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.