Blame won’t pick it up

Last night, Councillor Fitzgerald (who lives in Orton Longueville and represents West ward (and before that a Bretton ward) ward decided to blame residents of Central and Park wards on Twitter and not only that, but to pick on the newest Labour councillor in Park Ward (who as he explains wasn’t there to respond).

Fitzgerald cited a fly-tip “heat map” which shows fly-tip incidents in Peterborough unitary authority area over the past three years as “hot”. The heat map was discussed in cabinet but all this particular councillor took away from the meeting was a magnificent opportunity to blame the Labour Party on Twitter for the hot spots.

Given the recent resignations of Cllrs Mahabadi and Ferris from East and Park wards respectively, and especially noting what  they said in their resignation address, you’d expect him to think for a minute or two before launching into his usual blame game. But apparently not.

Peterborough Council Chamber

Council Chamber on the day what we now call Peterborough Town Hall was opened. This photo was taken from the Spectators Gallery which is currently closed. Elected councillors are (I think) sitting at the long tables with some very strange headwear at rest on them. None of them is female, although there are a few women sitting behind them, one with a dark cloche hat and most of the others sporting dark berets. Headwear is not flashy. The gallery (behind the photographer) is probably full to bursting. Guests and public are seated around the councillors very tightly, leaving “the floor” clear. Slender tables are unencumbered with lights and mics. The room is shown at its best: lit by daylight. The Mayor’s parlour is packed with what could be a choir in uniform (door to the right) and so is the balcony of the foyer (door to the left). The principal uniform is the man’s suit, worn with greater or less formality. One or two of the men may be wearing gowns and one on the left side may be wearing a chain of office. High table is court like. The chair’s chair is a proper throne and whoever sat on it would have a commanding view of the entire room, including the whole of the Spectators Gallery. (The current layout – I’m not sure when or why the room was turned around –  is not at all as clever from the point of view of the chair.) Still familiar today: the person in clerical garb. The architecture is happily and joyfully calling on medieval precedent within a confident classically formatted & commercially alive building (rented shops were built below this room, the income to the council intended to keep rates as low as possible). This photo is on public display in Peterborough Town Hall.

My response to Charles Swift OBE’s counsel of despair

This is the speech I delivered to residents and activists at Park Ward Hustings on 15th April in the run up to the local elections on May 3rd – this is the uncut version

We live in Park Ward so we live in the heart of Peterborough

I am delighted to be standing again in Park Ward this year. I live in the middle of the ward and this is Peterborough’s heart. So many things begin here, so many children come here to school and then to college and the whole ward is wrapped around Central Park, laid out by the Peterborough Land Company as a gated garden, though when that private initiative collapsed quickly converted by the then local authority into a breathing space for the free use of residents of what was then a bustling, industrious and densely populated area. Also, the ward (which almost exactly follows the All Saints parochial parish council boundary) is heart shaped.

How Park Ward seemed thirty years ago

When we moved here, I didn’t know much about this area at all. Two things impressed me. I’d never seen people so down at heel: one day I walked along behind an elderly couple who were both wearing shoes with no heels left at all and worn out soles. I’d never seen anything like it.

The other very remarkable thing was the cleanliness of the homes and streets. Despite having some very very deprived streets, this ward was clean and tidy as a pin. I’d come from a much bigger city and felt I was somewhere green, clean and very proud of itself. When I first went doorknocking over ten years ago, people wanted to invite me into their yards and show me how they were managing their recycling. Peterborough had big green recycling boxes then and people would wash their plastics before putting them safely under heavier items, so that recycled waste did not blow around.

This area was full of beautiful front gardens: cars were parked on drives and on the street, not all over the garden. Back gardens, park gardens and allotment gardens were tended with skill, time and patience. There was time for our gardens then. You can still find some magical gardens here, but so many have been paved and converted into car storage spaces. With the loss of jobs with decent terms and conditions has come a loss of leisure time.

How the rot set in

Now I know that what I was seeing was the achievement of the Peterborough Development Corporation (PDC ) and Peterborough City Council (PCC) was a local authority which was still funded to run services fairly well. But although I couldn’t see it, rot had already set in. The PDC was already not able to leave a funding legacy to enable the city council to look after the landscape it created. The Conservatives preventing local councils from building council homes and Labour doing nothing despite three terms in government to put it right. Deregulation creating economic turbulence, financial crashes, disappearing investment markets and pensions. All that fuelled a new generation of private slum landlord, the worst of them using property primarily as a personal financial investment and not seeing a rented home as first and foremost a social good. Housing became a source of extreme insecurity and vulnerability as decent jobs with proper pensions became a thing of the past.

The big squeeze on local authority funding puts the city council itself at risk

Charles Swift OBE today eloquently describes the pickle the council is in and councillors themselves are finally waking up and realising that they need to fight for the city, and for local government itself. We’ve seen Northamptonshire County Council collapse and Peterborough may not be so far behind.

Julie Howell, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate for the Combined Authority of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (which includes Huntingdonshire) went to the Treasury in the snow to protest the underfunding of Peterborough.

Loyalty to party has made local councillors insufficiently critical of national governments and blinded them to the risks posed by councils which cannot afford to do what they want to do, even what they have to do. At the moment in Peterborough, our Westminster government is not our friend. It is less accountable to us than the EU and it is less aware of and less articulate about our problems. At last our local councillors have woken up to the shabby disproportionate underfunding of this city.

Fit for purpose waste management

As a Green I want to bring back the neighbourhood as a place people can feel comfortable in and proud of. This is our home and nobody enjoys the neglect our area currently suffers. Fly tip and domestic waste flying around in the wind is not a necessary or inevitable part of living here. We urgently need to get the place feeling like home again. We need a waste strategy which works for every single resident, whether they have physical strength and a car or not.

Bring back gardening

I’d like Park Ward to develop its own gardens project to bring horticulture back into our lives and to feature and promote the beautiful gardens we still have and encourage people to create more. This could be set up to support mental, social and physical wellbeing and I am absolutely delighted that initiatives like this are underway in Peterborough and they can  and I hope they will help people regain a sense of ownership and responsibility for the areas they live in.

Lower limits and speed enforcement

We need to address traffic and speed in the ward. Last time I asked 70 – 80% of people living on Dogsthorpe Road and Park Road wanted speeds reduced to 20mph to give us roads fit for children to walk and cycle to school on. That is why a few of us in Park Ward set up 20’s Plenty for Peterborough. These roads are currently treated as feeders to trunk routes and this has been disastrous for the area and has encouraged very high speeds and extremely dangerous driving.

The council is currently kicking 20’s Plenty campaigns in Peterborough into the long grass: the latest of these is a huge campaign in Werrington which is currently stalled at the council.

Park Ward could use a big public meeting to tackle speeding in the wake of a series of incidents on Park Road, and continuing problems on nearly every road.

Cycle training for all

We need much higher standards of cycling training to improve cylist behaviour and safety. We should expect good behaviour between people, whatever they are riding or driving. I utterly deplore the council’s current obsessive focus on people who bike down Bridge Street while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing about declining standards of driving on the road. We need traffic enforcement, simply because there will always be some drivers who respond to nothing else.

All vehicles everywhere: not just a Bridge Street Bike Ban

I observe cars with odd headlights missing, driving on pavements, ignoring signage prohibiting private cars on Westgate, ignoring give way signs and shoving out into traffic regardless, double parking outside schools, parking on pavements, parking close to corners, reversing out from a side street into a bigger road, driving with one hand on the wheel while eating, talking on a mobile phone or smoking or even all three. Not buckling your children up. Children standing in the footwell instead of being seated. Children sitting on adult’s laps. These things can and do kill. Why won’t the council tackle them? I’ve been told that traffic enforcement officers are now deployed over three counties: that means our police officers may not even be working at all within the whole of Cambridgeshire. Meanwhile PES staff catch and fine people on bicycles. It is shameful. If you come into Peterborough from somewhere else you are likely to be shocked and appalled by the driving standards you encounter here. This is a new phenomenon and everybody knows it doesn’t have to be like this.

Safer streets

I’d like initiatives to get children walking and bicycling to school and this has to start with changing parents’ perception of the hazards presented by our roads. Parents are right to worry: our roads are not safe. It would not be difficult or expensive to make them much safer.

Bringing democracy back

I’d like our public gallery back in the council chamber. This has been closed since Conservative councillor Andy Coles was publicly shamed by demonstrators dropping a banner alleging human rights abuses. He is still a councillor, and since then two more women have come forward and made accusations about his behaviour while he worked as an undercover policeman.

That an ex spycop could be elevated to the unelected position of Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire (which includes Huntingdonshire) and Peterborough – a position which is set up to keep the police accountable to the people indicates how rotten things are in our county and what a parlous state local politics is in. He did resign from that position instantly, by the way, just not from his city councillor role.

I will never bring you a counsel of despair

I do not despair, though, like Charles Swift does. Apparently not alone he foresees the end of Peterborough City Council.

In the Greens we’ve never deluded ourselves that the systems of government which we have in place were fit for the tasks that lie ahead, especially if those include tackling the biggest single emergency which faces us: that of climate change.

We support grass roots movements which get on with it anyway, like Transition, for example. These initiatives do not rely on our corrupt electoral system to produce the necessary decisions. They just get on with it, and with politics as it is at the moment, that is the only attitude to have.

We’ve always deplored the slanging match of two party politcs. We like Open Space formats, for example, which create a circle and enable smaller but often much more important voices to be heard. We like proportional representation (rather than First Past the Post).

The Greens trust the people. This cannot be overstated. And because this is how we work, we have practical ideas which we ask you to consider and take away.

We are proposing to the people of the city that we parish Peterborough

To you: that we parish Park Ward, possibly creating three civil parishes within the current ward boundary.

To establish civil parishes across the area of the city which presently has none could help us all. I don’t think city councillors can cope with the level of need presented by escalating poverty and complex deprivation. A councillor doing a good job in this ward is having to work absolutely flat out tackling issues many of which could be better handled at a more local level. City councillors are struggling to raise their eyes above fly tip, potholes and dog mess. This is not the way to run a city the size of Peterborough. They’re not looking at housing or homelessness and when they try they find their hands are tied. They are not coping, and this has been engineered by successive decisions at a national level. As inequality increases under government after government, civil parishes could come to the rescue: they can tackle a great many of the things which currently burden our ward councillors and they could help us to get a working and accountable democracy back. If the city council does crash and burn, a civil parish (or three) could take up quite a few of its key functions and would be highly and very locally accountable to us.

A competent parish council (this takes a year or two to achieve!) has available to it remedies and approaches available to it in the Localism Act as well as older powers already vested in parish councils. 


Garden projects near Park Ward – where to start?

Please like on facebook: Creating Sustainable Places

The Green Backyard

Olive Branch Community Garden

Is this Peterborough’s only hustings? 

Local Elections 2018 Hustings in Peterborough

Mon 26 Mar 2018 14:00 – 16:00 Peterborough Pensioners Association Hustings, Centre 68, (behind Westgate Church), Westgate, Peterborough

Sun 15 Apr 2018 19:30 – 21:30 Park Ward Local Election Hustings, All Saints Church Hall, corner of All Saints Road & Park Road, Peterborough

Wed 25 Apr 2018 19:00 – 20:30 Fletton & Stanground Hustings, The Heron

MON   30 Apr 2018 14:00 – 16:00   

Peterborough Pensioners Association Hustings

Centre 68, (behind Westgate Church), Westgate, Peterborough

Cllr FITZGERALD, PEACH & ALLEN claim: Neighbourhood Councils are just as good

No: they’re not, though this is what several city councillors claim. They don’t have the same obligations to meet in public and to publish their minutes, so they are not as accountable. They also don’t have anything like the same powers as a proper PC. 

and that It is expensive to pay a parish clerk

True, though split across every council tax payer who contributes a precept to help run the parish council, this might be very good value for money. With a good parish council and a good professional clerk, you can for example employ people who could supply nursing, policing or waste management services. You can build things, you can maintain things. And you can do that with very tight scrutiny, because locals are entitled to sit in on meetings.

Parish councillors are not paid. And a parish council can avoid many of the overheads which a city council can’t. Parish councils can work with, across and without party politics: they require local activists to work constructively together.

Park Ward hustings ahead of May 3rd local elections



View this on vimeo

Man sitting on Cllr Nawaz Shah’s LAB right asks an existential question in advance of a major consultation (scheduled for this autumn) on the future of the Peterborough unitary authority, ie whether or not it has a future at all. In the far background are Cllrs Steve Allen CON (resident of Park and represents Thorney & Newborough on the council) and Wayne Fitzgerald CON (West Ward).
As candidates work out how to answer his question, questioner offers to answer it for them. For me, this is what I so love about politics and political debate. (See video below)

View this on vimeo
More videos by Fiona Radic

If you live or work in Park Ward Peterborough there is a facebook group you might like to join

Council or Bank Manager?

The city council claims to be under pressure to get its plans for Fletton Quays built. It is so anxious about this that it plans to decant itself from its own rather lovely Town Hall in Bridge Street so that it can rent out the space and encourage companies to join it on the other side of the river in a patch of land which would make a lovely river park or walkway and serve as a rain shed for the city, even a flood plain, if we were thinking in a truly sustainable way about what a river bank really is.

The nature of this pressure is not fully understood. At least I don’t understand it: I simply don’t share it, and given the amount of empty space available in the city, residential, retail and commercial, I admit to being bewildered.

I am wondering also if the nature of the pressure is a bit more complicated and also whether the council isn’t so much being pressurised, as positively rushed into what could be a potentially very damaging decision. A decision is scheduled to be made at 10am on Monday morning. Are we sure we understand what the rush is all about?

A few of us have been looking at the detail behind the company the council is planning to lend money to: Norlin Hotels Holdings Limited.



Norlin Hotels Holdings Limited turns out to be one of a huge network of companies and a couple of people have spent a day or two hunting for assets, a history of solid achievement, or anything to reassure us that this is a good thing. So far we haven’t come across much to reassure us. In fact warning lights are flashing everywhere.

The company is based in Northern Ireland. One of its directors is Stephen Brian Symington.

Why would Peterborough not opt for a local developer? Local builders? A local workforce? Is the company it is talking to really based in Northern Ireland, or is it just an address?

I remember talking to people working on the academy building project and they told me that they came up from London every day by bus. One of the men I spoke to had only recently arrived from Africa which really got me thinking about the nature of the investment and exactly how it was managed and who benefited most from the choice of workforce. Looking back now, I wonder what would this man have done if his manager wanted to skimp on wall ties, for example? What were his skills? How well qualified was he? Was he in a position to probe something if it did worry him? Was his immigration status a problem for him? Could this put him in difficulties in negotiations with an employer? There is no evidence of a problem like the wall tie scandal happening in Peterborough, but a wall certainly did collapse for want of a few ties in Scotland. What complicated decisions led to that? We need to stop assuming that everything is done for our benefit and we need to start asking basic questions.

What was the tender process? Who got involved?

Who benefits from the decision to appoint a Northern Irish developer?

Photos from Stephen Symington’s facebook profile

Who is the developer? What do we know about them? Why is Peterborough, home of bricks, having to go so far to find a builder? Why is the council, which is so keen to focus on a “circular economy” not focussing locally and looking at people who have been educated and trained locally? Shouldn’t we be shortening the distances workers need to travel to find work?

Then I see “Antigua” in an associated company’s name and I start thinking about tax havens. Quite a bit of Peterborough is now owned by offshore companies. This lowers the tax revenue available to central government. Has this got something to do with the city’s choice of company? What is the council’s approach to companies domiciled in a tax haven?

And then since June it simply is not possible to ignore the heaviest political pressure on the Conservatives. Since the General Election, the Conservative Party has been and remains totally dependent on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party to maintain its grip on power in Westminster. It is unlikely that the support is provided freely: the DUP is not known for being soft or a push over. Northern Ireland politicians will be trying to get as much out of this situation as they possibly can: and rightly so. But then, how exactly are they doing this? Could there be a party political aspect to the council’s choice of company? Is leverage being applied? If so is the council in a position to understand that sort of pressure, and to fully understand any risks which might be entailed?

Could this really be all about moving money or debt around in ways which are made to be difficult to observe? As appears to have happened for entirely political reasons here.

The key issue is risk. What risks is the council running and has it got its eyes fully open to potential risks?

I’ve spent the whole day (unpaid) searching for evidence that these two directors are experts in developing hotels. I haven’t found it. Others have had exactly the same experience. I’ve looked at all the active companies which have Symington or Irwin as a director. I’ve discovered that these two directors work closely together, that this set of companies is large and some are involved fun in the food industry, the racing sector, one or two are in the movie sector and that quite a few of them don’t file their accounts on time and several owe money to all sorts of financial institutions. Eastonville Investments Limited is controlled by a company based in the Cayman Islands, so I have no idea if the assets I was expecting to find are stashed safely and invisibly over there. I still think the organisation the council is talking to (which I still can’t really see as a functioning entity online – no website, for example or contact details) should be able to get a commercial bank loan if they have a viable business in our city, which I very very strongly doubt they do have, especially since they are hooked in to the old model of a hotel, rather than the fantastically popular AirB&B concept. The only company which has bothered with a website appears to be in biotech and has not thrived. Even if the hotel is a brilliant success, what impact will it have on the hotel sector already in the city? One hotel has already become infamous for housing Peterborough’s steadily growing homeless population. Is the Hilton chain really wanting to come to Peterborough?

If it goes wrong, the council will end up owing money against land it currently owns outright and owes nothing on, but which could fall dramatically in value in relation to any loaned amount borrowed against it. If that were to happen, the council tax payer will pick up the bill. Cllr David Seaton has honourably promised to resign if it does go pear shaped, but, frankly, resignation won’t cost him £15M.

One of the directors of Cawlands has demonstrated an ability to make the best of a very tough economic and political situation  but however clever his recovery of property in a downturn was, I’m not sure that our council should be blowing the sort of bubbles into our local economy which could positively contribute to inflation of or a collapse in asset value.

Nor do I believe that our local council should in any way be in the business of baling out a bit of Northern Irish commercial property. The registered address of a network of companies, including the one which the council is proposing to deal with is 41-43 Waring Street, Belfast, County Antrim, BT1 2DY. And Waring Street Limited is also the name of a company. This is what that address looks like on google maps:

41-43 Waring Street, Belfast, County Antrim, BT1 2DY

And these are the charges which are currently laid against that company: that very land and that very building.