The long battle to regenerate Millfield and a ‘hate speech’ which led to an arrest

Recent years have seen a lengthy back-and-forth between the Conservatives and Labour over the supposed ‘missing millions” promised to regenerate Millfield.

By Joel Lamy
Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 5:38 am
Updated Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 5:38 am

But the ambition to transform the area goes back even further, according to former council leader John Holdich who said he was left frustrated by several attempts to instigate change.

Recalling his time as housing cabinet member in the early part of the century in an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph, he said: “I had a job when I was doing housing because I wanted to go into that area and I used to say ‘I’m the bulldozer driver here to knock your house down because I want to redevelop this area’.

“What I found was, when I got into it, where I wanted to start there were 150 different property owners who all wanted to do it but all wanted a buck out of it as well.”

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John Holdich (back, centre) at the launch of an action report for the Millfield area

One plan centred around renewing Gladstone Street.

“It didn’t happen, but I’ve got lovely sketch plans of how I wanted it to be - different markets and whatever,” Mr Holdich said.

“Nobody could agree what they wanted. I even employed a planner to do it all for me, but we were £18 million short. We re-looked at it but some of the stuff has already started to happen.

“And you’re going to see it at North Westgate as well, if (the multi-million project) ever gets going.

“That will really be a catalyst, because once you get that bit done things will move forward.”

Peterborough has changed remarkably over the 76-year-old’s lifetime, with one of the accusations levelled by some residents that the Millfield area has become worse over that period.

Asked for his thoughts on how mass migration to Peterborough has impacted the city, Mr Holdich said: “I’ve lived in those areas and I know what they are about. When the first Kashmiris and Pakistanis moved into Peterborough, the stories of eight sleeping on mattresses on the floor - it was all true.

“I worked at the Co-op at the time and part of my job was delivering furniture for them. I used to take these mattresses to the houses.

“I’ve seen things develop. The Pakistanis have really made a contribution to this city. There are a lot of businesspeople now.

“It all started with asylum seekers in the early 2000s and the Government reckoned we had 400 here. We did a headcount and it was 1,452.

“We had other cities ‘dumping’ their asylum seekers here.

“We started a place called New Link down Lincoln Road and that was really good. I wish we could have got the Government to say to us ‘right, this person is moving to Peterborough. Register with New Link and we can put things in place’.

“But you didn’t find out they were here until there was a problem, whether it was their dustbins overflowing or people playing loud music in the middle of the night.

“I was asked to chair this meeting by the MANERP (Millfield and New England Regeneration Partnership) group, and I said to the person from the Race Relations Board, ‘what do you want me to say?’

“He said ‘you need to get angry, John,’ but I said I might end up in prison doing that. So he said ‘no, no, no, you get angry’.

“So I wrote the opening of my speech and I could see the chief constable’s mouth opening, I could see (council chief executive) Gillian Beasley’s mouth going wide open and thinking ‘bloody hell, where is he going with this?’

“Then I balanced it and said ‘the schools wouldn’t be built if they weren’t here’. I said they’re doing the jobs we weren’t doing, they’re good craftsmen and turn up on time and do a good job.

“I could see the mouths going closed.

“The woman who was chairing MANERP at the time wanted to use the front end of my speech and the police arrested her. I was asked to go down to the police station on a Friday night and talk to her because she wanted to go on Channel 4 with my front end of the speech.

“(Migration) has delayed the regeneration of some of the older parts of Peterborough because that’s where the cheap property is, that’s where they’ve got to live. But it’s nice seeing them come out now and they’ve got jobs. They’re contributing to society.

“I went to a school in the Ortons and I was amazed how many different nationalities there were.”

Mr Holdich has been frustrated by the political bickering over Millfield and the promised £7.5 million to regenerate the area, and the accusation that there is a focus by the Conservatives on the city centre over other parts of Peterborough.

He added: “We want to move the bus depot out. That’s the secret to that place.

“Since the Labour Party have been in Park ward they’ve done nothing, other than moan every year at the budget that we didn’t spend the money.

“But I do have sympathy with people who say you spend all that money in the city centre. Do I not bid for that money because it’s for the city centre?”