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A Festive Message: Peterborough's match for 2022

Toby Wood, vice-chairman of Peterborough Civic Society, details why our city has a tough but winnable match ahead for 2022.
Passport office
An aerial view of Fletton Quays

One of England’s greatest ever footballers, Jimmy Greaves, died in September 2021.

As well as being a thrilling player he was an extremely likeable character who didn’t take either himself or the world too seriously. One of Greaves’s most famous sayings was “football, it’s a funny old game”, a phrase which could easily be applied to Peterborough in 2021. #Peterborough – it’s a funny old place. So what exactly do I mean when I write that? Well, it’s been a year of two halves.

On the one hand we have a city that is growing, blossoming and thriving. You only have to look around to see evidence of that. New city centre hotels are opening. Whoever would have thought that Bridge Street police station would have ended up as a Premier Inn? Overnight stay in the cells anyone?

The Hilton hotel, complete with its rooftop bar with ‘unparalleled views across the city and of Peterborough Cathedral’ is nearing completion. It stands to reason that long-established national hotel chains must have done their homework – they must consider Peterborough as a ‘come-to’ destination. Otherwise why bother?

Likewise work is well under way to bring 1,000 civil servants to the city as part of the HM Passport Office and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs development at Fletton Quays. I have friends who have not visited Peterborough for four or five years and, when they visit me again after the current restrictions, they will barely recognise the area just to the south of the river.

We also have a new university, many of whose buildings are sprouting up on the north side of the Embankment as I write. There are also plans to develop and revitalise the area adjacent to the river Nene. Consultation is still ongoing and the early part of 2022 will bring an Embankment masterplan that, although it will undoubtedly divide opinion, will hopefully give sensitive thought to how the centre of Peterborough should grow and how it should look.

We’re in the middle of a tough game and we need to get on and win this match here and now before we can even think about winning matches in a new stadium.

So why is Peterborough in the middle of a ‘funny old game’? What’s the problem? Everything that I’ve written about so far is surely positive for the city? Ay, there’s the rub – as Hamlet (not Jimmy Greaves) might have said.

Progress, or the march of time, divides opinion.

The two extremes of progress are quite stark. There are those in the city who want things to stay exactly as they are, with no changes whatsoever.

And, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who want everything to change and want it NOW! As usual the reality is somewhere in the middle. Clever and sensitive developers will look at the city’s current and future needs and carefully intertwine those with change that is both realistic and acceptable to new, existing and future Peterborians.

Now all of this is all very well but I have still to mention the elephant in the room. Money. Whilst private developers seem to be able to provide cash for new projects, our very own city council appears completely broke.

Indeed, if rumours are to be believed, the civic coffers are empty and administration of Peterborough’s finances is being closely monitored by national government.

In short, on the one hand we can see growth, progress and development, whilst, on the other hand, we are barely able to keep the most basic civic functions, such as emptying the bins and cleaning the streets, going.

Being a city councillor must currently be a thankless task – they must feel like they’re in a boxing match with one hand tied behind their backs. If the Peterborough of 2021 was a football team it would be running around, exciting the crowds and scoring brilliant goals but still losing 5-3 after 45 minutes. It’s now half time and the second half, 2022, is just about to begin.

The manager and coaching staff need to rejig the formation, give a motivational half-time team talk and send the players out for the second half with their heads held high and all knowing how they can individually contribute to the overall team.

When the final whistle goes to end 2022, players and supporters alike need to feel successful, satisfied and fulfilled, knowing that we’ve played and seen a good game – and won 7-5!

So come on Peterborough, let’s turn this funny old game into a glorious triumph!