Why the future of Peterborough matters to Cambridge – and even more so to Cambridgeshire

Lots of local political fun and games following the spinning of a successful Levelling Up funding bid going out of control – but there are a series of serious issue behind it.

#ChequeGate, #StationGate, you name it.

You can read the article here by Mr Elworthy,

…noting a hastily-edited video with the Conservative Party logo clearly blanked out was posted several hours later.

Above. #SorryNotSorryyou can read the article by the Peterborough Telegraph here.

On a more serious point – Peterborough Station is long overdue a revamp.

This is what it used to look like in the 1970s. And today on G-Maps?

Above – a station entrance worthy of a dormitory commuter town, not a great cathedral city.

How did Peterborough look in the more distant past? Have a browse via Britain from above.

The challenge Peterborough faces – like many, is directly related to the austerity budgets passed by successive Conservative-led Governments.

“Peterborough facing ‘most challenging times since the Second World War’, council says”

Cait Findlay in the Cambridge News, 05 Oct 2022

More than a few political commentators and public policy types have said that the “levelling up” programme is not a very effective way of achieving what ministers want to achieve on rebalancing the economy away from London and the South East.

Above – you can read Thomas Pope’s article here. Also, see his Twitterstream here

We already know that the existing system of local government financing is unsustainable – Parliament published a report on this back in 2021. But until The Chancellor of the Exchequer (present of future) overhauls things, Peterborough City Council like many others faces crises as mentioned by Ben Jones in the Peterborough Telegraph of 29 Nov 2022.

“Not a great place to start from for a visionary overhaul to make the city resilient in the face of a climate emergency then?”

Don’t get me started.

The place to start from when looking at the future of any city in England is their local development plan. Peterborough’s one was signed off in 2019.

Above – The Peterborough Local Plan 2016 – 2036

The first thing to note is that the City of Peterborough Unitary Authority (i.e. Peterborough City Council) has a significant rural hinterland – unlike Cambridge City Council which is not a unitary authority and is stuck in its 1935-era boundary.

Above – from Peterborough’s Local Plan (2019), p80 (on the pdf). The area is mentioned specifically on p116 with a specific set of policies. For the railway station and environs, the plan states: “Policy LP48: Railway Station Policy Area”

Station West Opportunity Area

“Development proposals for the Station West Opportunity Area (LP48.6) should:

  • deliver predominantly residential development, although office development would also be supported;
  • provide community uses;
  • incorporate and enhance the listed railway sheds to the south of the site;
  • safeguard land for, and assist delivery of, a foot/cycle bridge over the railway line, connecting to the Station East Opportunity Area; and
  • help to facilitate a new ‘west’ entrance to the station.”

Station East Opportunity Area

“Development proposals for the Station East Opportunity Area (LP48.7) should deliver a
mixed-use development, including:

  • high-quality residential and office development;
  • retail uses ancillary to, and associated with, the railway station;
  • bars, restaurants and leisure uses; and
  • safeguarding of land for a foot/cycle bridge over the railway line, connecting to the Station West Opportunity Area;
  • incorporate and enhance the listed Carpenter’s shop to the north of the site.

Above – from p116

Feel free to explore the area around the railway station on G-Maps here

Peterborough City Centre

The Local Plan shows the area and those neighbouring it below.

Above – from p113 of the Local Plan (again, the pdf pages)

For the City Centre, the plan states: (Policy LP47: City Core Policy Area)

New development must, where appropriate:

  • improve the quality of the townscape, architecture and public realm;
  • protect important views of the Cathedral;
  • preserve or enhance the heritage assets of the area, and their setting, in a manner appropriate to their significance; and
  • protect and enhance existing retail areas.

Which is all well and good in principle.

An opportunity to enhance dramatically the setting of existing historical buildings in Peterborough

For me, the area with huge potential is the direct line between the railway station car park and the cathedral ‘as the crow flies’.

Above – from G-Maps here with Peterborough Cathedral in the background where the red balloon icon is, and the GNER railway line between Scotland and London in the foreground. Prominent in between are the station car park, the bus station, and the Queensgate Shopping Centre. You can also just make out the 15th Century Grade 1 listed Church of St John the Baptist

A ‘grand parade’ between a grand new station and an historic building?

Again, I’m playing with G-Maps here, and thinking back to the not-pleasant walk throughs from station to city centre on my previous visits to Peterborough.

Above – you can see how previous generations designed post-war Peterborough for the motorcar. But is this sustainable given the climate emergency? Assuming it isn’t what are the alternatives to ensure the city centre remains accessible to residents in surrounding villages and towns?

Above – options could range from a segregated raised walkway through to a comprehensively redeveloped wide promenade with well-designed buildings for shops, offices, and flats between the station and St John’s.

“Haven’t designs already been prepared for the railway station?”

Yes – then the first lockdown happened. See the Peterborough Telegraph of 23 Jan 2020.

Above – by LDA Design in the Peterborough Telegraph – You can make out the vague image of the Cathedral in the background.

Furthermore in developing the current local plan, the future of the station area was hotly debated with a number of proposals coming up such as this in 2018. Going back even further to 2008 and we find this document with maps and proposals for what to do with the station area in Peterborough.

“Does anything have to change?”

That depends on what the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan for Cambridgeshire & Peterborough (LCTP) looks like

The Local Transport and Connectivity Plan for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

They have got a monster agenda for their meeting on 25 January 2023. Furthermore you can read the draft consultation report (i.e. on what you all said) on the LTCP at item 2.3 in the Transport Committee papers.

Above – what you all said about the proposals on transport from the Combined Authorityitem 2.3 at Appendix 1

Whatever plan is signed off by the Combined Authority is something that the developers for the Peterborough Station site will have to take into account of.

“Why does this matter to Cambridge?”

Because Cambridge has been overheating economically for years, and Peterborough could really do with some of that private sector investment that’s piling into our University City. Hence my call for Anglia Ruskin University to set up a new School of Dentistry close to Peterborough’s Railway Station. As I’ve also mentioned before, I’d re-examine the case from 1969 for a Greater Peterborough Unitary Council following Parliament’s call for a massive overhaul of local government in England.

Above – Greater Peterborough and Greater Cambridge Unitary Council proposals from Redcliffe-Maud’s 1969 Royal Commission on Local Government in Englandyou can see the links to the digitised main report, maps, and research appendices here.

One of the merits of the above is future ministers could grant wider revenue-raising powers for Greater Cambridge to tax the overheating economy to spend on much-needed infrastructure (and diverting that excess private sector investment to nearby places that need it more), while leaving central government to provide the infrastructure investment that Greater Peterborough’s economy could not generate from taxation for itself.

And finally…Rail Future East

Click here and join them. Also, they made the case for significantly improving and upgrading the rail infrastructure in East Anglia back in December 2022 in Cambridge.

Above – from Jonathan Roberts for Rail Future Eastyou can book him to give a similar talk to your organisation here.

You see that ***really thick red line*** heading north-west from Cambridge? That indicates lots and lots of road traffic. That grey dot on the far left of the slide image that is inside the square represents Peterborough. That thin green line is the Fenland line that links Peterborough to Ely. What would a fast electric train service be like that could link Cambridge and Peterborough in 45 minutes? Inevitably it wouldn’t be a shuttle service – it would need to be part of a more extended service starting further south/east (Possibly from Liberpool Street Station, London via Chelmsford, Sudbury, and Haverhill?) and terminating further north (Lincoln?) Either way, have browse through the New Adlestrop Railway Map

Above – Peterborough’s current and former rail lines from the New Adlestrop Railway Map

Below – from the New Adlestrop Map you can see how a line between Sudbury and Great Shelford via Haverhill could link up – although inevitable obstacles such as built-over lines mean it would not be a reinstatement of the old line.

Above – a Braintree-to-Stansted Airport link might form part of a southern intercity service that increases resilience of the transport network when the Cambridge-Liverpool Street line goes down south of Bishop’s Stortford.

North of Peterborough the poor connections make things even harder for people and the economies of the towns

The Boston-Spalding line was closed I think in the Beeching era. Re-connecting that line could help reconnect an otherwise cut-off part of England with services terminating either at the seaside resort of Skegness or at the famous port of Grimsby.

Above – from G-Maps here. Such things are in the realms of fantasy and wouldn’t be completed in my lifetime based on the current systems, but it gives an indication of the sort of scale that I think Cambridge and Peterborough need to be thinking on in order to deal with their very different economic problems.

Food for thought?

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