Peterborough City Centre - an overview (part one)

RS23157-THS-Peterborough-City--2f33adab

Building continues on Queensgate - the shape of things to come. Photo: archive.terry-harris.co.uk/

The halcyon days of Woolworths and Andy's Records, much missed by readers, may never return to Bridge Street - but it would be hard not to feel a little excited at the prospect of 'The Vine'.

Finally, the wall at the corner with Bourges Boulevard -  arguably the most under-utilised space in the city - might be a brilliant, artistically-sound and unusually bold showcase for Peterborough. 

For those who missed it, the information was revealed in a PCC release a fortnight ago in conjunction with the news that Peterborough has been invited to bid for £25million of funding from its £3.6bn Town Fund.

The idea is that TK Maxx is moving into Queensgate, leaving  Peterborough City Council to buy the current building for just under £4 million, with another £5 million designated to transform it into a library, community café, a study area for children, meeting rooms for council and community use, a cultural hub with rehearsal and gallery space for local arts and cultural organisations, space for new businesses and public sector organisations, and offices.

The current Central Library in Broadway and Chauffeurs Cottage at the back of the Town Hall, which is currently leased to arts group Metal, will be sold.

A sceptic might question whether it's the best use of the large chunk of the £25 million, when a perfectly good library exists already that is well used.

Peterborough City Council has released an artist's impression of what the new cultural hub could look like (Photo: Supplied)

As part of the Town Fund bid, government guidance  states that " Communities should have a meaningful role in decision-making for the future of their town, and Town Deal Boards should draw on the local knowledge and insight that communities can provide on the barriers to driving local growth and productivity.

"We expect this to be achieved by including community representatives from prominent local civic and faith organisations in the governance structure, such as representatives from local community forums, voluntary and community sector organisations, or Councils of the Voluntary Sector."

In Peterborough's case the Town Board - full membership here -  consists of a panel chaired by Matthew Bradbury of Nene Park Trust and consisting of council members and officers, MP Paul Bristow, and representatives from business, charity and the voluntary sector. 

The Town Deal Board, as with each of the 101 places invited to apply, will be the vehicle through which the vision and strategy for the town is defined. 

But there are possibly many other groups, organisations, city stakeholders and interested parties that might think they deserved an opinion - arts groups, parish councils, individual charities, and more. While the ideas that were eventually submitted have been warmly received - including the Nene Bridge, The Bronze Age museum adjunct and The Vine -  there have been some unhappy comparisons with other towns or cities.

For example, in Boston - where a similar submission has been made - a series of public meetings were held, and even more excitingly various youth forums were formed where young people from the town could submit ideas. In Hastings there was a simple online platform for people to get in touch with an idea or project proposal, in pride of place on the council's landing page.

However, a Peterborough City Council spokesperson said that the official guidance designating who should be consulted only arose relatively recently: "The official guidance from the Government was delayed due to Covid-19 and was published on its website on June 15, just a month before the application was submitted.

"The bid for this money is in the very early stages at the moment. Throughout the writing of the application, the Towns Board has had two separate meetings with the Civic Society and also shared a copy of the application before this was submitted. Initial views and opinions were also gathered from individuals and organisations across the city. 

"Minutes of all Towns Board meetings are available on the city council's website.

"In September we expect to find out from the Government which schemes they are prepared to back and what funding will be available for these. When we have this green light and detail we look forward to starting on a full public consultation in autumn/winter 2020/21."

The actual bid, totalling £24.7m, has not yet been shared, but rather drip-fed to the public by PCC in a series of press releases - perhaps understandably while the bid is considered.

There are a few other little morsels in the aforementioned minutes; in a recent board meeting Mr Bradbury declared a conflict of interest in relation to one of the projects in the bid, namely the Ferry Meadows Activity Centre. However, it was agreed that "the added value the activity centre will bring to the city" meant it shouldn’t be excluded. It was added the activity centre still awaiting planning approval, which at this stage of the process is the same for several of the other bid projects.

As well as The Vine helping Bridge Street, there may also be some overflow of footfall towards Rivergate, which has in the past boasted big stores - but no longer.

The word rescue is strong, but in our recent podcast with Peterborough Civic Society Kem Mehmed expressed concern that Rivergate was 'a bit tricky' - and suggested that it might even need to be 'written off' as a main retail area, sadly, with the dynamics of retail moving to the north, not least with the redevelopment of Queensgate

The new library would bring people at least closer to Rivergate, and presumably businesses could use its facilities to promote themselves and bring people over Bourges Boulevard. As an aside - but an important one - that crossing alone has seen 16 accidents in the past five years, five of which were described as 'severe' in the transport assessment accompanying the University application.

Logically, there could then be a flow towards that university and the new stadium. It also gives small businesses a chance that seemingly has not materialised from Fletton Quays - described by the Civic Society as 'a massive disappointment', with a hotel on the way 'that look like something from behind the Iron Curtain'. When planning permission was granted in 2015 for the £120 million redevelopment of the site, it was earmarked for 265 high end apartments, restaurants, a 160-bed hotel and two blocks of offices. The high end restaurants do not seem to have arrived, and nor has the urban beach.

Meanwhile, PCC Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Commercial Strategy and Investments Peter Hiller revealed recently that a developer is interested in Whitworth Mill, after original purchasers Samsons pulled out due to the damaging economic effects of the coronavirus.

Fletton Quays, as of late July 2020. Photo: archive.terry-harris.co.uk

Already struggling before the pandemic, Peterborough City Market is due a total overhaul. There was speculation that it could move into the Beales building but that now appears destined to become flats, might The Vine present itself as a location for at least some of the smaller businesses.

In June Principal Development Manager at Peterborough Investment Partnership and Head of Growth at Peterborough City Council Howard Bright said that PIP was looking at the Northminster area of the city centre for redevelopment and rejuvenation.

He said: "It is an area with several major challenges; it’s tired and unloved, but the council announced in February that it is set to transfer the land including the market, the multi-storey car park and Laxton Square to PIP.

“We’re still at the early process of transferring the land and there is no development ‘plan’ or ‘scheme’ as such; but anybody can see that the area has huge potential.

“PIP would look to secure planning permission and attract outside development which could lead to the redevelopment of Northminster including luxury apartments, retail and office buildings, a new car park and a market hall.

“Whatever we end up doing, there must remain that social element in everything we do. We want give back to the people of Peterborough something that they can be proud of – something for the future.”

No decision has yet made on the future of the Solstice - a planning application went into Peterborough City Council in May for its demolition, to be replaced by a seven-storey and three-storey block comprising 56 apartments, shops and restaurants, with enough room for 77 students.

And yesterday it was announced that plans have also been approved to turn Fifth Avenue into a hotel - although other options are also on the table.  

Still, people may ask - with the Park Inn and Great Northern; the Hilton at Fletton Quays; the Travelodge a stone's throw away, and now potentially another hotel on the way - is it overkill?

Tomorrow - the Embankment