MAYOR ELECTION: Peterborough university? Enhance the model

Labour’s metro mayor candidate admits he needs to read up on plans for the new Peterborough university, but he is supporting a campus being delivered in the Fens.

Sunday, 24th January 2021, 2:28 am

In an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph Dr Nik Johnson said he supports the landmark project but that he will have to “do an awful lot of reading about it going forward”.

It aims to begin with 2,000 students in its first year, with numbers growing over the decade, as well as the creation of a multi-million pound new research centre.

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How ARU Peterborough should look once completed. EMN-200812-115728009

Courses promised so far include: innovation, engineering, manufacturing, agri-tech, life sciences and health.

Asked for his thoughts on the project, which he would be in charge of if voted in as Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in March, the Labour and Co-operative candidate said: “I understand the idea of the Anglia Ruskin University outpost. We have to be clear about whatever on offer is unique to Peterborough. I read what I can read through the papers and social media, but I would need more understanding of what is on offer.

“The basic model is there. We just need to make sure we enhance it. We make Peterborough university a destination for the future and that it is competitive to get the best students.

“We need a university that provides the best courses, but also the town to be vibrant. All of these interlink.”

Dr Nik Johnson

Asked what he specifically liked or disliked about plans for the university, he replied: “I support the delivery of the university. You’re asking me as somebody who hasn’t seen the books yet. I need to look at what’s been promised so far to Peterborough.

“A lot’s been made about what can be achieved in short periods of time, but one of the things I would be doing in the first 100 days would be making sure I’ve sat down with the city council and said ‘what are your priorities and how do you need to link with your local district councils nearby to get the benefits?’

“The first 100 days - it’s about looking at everything that’s been promised, including the funding for the university. In all honesty I quite like the idea of the university developing a campus into the Fens and trying to bring out more links to make the future Peterborough university a specialist area maybe around agri-economics.”

Dr Johnson said he wants to see the university help local residents with “gaining experience in courses that will help our local economy. That could be issues around life sciences, particularly issues around agri-economy which I think is very strong in the local area”.

He added: “(What’s been promised) is a good starting point. In the sense of ‘at least there’s a plan’, I’m happy with that. Can it be made better? I want to bring a fresh pair of eyes and help them work by re-emphasising that the combined authority can help them in delivering all aspects of the university.

“It will be one of the first things I’ll have to do an awful lot of reading about going forward.”

As leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Dr Johnson would be in charge of a public body with large amounts of money to spend on housing and transport.

But the children’s doctor at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, who sits on Huntingdonshire District Council, is keen to stress that any decisions made going forward should be focused on the long term, with consensus across political parties.

He added: “I’m very keen to see the development of improved public transport. If there is a will for it, and I think there is, one of the things I’m keen to see by the use of mayoral powers is the franchising of bus services.”

This could include services between Peterborough and Fenland.

Speaking of the Fens, if elected Dr Johnson believes priorities for the area should be re-assessed, promising to sit down with local leaders in his first 100 days.

This is despite the combined authority recently allocating millions of pounds for the area, which includes a new heritage centre in Whittlesey, after each market town submitted its own masterplan to the public body.

Asked about the masterplans, he replied: “There are areas you will understand better than me. You’ve got six-and-a-half years of experience (as a journalist) there, you know what, I could learn from.

“But if you get the information, review things and audit it, you go back to the masterplans and say ‘were they successful? Would investment in other parts of the market town get you further benefits?’

“That’s what the governance of a good combined authority is about. I want to see that introduced.”