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Planning for growth

Peter Hiller is Peterborough City Council Cabinet Member for Growth, Planning Services, Housing and Economic Development. Peter’s most recent work includes shaping the future direction of the council’s planning service and housing provision through the new Local Plan, which sets out how the city and surrounding area will grow and change up to 2038. The Local Plan aims to deliver a mix of housing types, including affordable homes to meet identified needs

Peterborough is a city in flux. It’s constantly evolving – reinventing itself even. How would you say the property market has changed in the 10 years or so you have been at the Council?
It’s generally changed for the better. New well-designed and executed schemes now prevail as developers recognise swifter uptake and a higher return from better quality housing. Modular-built housing is also talked about as a way forward for quicker delivery of housing. There’s much in its favour, though the associated higher cost and future longevity has been cited as a challenge for developers. Apartments created from offices are making city centre living more available and by innovative, determined actions we’ve turned landmark developments like Fletton Quays from pipedream to reality.

Like everywhere Peterborough has witnessed house price increases, though it remains relatively affordable. Could further rises serve as a drag on the local economy as more of the workforce is priced out of the market, or are higher prices simply a reflection of confidence in this area?
Housing values are market-driven by supply and demand. We are fortunate that our council-owned company Opportunity Peterborough has facilitated the relocation of some high-calibre multinational companies to the city over the past few years. They are attracted by a strong and capable workforce, commercial property of the right type and size, excellent connectivity to London and other commercial centres and, of course, our relatively affordable mix of quality housing at all levels. Further increases in house prices are inevitable as our city remains desirable, but we require that 30% of most new schemes are made up of affordable housing, and our level of housing delivery is strong.

What are the main influences on the local housing market as you see it?
Peterborough has been a success story over recent years, though never a victim of that success or a hostage to fortune. Yes, house prices have risen but there is still good availability of relatively affordable quality properties. The city’s economy and jobs growth have encouraged new house development at a rate not seen since the days of the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC) and we have ample sites allocated for planned future delivery. The council has a nationally-recognised, award-winning planning service and our officers engage in very positive dialogue with developers at all stages of the planning process. This speeds up the proper delivery of new homes.

Social housing availability has declined significantly over recent years, to the detriment of those on waiting lists. What is the council doing to redress this?
Some years ago the council transferred its housing stock to Registered Social Landlord Cross Keys Homes (CKH) and together we are very effective at allocating available social housing. But you’re right, it has declined over the decades. To address this we launched Medesham Homes, a successful jointly-run and fully funded housing delivery partnership between the council and CKH, to find sites and bring forward more affordable homes for our citizens. Medesham Homes will provide hundreds of new homes to those most in need in the coming years.

Is there also a place for the private rental sector in this regard?
There’s always been a need for this sector and I welcome wellmanaged rental properties in the general housing market, at all levels. Renting can be both a lifestyle and economic choice and the council recognises that good landlords normally provide an excellent service to their tenants. However, rogue landlords have blighted some neighbourhoods. With cross-party assistance and after much public consultation we introduced our Selective Licensing scheme a few years ago to cover some of these problematic areas. It’s working well, by prescriptively improving conditions and enabling swift action by the council’s housing professionals to address problems when necessary.

The rise of the private landlord has been particularly noticeable here in Peterborough.
My impression is that private rental market numbers have pretty much stabilised of late. Part of this is likely due to the teething problems with Universal Credit rollout, which has affected landlords, as well as tax changes. That said, it’s a significant element of housing provision across the UK and, as most in Peterborough are now well-managed, the privately-owned rented sector is an important and valued element of our city’s housing landscape.

Is there a particular type of home that the city desperately needs more of?
I’d like to see more truly affordable homes. A mix of ownership types and more brownfield site developments may help to bring about more homes for local families. Exciting innovative house designs can maximise the use of available land and new development doesn’t have to be a threat to existing neighbourhoods if it’s well planned and follows engaging consultation with existing residents. In our beautiful rural villages, where property is often priced beyond the reach of many I think there’s a case for communityled limited development for locally-connected first time buyers to help sustain village life for future generations. City-wide, it’s about building well-designed sustainable homes and creating communities, not anonymous housing estates; giving people the chance to have a stake in their own homes and to encourage social responsibility about where we live.

Peterborough’s growing fast – it always has done. What are the main challenges around this?
Growth brings its challenges but we are always mindful of having the right infrastructure in place to support that growth, plus a comprehensive programme of highway maintenance to keep it all working. I make no apology for our city being car-friendly; the Parkway system created by the PDC is the envy of many local authorities. Peterborough has the fastest commute time of any UK city, but our main roads were built for the traffic levels of 40-odd years ago. No-one likes roadworks – and they’re expensive – but keeping our road network running smoothly is a priority for me and sometimes delays are inevitable whilst we do that.

Can Peterborough continue to grow in a way that’s healthy for both the city and its people?
Yes it can. We are a Plan-led local authority and have much consulted-upon embedded policies to help our city grow in the right way. As I’ve said, Peterborough City Council has an awardwinning planning service and I’m very proud of the professionalism and dedication of our highly-qualified officers, who have a can-do attitude to the right development proposals brought forward. Better homes and better jobs bring general prosperity and a sense of pride in where we live and work.

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