Outgoing Peterborough council leader concerned for university future after new mayor elected

The outgoing leader of Peterborough City Council said he is concerned for the future of the new university after the incumbent metro mayor was defeated.

By Joel Lamy
Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 3:56 pm

Conservative John Holdich was speaking after Tory James Palmer was replaced by Labour’s Dr Nik Johnson, who will now lead the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

The mayoral body is responsible for ARU Peterborough which is due to open in 2022 with the aim of eventually reaching 12,500 students and becoming independent in a decade’s time.

Mr Holdich, who is also stepping down as deputy mayor of the combined authority as he retires from local politics, told the Peterborough Telegraph: “I fear the city will lose out with the university.

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John Holdich

“(The election result) will make no difference to the current funding, but to progress and become Peterborough’s own university will require further funding to get up to 5,000 students and be financially independent.

“Time will tell. Labour have always supported me in the combined authority to get us where we are now.”

Mr Holdich also criticised Dr Johnson’s plans to drop Peterborough from the combined authority’s name to call it the Greater Cambridgeshire Combined Authority which the new mayor said will empower the city and end a long-standing “injustice”.

Peterborough left Cambridgeshire County Council nearly 25 years ago to become a unitary authority due to the belief too much power was being held in the south of the county. And Mr Holdich fears that dropping the city’s name from the combined authority’s title will have negative connotations.

Dr Nik Johnson after his election victory

“Back in the 90s I led the city council into a unitary authority out of Cambridgeshire because in my view the political power was all in the south,” he added.

“Mayor Palmer was perhaps the most passionate leader I’ve worked with. Together, the city did well from the combined authority as did smaller towns. He was impatient for success and trod on a few toes to get things moving.

“I received an email from the new mayor’s team saying he’s thinking of taking Peterborough out the title. I said the reason we became a unitary authority was because the power was in Cambridge and this would be a retrograde step.

“We deliberately put in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to make sure Peterborough people understood they were part of it.

“If the mayor does this he will be saddled with the view he’s Cambridge centric. We still fight that today.”

Following his election victory, Mayor Johnson stressed his ambition to support Peterborough under his tenure.

He said: “I have talked very much during this campaign about a Greater Cambridgeshire and that must include Peterborough which, I think, has been more than a little forgotten about by the combined authority in the past, and that will not happen under my leadership, I can assure the people of the city.

“I’ve always felt that it was the combined authority and Cambridge and Cambridgeshire and that was more than a little unfair on Peterborough which is, after all, one of the most multi-cultural, vibrant and growing cities not just in the county, but in the whole of the United Kingdom.

“I absolutely recognise the individuality of Peterborough as a city, but I think that individuality should be part of the greater good and part of my vision for a Greater Cambridgeshire.

“Cambridgeshire is like a microcosm of the United Kingdom, you’ve got the relevantly affluent southerly part, you’ve got the ‘middle England’ in the market towns; but I think that Peterborough is like the Northern Powerhouse – a sleeping giant – that needs awakening to realise its enormous potential.

“I’m now looking forward to working, yes with the Labour Group in Peterborough, to bring this vision about, but also with the other political parties as well so that together we can realise the City Of Culture ambition, create the Environmental Capital of the country and extend my leadership as mayor of the combined authority so that Cambridgeshire can become the County of Culture.”