterborough. Steve Bowyer, Coun John Holdich, Emma Gilthorpe from Heathrow, Mayor James Palmer and Coun Peter Hiller. EMN-180607-184602009

For good reason, Peterborough can consider itself a very strong contender. The city’s strategic location as a gateway between the East and East Midlands, its transport links, emerging gigabit speed fibre internet and world-leading, innovative businesses, are all driving interest in investment here.

And the facts speak for themselves.

The interim findings of the independent Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER), which is the most up-to-date analysis of the local economy, state that Peterborough has been growing faster than previously thought. It’s annual growth between 2010-2016 was thought to be 2.3% but is estimated to actually be 3.4%, according to the review. In terms of economic output per person, it is the fastest growing part of the Combined Authority area.

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But the report also highlighted that action is needed to keep that success story going.

The A47 is high on my priorities list and I welcome Highways England’s commitment to better connecting Peterborough to the A1 by dualling the stretch between Wansford and Sutton by 2021. But we need the whole of the route dualled in Cambridgeshire to further open up the city’s economy to a large swathe of northern East Anglia. The Combined Authority has already put together a case for dualling the road completely in the county, between the A16 and Walton Highway. I’m also pleased that we have found a way to speed up delivery from 2033 under a conventional scheme, to 2027 for full completion. We expect to have another update on progress in September.

Another future barrier to Peterborough’s continued economic growth is skills. We have all heard how many businesses in the area struggle to recruit people with the right experience and knowledge and that is why our continued work on delivering a university for the city will be so important.

What will make it different is that the new university will be specifically geared to meeting the skills demand in our local economy, both now and into the future. We want to see young people coming out of the university ready to hit the ground running in well-paid, secure jobs that will support the continued growth of our outstanding businesses. The courses it will offer will include a focus on things like agri-tech, engineering and sciences as well as teacher training.

Today, some of our most vital infrastructure is unseen. Work has just begun on bringing underground fibre optic cables right to the doors of homes in Peterborough. The roll-out of gigabit speed fibre broadband improves residents’ quality of life and it ensures that Peterborough remains competitive in a world where fast access to the internet is now a necessity, not a luxury.

With that in mind, I was also pleased this month to be able to help launch a new digital strategy for the area through Connecting Cambridgeshire, backed by £5.6 million from the Combined Authority. This will look to deliver for the whole Combined Authority area faster broadband, unbroken 4G mobile network coverage, free WiFi in our market towns, as well as planning for further full fibre broadband rollout and readying for next-generation 5G mobile services.

By improving the city’s transport and digital infrastructure while also addressing its skills gaps, I believe Peterborough won’t just be on the longlist for future developments like the Roxhill Gateway, but at the very front of the queue.