Over the next 15 years Peterborough’s population is set to increase by almost a fifth, reaching 235,000. That’s a big change, but the city is no stranger to such rapid expansion and has risen to the challenge in the past. As we embark on the next phase of the city’s development, now is the time to put the plans in place that will see this growth benefiting everyone in the city; the Peterborough Masterplan aims to achieve this
The Peterborough City Centre Development Framework, or Peterborough Masterplan, is a blueprint for how the city might look 20 to 30 years from now. It proposes the infrastructure and landmarks future generations will come to associate with our city, and promises a bold, optimistic vision for the place in which we live and work. Peterborough is no stranger to growth. Its last growth spurt began in the late 1960s when it was designated a New Town, swelling the city’s population from around 70,000 to the 200,000 we see today.
At the time it was the Peterborough Development Corporation laying the foundations for our city to thrive: a parkway system that remains fit for purpose to this day, ensuring some of the shortest commute times in the country; the Queensgate Shopping Centre, now under refurbishment with a new multiscreen cinema in the offing; and the development of Nene Park as the green lungs of our city. Their careful planning attracted big name businesses to the city, propelling the city’s growth even further. But now is the time to look forward once again. ‘We’ve gone from a small market town to a modern city,’ explains Cllr John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council. ‘It’s still a friendly place but we can’t have a small town mentality – we have to grow and we have to grow in the right way. That is what the Masterplan is all about.’
The Masterplan sets out a number of key sites within the city centre that are ripe for redevelopment. These include a Station Quarter to welcome the 5 million passengers who travel to the city by train, a mixed use development at North Westgate, and Rivergate, a cultural quarter linking the city centre with the river. Also in the plan is the new university and an improved market offer, complete with apartments at Northminster. For Opportunity Peterborough CEO Tom Hennessy it’s all about meeting current and future demand from both residents and business: ‘Redevelopment of the city centre will allow it to supply a wide variety of much-needed accommodation, from affordable and social housing to the executive-type accommodation seen at Fletton Quays.
But it also allows us an opportunity to start developing some high quality office space in close proximity to the railway station, which will be essential for people as they move towards a more knowledge-based economy. Peterborough should be a prime location for businesses moving out of London, or for those inward investors who want proximity to the capital. The costs of doing business are much more competitive out here. So it is about diversifying the economy, particularly given the changes in the way people will work in the future, such as increased use of autonomy and AI.’ Steve Cox, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Director of Place and Economy, believes the opportunities are unprecedented: ‘The schemes that are already underway around the city centre are, in their own right, huge regeneration opportunities and developments bringing more jobs and more homes. They will move the city on to the next phase of its natural growth. The Station Quarter, the university, North Westgate – if any local authority had just one of those it would be exciting. We’ve got all of them and more!’
One of the things that makes the Masterplan so powerful is the spirit of collaboration it has fostered in the organisations working together to produce a unified vision for the city. Opportunity Peterborough is one of them. ‘There is no point in us going off trying to do our own thing,’ says Tom. ‘It is really important that we have a vision that people can agree on, which is why so many stakeholder groups have been involved in the process. So, for example, with the Station Quarter we have worked closely with Network Rail, LNER as well as others. ‘But then there’s the Government’s new Towns Fund, for which Peterborough has been selected to apply for up to £25 million. One of the specific requirements of that fund is that we pull together a stakeholder group to develop our plan and strategy for how that money is best put to use for the city. So while working together is good practice anyhow, in cases like this it is essential.’
Residents are also being invited to contribute their opinions with comments invited through the City Council’s website, as well as through the official public consultation process to come. ‘We’d like to know what the public wants. For example, Peterborough doesn’t have an arena of concert centre – does it want one? Let’s ask the people,’ says John. The first Towns Fund board meeting will be held this month to discuss and decide the best way to capture the ideas of the public and stakeholders. The views of businesses are also sought. ‘One example of this is the Business Improvement District, which we hope to progress later this year,’ explains Steve. ‘Chaired by Mark Broadhead at the Queensgate Centre, this is a collaboration of retailers, the City Council and other partners across the city centre. It will set out a vision for the sorts of improvements they would like to see alongside the services already provided by the council that would make the centre a more attractive place to visit. The business case is being prepared, and that will go to a ballot among retailers later in the autumn. If approved it will add a layer of control to businesses and retailers within the city centre, bringing a greater sense of cohesion and partnership.’
Even the production of the Masterplan itself has been kept in-city, with Peterborough firms Visual Etiquette and LDA Design, the landscape architects behind the Olympic Village and the University of London’s new campus, managing the process.
The Masterplan packs a positive punch, setting out the city’s stall for better use of the city centre with the aim of opening up the floodgates to inward investment. ‘If we keep the city tight, with more people living in the centre then the restaurants and shops there are going to be more prosperous,’ says John. ‘And people are already investing – take the 11-screen cinema being built on the top of Queensgate. The private money is there. And then there’s the spending power of the new student population that will come with the university and the knock-on effect on the jobs market.
‘You can see what’s already happening at Fletton Quays,’ adds Steve. ‘The Government hub is going in there, with the passport office and Defra – the proof of demand has been set and it all goes to build confidence in the city. The employment and housing growth builds yet more confidence among investors. What we’ve got to do now is translate that into regeneration that brings more footfall into the city centre, making it a more vibrant place to be. But rather than waiting for opportunities to come to us, the Masterplan will enable us to market our city in the right way to the right investors for Peterborough.’
The time is now
There’s a growing sense the stars have aligned – that the time for the next chapter in Peterborough’s history has arrived. We see it in the city’s youthful population; we are the fifth fastest growing city in the UK with the sixth highest birth rate. We see it in our excellent transport links, including the arrival of the new 39-minute train service to London and the promised A47 upgrade. We see it in our robust and diverse economy, ranked the 13th most innovative in the country by the Centre for Cities. Our high street is the best performing high street in the country and unemployment is well below the national average. While on the technological side the rollout of full-fibre broadband means Peterborough will become the UK’s third gigabit-speed city – essential for tomorrow’s modern and connected cities.
Tom captures the spirit: ‘Over the last couple of years there has been a sense of renewed optimism about what can be achieved here. Fletton Quays has been a visual queue for what we can expect in the future and it has kick-started a change in how we approach the regeneration of the city centre as a whole. Indeed, we have fantastic developments coming forward all over the city. And you have the new university gathering pace. A lot of these big pieces of the jigsaw are starting to fit into place. ‘It’s really quite an exciting time for the city and I think the time that everybody has decided the time is now,’ adds John. ‘There is a tangible sense of wanting to build on that excitement, to build a Peterborough that will be fit for purpose and a vibrant place to live in for many years to come.’
Fibre’s role in our future
At the heart of any thriving city is a robust digital infrastructure. Economic growth, business productivity and innovation, smart city programmes that will benefit the lives of residents, and even everyday access to smart devices will require digital connectivity that is far in excess of what most people can currently access. That’s why Peterborough is a step ahead. The £30 million next generation, gigabit-capable full fibre network that CityFibre is installing in Peterborough will bring the gold standard of digital connectivity within reach of almost every home and business in the city.
As the volumes of data transmitted around a modern city increase, a full fibre network will be essential. From streaming entertainment across multiple devices to integrating smart home tech, monitoring loved ones’ health remotely or just working from home with ease, CityFibre’s best in class infrastructure makes it easy. Whether it’s improving traffic flow in and out of the city, reducing waste on the streets or keeping people safe, digital infrastructure can enable Peterborough to climb to greater heights, now and in the future. Fast forward a few years and the technological advancement we face is incredible. Demand is and always has been CityFibre’s driving force, coupled with a determination to make a discernible difference to the UK economy, and to step up to the challenge of delivering the digital transformation a sustainable future depends upon.
Remembering Wyndham Thomas
As the city looks towards the next stage in its evolution, we remember the man attributed with leading Peterborough’s journey from market town to modern city. Wyndham Thomas was head of the Peterborough Development Corporation from 1968, a position he held for 14 years. During his tenure he successfully transformed Peterborough into one of the Government’s New Towns and oversaw the dramatic growth that followed. Among his achievements is the development of the parkway system, Queensgate shopping centre and Nene Park. In 2015 he was made a Freeman of the City of Peterborough in recognition of his contribution to the city and the remarkable legacy of his work. Wyndham Thomas CBE passed away in December, aged 95; a proud father, grandfather, great grandfather and husband of 72 years.
A new seat of learning
The masterplan includes existing plans for the new University of Peterborough, which is set to open in September 2022. James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, talks us through what impact the university is likely to have on the city.
How will the university contribute to Peterborough?
As a technical university it will feed the economy and industries that Peterborough is so famous for. It is being set up primarily for the people of Peterborough, but as the only technical university in the country it does mean a significant step forward in both the way the city views itself and how it is viewed from outside. Peterborough is a successful city that attracts a lot of businesses due to its perfect position at the intersection of East Anglia, the North, the Midlands and, of course, the South. The city has a proud heritage in engineering, manufacturing and agriculture – key areas identified in our recent economic review. But there is also a lack of educational attainment in those areas, so we need to make sure that businesses moving to Peterborough have the skills base they need. The university is really saying to the people of Peterborough, here’s a way we can give you the education you need to get the jobs you deserve.
Is it partly about keeping local talent within the city, to stop the brain drain?
Yes of course. But it’s really about presenting opportunities to local people. And we know that graduates often stick around the city in which they went to university. This is a different type of university and it’s a different way of delivering it. It will be completely innovative but its premise remains: creating educational opportunities. So we are designing this university to feed local industries because we want people to stay here.
Do you think the university will mean Peterborough is held in higher regard?
I think it will. This university will be an example that I expect others to follow. We have seen the high point, the low point – whatever you want to call it – of ambitions to send half the population to university. That’s all well and good but you’ve got to follow that up with career prospects. This is about people, their careers and their future lives, and that is what we are trying to create from this university. It isn’t about piling them high, selling them cheap and getting people through the door as quickly as possible then forgetting about them once they graduate. This university is being designed to feed the economy of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area.
So what are the next steps in getting the university up and running?
Our partner is announced this spring then work begins in the autumn. The doors will open in September 2022. Initially there will be 2,000 places with no accommodation for those from outside of the area; the ambition is to encourage local people to take up those first places. Then, as investment in the university continues and it expands, additional facilities will be added. The timeline is tight and we are working very closely with Mace to develop the university on behalf of the Combined Authority. Things are working well and keeping to time as we expected.
Peterborough is well connected by its transport links, but will the university help connect it intellectually too, to other seats of learning?
No university is an island. Of course there will be the partner university that we will be working alongside, but ultimately we will also be looking for faculties to have links beyond the city. We’re not expecting this university to spring fully formed from the ground with its own network. It will have to rely on and feed into the networks that exist within other universities and I am confident that what we are offering will be something business and education providers want to be part of.
The university is very central within the city. That’s quite unusual isn’t it?
Peterborough is exceptionally fortunate that its university will be in the centre of the city, directly opposite the cathedral. It means students will be able to walk very comfortably and safely into the centre of the town, rather than trekking in from the edge of the city. It’s going to be a university that is at the beating heart of the city and the vibrancy that will bring to the centre of Peterborough cannot be underestimated.
Find out more
• For details of the City Centre Development Framework visit: www.peterborough.gov.uk/council/planning-and-development/regeneration/city-centre-development-framework
• Further promotional materials regarding the opportunities to be found within Peterborough will soon be made available at www.investinpeterborough.co.uk