Peterborough's health and 'pain in the butt' surveys


The study looked at green spaces, such as Central Park. Photo: John Baker

The study literally counted those facilities deemed healthy (gyms, leisure centres, local green spaces, vegan restaurants, libraries, museums, wellbeing centres, GP surgeries and pubs) and unhealthy (fast food takeaways, vape shops, pawn brokers, gambling and betting shops), giving a plus or minus points score for each one.

Our city was bottom, with a crushing -104, after 150 points were deducted for the number of fast food takeaways available to citizens.

It isn't the first study to place Peterborough at the bottom of the list, and just like the infamous one about worst places to live, it's worth mounting a defence.

In response to the study we asked on social media if it were fair, and what changes people would make if they could.

More independent businesses and fewer fast food shops were among the biggest requests, perhaps following on from Peterborough's moment of infamy last month when six branches of McDonald's - although not the city centre one - were opened simultaneously as lockdown was relaxed, yet others saw none open.

But in some ways we actually don't have as many McDonalds as one might expect. With seven around Peterborough, and a population of 202,000, it roughly equates to one restaurant every 29,000 people. In Westminster alone there are 18, equating to one per 13,400 people. 

There are multiple takeaway food outlets that aren't chains in the city such as Parrotts, Embe, The Ladz and more, and of course takeaway doesn't have to be unhealthy, as shown by Be Kind Kitchen and When Polly met Fergie.  And even those that are unhealthy, are at least supplying jobs at this time.

The number of vegan options, at 36, actually compares favourably with many other cities surveyed, such as Blackburn with eight. 

Empty premises were also brought up by readers - Bridge Street in particular is looking stark in places - and complaints about an abundance of flats.

And with Boris Johnson set to tear up the planning rules this month to allow vacant buildings in town centres to be converted to housing more easily, that may become even more of an issue. 

Johnson has said that the government will launch a planning policy paper in July aiming to reform England’s seven-decade old planning system to bring it into the 21st Century.

While this does not sound the solution we would want, and certainly less preferable than independent or new businesses, there are a number of exciting new developments which also could arise alongside them. 

Peterborough Matters loves the idea of Westgate House as a hub for new businesses as suggested by Peterborough Civic Society, and so did our readers - more than half voted for this as a preferred destination for Peterborough City Market in our poll.

There are many benefits, not least that it would pull shoppers away from Cathedral Square and into a different part of the city shopping, before leading them on to Northminster or the new Westgate. 

The Oxford dictionary definition of green space is "an area of grass, trees, or other vegetation set apart for recreational or aesthetic purposes in an otherwise urban environment".

Kem Mehmed, of Peterborough Civic Society, described studies such as this as a "pain in the butt". 

He said: "With regard to Peterborough at the bottom, that is surprising. Take one measure, open space. Within 10 streets of the High Street (their method) I think you would be hard pressed to find as much public open space as we have here."

Peterborough was marked low on green spaces in the study presumably by someone who has never seen Cathedral Green, The Embankment, Bishops Gardens, or Central Park, and how much they offer.  And did they count the Green Backyard? Or some of the playgrounds that are 10 minutes away or less? 

Of course many sports cannot take place at this time - gyms are shut at the moment due to lockdown, and in Peterborough the situation is unclear on their future as Vivacity prepares to hand leisure services back to the council.

A Peterborough City Council spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to working with our partners to promote health and wellbeing across the city. 

"Since the start of the lockdown we have worked to promote ways that people can keep active and healthy and we are developing a healthy weight strategy to further support the adoption of healthy lifestyle choices. 

"Peterborough’s vibrant city centre which is within close proximity to green spaces, award-winning parks, sports facilities, cycle routes and walkways will play a key role in the delivery of the strategy.”

Ultimately, the council cannot force people to exercise or eat healthily - it can only give them the facilities to do so. And in that regard, when one takes a look at the opportunities on offer, we are hardly short-changed. 

There are a number of outdoor gyms across the city, at Gladstone Street and Lincoln Road to name but two; skate parks; services in multiple languages online; numerous healthy eating courses and classes; cycle routes directly into the city centre; actitivites at Ferry Meadows; multiple running groups (and one of the best half marathons in the UK) and much more. 

We asked fitness expert Henry Godfree of Outlift Muscle and Fitness for his thoughts on the survey, which you can see tomorrow.

In the meantime, this weekend is a big one for measuring Peterborough's health both on the high street and as people. The council is looking for a cafe culture for the city, and this may make it a more attractive proposition in the near future.

Nothing will be the same for a while, here or anywhere else.We might not all have the opportunity to change the layout of the city, but we do have a chance to lift its morale. Let's hope we all feel better about our city centre soon, Covid-19 or not.

Most gyms: Glasgow
Most green spaces: Cambridge
Most wellbeing centres: London
Most restaurants suitable for vegans: Leeds
Most leisure centres: Derby
Most libraries: Oxford
Most museums: York
Most GP access: London
Most pubs: Norwich
Most fast-food takeaways: London
Most gambling and betting shops: Glasgow
Most pawn brokers: London
Most vape shops: Glasgow

The full results of the study can be seen here