Peterborough Telegraph editor hits back at council over criticism of St Michael's Gate coverage

Last week the Peterborough Telegraph published three pages of articles on St Michael's Gate, the estate in Parnwell where two years ago we revealed 72 households were being evicted to be replaced by homeless families.

Thursday, 20th September 2018, 12:36 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th September 2018, 1:38 pm
St Michael's Gate, Parnwell. EMN-161025-173120009

Our first article highlighted concerns from people living both in and near the estate, and the headteacher of a local school who were speaking at a public meeting. We also spoke to a former tenant of the estate who was evicted.

Our second article revealed the St Michael’s Gate properties were now up for sale, while making clear that this would not affect the people living there.

Peterborough City Council cabinet member for growth, planning, housing & economic development Cllr Peter Hiller has now written a letter to the PT complaining about the coverage.

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St Michael's Gate, Parnwell. EMN-161025-173120009

And in response PT editor Mark Edwards has used his comment in this week’s paper to hit back at Cllr Hiller and defend the PT’s reporting.

Both the letter and the response are below.

And both articles can be viewed here:

Cllr Peter Hiller

Cllr Hiller

In an article last week on St Michael’s Gate, the Peterborough Telegraph carried a headline of ‘Unacceptable’ and asserted, amongst other things, that there was a significant increase in estate problems caused by SMG residents and that the private sale of SMG threatened residents’ homes.

These assertions were wholly incorrect. The facts are:-

. A change in ownership will not threaten residents’ homes, all they will have is a new landlord;

. Leasing SMG saved money, preventing usage of more expensive bed and breakfasts for families;

. 147 families have moved into permanent accommodation and another 77 families await a permanent home;

. If we hadn’t used SMG, another council would have used it for its homeless families;

. There is no evidence that anti-social issues are being caused by residents of SMG.

. Current anti-social behaviour levels for this area follow Peterborough’s average;

. Families receive support to secure long-term accommodation from the council, voluntary/faith sectors;

. SMG is maintained to private rented standards with an on-site caretaker and no issues with repair response times;

. Heating issues were investigated which concluded that correct system usage heats properties to acceptable standards.

These are ordinary families coping with the terrible stress of homelessness.

The incorrect assertions in your article have frightened residents to the extent that they believed they would be homeless again.

We are now working hard with residents to reassure them.

The council is working hard with others to reach a long term solution to the housing crisis. What is ‘unacceptable’ is that the PT believes inaccurate reporting achieves this, when it has just caused unnecessary distress to vulnerable families.

PT editor Mark Edwards

On this page we carry - in full - a letter of complaint from Cllr Peter Hiller about our special report on St Michael’s Gate last week. Readers will have to forgive my lengthy response but I want to address his points fully.

Cllr Hiller complains that we “asserted... that the private sale of SMG threatened residents’ homes”. Cllr Hiller is wholly incorrect... in paragraph 3 of page 13, we wrote... “Peterborough City Council has pledged that nothing will change for the existing homeless families on the estate.”

Did Cllr Hiller even read the article? For his information it was residents who had already picked up on the potential sale who alerted us to it, and outlined their concerns and asked us to investigate.

Cllr Hiller states what he calls the facts... all of which were reported in the article - which he has either not read or chooses to ignore.

Cllr Hilller says... “Current anti-social behaviour levels for this area follow Peterborough’s average.” In our article we reflected the genuine concerns of people living in the area - does Cllr Hiller ever speak to them? We supported this with police statistics. We are not stigmatising or blaming anyone, but the facts are the facts... Cllr Hiller is simply blaming the messenger.

Nothing in our article suggests anybody will be made homeless. In fact, some of the people we spoke to were upset that they had been threatened with being dumped in a city nowhere near Peterborough with no way of taking their kids to school.

There were no incorrect assertions in our article - we have simply given a voice to residents who are concerned about what has happened and what is happening. They are not our assertions they are the assertions of the people that live there. They are the crime statistics given to us by Cambridgeshire police, they are the balanced and heartfelt views of the primary school head teacher meeting important challenges.

It may be convenient for Cllr Hiller to sweep the city council’s somewhat spineless approach to the Stef and Philips deal and its consequences under the carpet - but we will not. The council entered into an arrangement which drew criticism nationally and from local MPs both Conservative and Labour. Many people who were moved out of St Michael’s Gate are still living with the consequences.

As our article states, residents have welcomed ‘lovely people’ and families to St Michael’s Gate - but it would be quite wrong to ignore issues caused by some elements that are affecting all residents whether they have been there for some time or have moved in recently. Lashing out at the PT (although this is something we have come to expect from Cllr Hiller) doesn’t address the concerns raised by the residents we spoke to and whose comments we reported.

Cllr Hiller seeks to lecture us about causing unnecessary distress.. the whole scandalous St Michael’s Gate saga overseen by Cllr Hiller and the city council is what has caused the distress... not our article.

We stand by every word.

There is further coverage on St Michael’s Gate in today’s PT which will appear on the website over the coming days.