Major plans to redevelop the North Westgate area of Peterborough put forward by developers Hawksworth have been approved by city councillors.
Hawksworth had previously proposed a planning application for the area which included plans for a cinema, but these were scuppered when the nearby Queensgate centre had its own plans for a new cinema approved.
But yesterday (November 27) councillors approved the company’s new application for the North Westgate Development Area, but with conditions that the developers must meet.
Members of Peterborough City Council Planning & Environmental Protection Committee heard from Nicholas Harding, Head of Development & Construction who said: “This particular piece of land has been part of the planning agenda since 1971.”
He proceeded to show several computer generated images of how the site could look after development was completed: “In nearly fifty years, various planning applications have been put forward, some more ambitious than others; but so far none of them have come to fruition. What you see here is typical of the kind of development that could be achieved on this site.”
Today’s application, from Mr Peter Breach of Hawksworth Securities PLC, echoes a very similar plan put forward by his company in 2015, but now much scaled-down to satisfy the current economic market and city planners’ requirements.
The North Westgate Development Area covers 4.6 hectares of land almost opposite Peterborough Railway Station, and right next to the Bus Station and Queensgate Shopping Centre.
At its heart is Westgate Church now occupied by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God Help Centre.
To the rear of the church, several outbuildings are variously occupied by the Christian Education Trust, Westgate New Church, and a Christian Bookshop.
Westgate New Church runs a food bank, soup kitchen, coffee mornings for single mothers, a community garden in which vegetables are grown and then cooked and distributed to the needy, it is the meeting place for Peterborough For The Blind, Peterborough Disability Forum, and several other charitable organisations. Although the church itself would remain the plans involve demolishing its associated buildings.
Objecting to the proposed development, Reverend Lesley Mosley of Westgate New Church said: “The demolition of the old church buildings which are not listed, and the loss of all of the associated outbuildings will have a wholly detrimental impact on the community in that area.”
“Not only do they serve as meeting places for a large number of charities and community organisations, but we provide a much needed food bank for poor and vulnerable people in the area, who can come in learn about health and hygiene and how to cook nutritious food to sustain themselves.”
She added: “There is nowhere locally like this, we are blessed with ample parking so that all of the charities and organisations who use the buildings can park for free, and the loss of a place to meet and build community connections would be utterly devastating.”
Arguing in favour of the application, Craig O’Brien, Agent for the applicant said: “The development of this site has been talked about over and over since 1971, and nothing ever gets done”.
“The application has been scaled down and now does not include the cinema. Instead, we have increased the amount of residential property, increased the amount of business property, and increases the size of the hotel to 150 rooms.”
“If this application is approved it would see the creation of between 1300-1700 new jobs in the area, and 300-350 new homes. There would a new public square that could be used by workers in the area, and the new cafes and restaurants would improve the nightlife of the entire area”.
The applicant, Mr Peter Breach said: “This is such an important site for Peterborough, sitting as it does almost directly opposite the railway station.”
“As people arrive in the city they would see modern buildings, shopping developments, new community buildings, a hotel – everything that a thriving economy should have.”
“We have complied with every possible planning application policy and it is my belief that if this application is given the go-ahead and developed properly it can be a shining vision for the city of Peterborough.”
Cllr Peter Hiller had concerns however, and said: “What undertaking do we have from you that you will do all that you can to relocate the charities and organisations who currently occupy the Westgate Church area and the building you intend to demolish?”
Mr Breach said: “As in many areas of development there are elements of the application that are controversial. I cannot say at this stage how we will help these organisations, but I give you my solemn word as a Gentleman that we intend to do everything that we can to help them find alternative locations.”
“Clearly any development on such a central location will have an potentially enormous impact on that part of the city, its residents, businesses and economy”, said Cllr Hiller. “And I think we would require firm undertakings from your company that you would comply with those conditions put upon you if the application is granted.”
Mr Breach said again: “I am a man of honour, and I can only give you my word that we will negotiate with the Reverend and her needs and comply with all the conditions that the Council places on us.”
Part of the development will see the loss of 310 parking spaces. Cllr Lynne Ayres said: “What will you be doing to replace the ost parking in the area”, Mr O’Brien answered: “We will be providing at least 300 individual parking spaces in the area, which will account for most of those lost.”
Cllr Amjad Iqbal said: “You intend to close off the end of Cromwell Road, won’t this increase pressure on traffic in the area, and cause problems for pedestrians and cyclists trying to cross to the Bus Station?”
Mr Breach disagreed, saying: “The application does call for part of the road to be closed off, but we will provide additional pedestrian walkways and cycle paths through the area to compensate.”
“At the junction of Bright Street and Bourges Boulevard where there is a roundabout, an additional third lane specifically for traffic turning left will be added, and we already have outline approval for that from the Highways Department.”
Cllr Ayres said: “I have deep concerns about the loss of parking for coaches with the removal of the parking on Bright Street”, but Mr O’Brien answered: “The coach park is only a temporary stopping space for dropping off of passengers and not a layover parking area”.
Chairman, Cllr Chris Harper wanted to know about the funding for the project: “We have no funding arrangement as yet”, Mr Breach admitted. “But lenders are now being readied, and in such an opportune area for development we believe they will be found. We are confident that the ‘wish list’ in this application can be delivered.”
Cllr Mohammed Jamil had the last word: “This area has been talked over and ignored for far too long. Since 1971 nothing has been done and it is plainly obvious to anybody who looks at the Westgate area that it desperately needs investment and renewal.”
“I fully appreciate the needs of the charities and organisations who could potentially lose their meeting places, but we have an undertaking from the developer that he will do everything possible to help relocate them. I shall be supporting this application as I think it is a development that needs to take place.”
Councillors unanimously voted to approve the planning application, subject to the conditions mentioned.