Peterborough Civic Society says it is time for action on North Westgate

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A comprehensive development of the last remaining major site in Peterborough city centre has been submitted by Hawksworth Securities PLC. The plan is to build apartments, offices, a medical centre, large hotel, food hall, supermarket, shops and restaurants; in five blocks of between five and seven storeys on the North Westgate area (write Kem Mehmed).

Peterborough Civic Society welcomes this application as an attempt to bring forward the comprehensive development of a long neglected part of the city centre. It accords with Local Plan policies and there is already an extant outline planning permission for a very similar scheme granted in 2015.

There are a number of practical issues regarding access, circulation and servicing which are unsatisfactory, but these are hardly worth exploring until the serious doubt about credibility has been removed.

The application does show how it might be possible to carry out a major development of a large part of the North Westgate Area without sterilising the comprehensive development of the whole street block. Hawksworth Securities states that it owns 44% of the total area of the application site, but there remain about 30 other individual landowners involved, all of whom would need to be brought into the scheme. It takes only one owner to refuse to sell for there to be no actual development.

Private development companies have no recourse to compulsory purchase powers, so in most cases the support of the local authority is essential. The city council will also be needed to legally close or divert public highways.

Statements by council leader John Holdich reported in the press do not give the impression that this support will be forthcoming. There is a long history on this site with three parties in a relationship which has evolved to a stand-off. As well as the city council and Hawksworth there is Invesco, owners of Queensgate and two large parts of the North Westgate Area.

The city council wishes to pursue its own scheme, although it does not own any of the land and has no scheme drawn up. Invesco, busy with the Queensgate upgrade, has no enthusiasm for this site and fell out with Hawksworth over the multi-screen cinema. It’s time for heads to be banged together or, more productively, for some humble pie to be eaten.

There now appears to be some consensus on the scale and contents of the scheme, leaving differences of approach on who should develop the site. The problem of multiple ownerships on this site tells us that compulsory purchase powers must now be applied to enable a scheme to be implemented. Accordingly, we look forward to the city council reaching a partnering agreement with one developer, Hawksworth, who has shown a long-standing commitment to produce a scheme. We are very disappointed that such a relationship is not yet in place.

Should the city council wish to go it alone they should get on with it. The general public has seen nothing from them, and they have not purchased a single property in the area since they announced their intention to redevelop North Westgate in October 2016.

The Civic Society is concerned that this site has been undeveloped for the past thirty years with several schemes coming forward but not progressing for a variety of reasons.

Now is the time for action!