Podcast: Fletton Quays, Rivergate - and what Peterborough is lacking

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An aerial view of Peterborough://archive.terry-harris.co.uk/

In the end, its role is to take pride in Peterborough; you may have seen the blue plaques - 15 new ones have been added to the 20 previous ones - highlighting interesting people and places in or around the city centre. 

The Civic Society looks through every planning application that's made to the city council, and picks out ones which are significant to the people of Peterborough.

There are two groups to pore through the various applications submitted each week, and will make comments on some of them - both big and small - across Peterborough.

It also has its own ideas - a recent project aimed to try to find a use for Westgate House, recently hosting Beales Department Store until its closure in March, days before lockdown.

With the nearby market in a sorry state, the Civic Society gauged whether there was the possibility of putting it, and other small businesses into the building on Westgate, starting by gaining an appreciation of the public view. 

At the same time, the society discovered that 101 towns and cities across the country were eligible to bid for up to £25m, from the Towns Fund - launched by the Government to boost economic productivity and support sustainable growth. 

Peterborough has formed a town board led by the city council but also including representatives of companies and community figures, to bid for the funds.

The three strands of the project are Urban regeneration, land use planning and infrastructure; Skills and enterprise infrastructure; and Connectivity. The funding will be used to develop projects to deliver jobs and homes and support inward investment. 

The Civic Society is keen to be involved and to be kept informed by the board, but in the board's latest meeting the Society's proposal of funding a feasibility study for the Beales idea was unanimously voted down.

The reasoning was that "First and foremost, the site is privately owned and the owners are understood to be reviewing a range of options for securing the redevelopment of the site. Should the current owners wish to pursue its development as a Market, they should finance any necessary studies, as private developers generally do."

Such a study would cost tens of thousands of pounds, which the society does not have.

Mr Mehmed continued: "The board said it would 'enhance the retail offering of the city, and become a visitor attraction', but nonetheless they were not going to put any money into it.

"They feel it's the job of the property owners to come forward with a plan, and if that includes a market it would be well-received - but that isn't going to happen. 

"I've been in touch with the owners, and their agents today, and they have had no contact with the city officers who run the board since last October. So they haven't treated the idea very seriously, in my view.

"They have their own plan for how to spend that money, and they're sticking to it. The market is a very sad place at the moment.

"The architects are waiting for a firm brief from their client - they've done sketches and they expect that it will be 'residentially led'.

"The only good news I got was that the architects are quite sensitive of the community. We are keen to keep the old Victorian frontage on Park Road and have been told this will be retained. 

"The upper floors will be residential but the lower floors might be mixed use. So there is time to do things, but they are not in any way looking to put a market in there because it doesn't make any money - my words, not theirs."

Mr Mehmed is a retired town planner - one of a handful in the society.

Its main criticism of the planning behind the city centre is that it is 'piecemeal' and 'opportunist' - as slaves to the Government's numerous changes to planning guidelines about converting offices to residential in the past 20 years or so. 

Of particular interest to the society - and indeed the rest of the city - is the Opportunity Peterborough development brochure

The future of Northminster and the surrounding areas are detailed in the brochure - entitled 'The Time is Now' - which shows exactly what is planned for the city in the coming years.

Development of the Station Quarter, Embankment, Rivergate and the University are also all contained in the document, which aims to get companies investing in Peterborough and revitalise the city. 

The Civic Society has opinions on all of these; Mr Mehmed said that Fletton Quays is a mixed bag, with some buildings "overblown in terms of scale" and the hotel potentially looking "like something out of the Iron Curtain".

But he added: "The buildings that are there so far do have some architectural merit. There's not a single affordable house in that whole area, and while some may be on the verge of affordable for some people, there was no requirement to put in any affordable housing, let alone social housing.

"There was also no requirement to contribute to that elsewhere. There's something like 4-500 houses going in Fletton Quays in the end because there's more land to develop, but with virtually no contribution outside Fletton Quays itself.

"But more positively at least some of the profit from the scheme will go to the city council through the Peterborough Investment Partnership with Lucent."

In our Peterborough Natters podcast, Mr Mehmed detailed the society's thoughts on each of these and more - and it makes extremely interesting listening.

Mr Mehmed spoke to us  on Tuesday, a couple of days before the announcement of the planned bridge over the River Nene - but it's something that will certainly be warmly  received by the society, as you'll hear.