The sun rises over Peterborough

A £600m masterplan has been devised to ensure that what is probably the UK’s fastest growing city keeps pace with the 21st century expectations of entrepreneurs and residents alike. HELEN COMPSON reports.

To get the measure of modern, thriving Peterborough you need only look at the success of Fletton Quays.

Mid-way through a £120m redevelopment, the 6.4 hectares that stood nigh-on empty for 40 years today boasts four river-side apartment blocks, a new Hilton Hotel and a gleaming office complex now home to Peterborough City Council itself.

And this particular project is just one element of a much wider, £600m master plan currently being rolled out by a collaborative partnership busy turning its ambitious vision for Peterborough into reality.

Peterborough 2050 is a blueprint fit for the 21st century, replete with the high quality residential and commercial property and cultural, retail and green space that will ensure this city, but 85 miles from the heart of London, continues to be an attractive place to both live and work.

Fletton Quays is a standard-bearer for the city, demonstrating its not so hidden potential, said Tom Hennessey, chief executive of Opportunity Peterborough, the city council’s investment arm.

“With the new government hub, that is a thousand jobs that are going to be based at Fletton Quays, but we don’t see that as the end,” he said. “It is just the start.

“The success there is a catalyst to discuss opportunities with the Government for further investment in the city.”

HM Passport Office, DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency have already seen the light and moved to Peterborough. Now the development partnership has an even bigger fish in its sights – the Civil Service.

Steve Cox, the council’s director of place and economy, said: “Businesses are moving out of London and we know government can operate from Peterborough, so we want to see them invest more forcibly in the city now by moving a department here.

“We are only 39 minutes from Kings Cross and with the quality of the office accommodation and service facilities we can offer, it is a better prospect for a civil servant used to working in London.”

In Peterborough, prime office space could be rented for a quarter of the cost of London prices in new, beautifully landscaped complexes well served by transport infrastructure.

Among the eight key sites identified for redevelopment in Peterborough 2050 are Station Quarter, used by five million rail passengers a year, and nearby North Westgate. Easily accessible locations for anyone getting off the train from London, a total of £380m is being sought to reinvigorate their collective commercial, leisure and residential offer.

There is strong investor interest. Tom Hennessey said: “There are businesses that want to invest in our city, certainly. We had an investment event last October at which we showcased the work already taking place, as well as the overall development framework.

“We had a really strong turnout on the day and a lot of interest has been expressed since then. Much of that comes back to confidence being key. The council has set out what it wants to achieve and then set about marrying up land acquisition with investors and the financial vehicles needed.

“The easier it is for investors to get a return on their money the easier the decision is for them, and the confidence the city is showing in itself is crucial.”

Last year, Peterborough was among the first handful of 101 qualifying towns nationwide to be awarded a grant from the Government’s Town Fund.

In keeping with the fund’s aim of enhancing cultural offer in support of high street recovery, the £22.9m Peterborough received is being spent both on improving existing visitor attractions and building some exciting new ones.

They include a new library and cultural hub christened The Vine, a Bronze Age museum designed to be of national significance, and an Olympic grade climbing facility at Nene Park.

The public realm and connectivity for pedestrians will also be improved in key locations, including the installation of a new footbridge that will provide a link between the Embankment district – where a brand new £30m university is currently taking shape – and Fletton Quays.

Scheduled to open in September 2022 with an initial intake of 2000 students, ARU Peterborough (managed by Anglia Ruskin University) has a tremendously important role to play going forward, said John Holdich, who has just retired as leader of Peterborough City Council.

There are some fantastic projects going on in Peterborough and the university is one of them,” he said. “It will help build skills among the people of Peterborough and in the process meet the needs of businesses looking for a highly-skilled workforce.”

The university aims to have 12,500 students on roll by 2037, contributing handsomely to Peterborough’s reputation as one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Perhaps it is the fastest – Milton Keynes appears to be the only other contender for the title.

John said it had been the development team’s outward-looking, forward-thinking vision for the Peterborough they wanted to see in 2050 that had so impressed the 99 potential investors who attended the showcase last October. “We are looking for £600m to £700m in investment and it does seem to be there.

“People want to come to Peterborough. We have people and businesses in Europe wanting to come. We asked them why and they said ‘because you show ambition’.”

However, this native of Peterborough – a councillor for the best part of 50 years and fiercely proud of his home town – couldn’t resist adding: “People are always surprised at how much we have here already, how many wonderful visitor attractions and green spaces and cycle ways.

“Do you know Peterborough?”

Fact file:

The eight key city sites set for regeneration:

1 Station Quarter. £300m has been earmarked to reinvigorate this key city gateway used by more than 5m passengers each year.

2 North Westgate. Outline consent has been granted for an £80m, mixed-use scheme that will burnish the area’s commercial, leisure and residential offer.

3 Northminster. More than 150 dwellings and retail units, along with public realm enhancements, will be created in a £90m development.

4 Rivergate. Plans are being drawn up for a residential and retail development that will enhance another key gateway to the city centre, Embankment and Fletton Quays.

5 Peterborough University. £31m has already been invested in establishing the new campus, which is due to open in 2022. The primary subject focuses will be business, technology and engineering in a curriculum geared to the growth sectors in the regional economy.

6 Embankment. Peterborough United Football Club is conducting a feasibility study of a £50m proposal for a new 20,000 capacity stadium and conference centre.

7 Middleholme. This 40 acre site to the east of Embankment has been identified for residential and leisure usage.

8 Fletton Quays. The £120m development of the 6.4 hectare site, which is already home to Peterborough City Council, began in 2017. It includes four new apartment blocks and a new 126 bedroom Hilton Hotel.

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