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Peterborough banks on regeneration

Created in 1967 as a new town to take overspill from London, Peterborough is today one of the UK’s top-five fastest-growing cities by population, with an annual growth rate of 1.6%.

Building momentum: Peterborough City Council has ambitious plans for its £120m regeneration of Fletton Quays

As its population grows, so does its economy. In a bid to accommodate all this growth, the local authority is pushing ahead with ambitious plans for the £120m regeneration of Fletton Quays. Development on the previously derelict riverfront site, which sits between the River Nene and the Peterborough-to-March railway line in the city centre, commenced in 2015. The construction of 350 luxury riverside apartments, 170,000 sq ft of grade-A office space and a 160-bed Hilton Garden Inn is under way.

Government hub

Work has also begun on site on a 101,000 sq ft government hub, which will house 1,000 civil servants from HM Passport Office and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. The hub is scheduled to be completed in January 2022. And, says John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council, “Fletton Quays is just one part of a forthcoming transformation of our city centre”.

So, what was the catalyst that sparked the sudden regeneration push, and how else can people expect the city centre to be transformed?

Holdich has high hopes for the planned regeneration. “Our current regeneration plans are the most ambitious in decades and will attract millions of pounds of investment,” he says. “We are one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and our forward-thinking city centre transformation plans will make Peterborough an even greater place to live, work and visit in years to come.” A significant mover and shaker in Peterborough’s regeneration plans over the past five years has been Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP) – a 50/50 partnership between Peterborough City Council and finance and asset management experts IAGH3, which was formed to enable the development of surplus council-owned land.

Fletton Quays was its first development site out of the blocks. Until five years ago, the site had stood empty for 40 years. Previous efforts to redevelop the land stalled, so the council rethought its approach. The outcome was PIP.

Working relationship

“For PIP, we want it to be led by the public sector with the best components of the private sector – [it’s about having] a commercial ethos with a social conscience,” explains Howard Bright, principal development manager at PIP and head of growth at Peterborough City Council.

“The local authority has committed to plans but hasn’t had to put up lots of finances, which makes a difference.”

Holdich says the relationship between the two parties is strong. “The partnership has been excellent so far. We value everything first, and then everyone goes away to get planning permission and prepare the site,” he says. “Then you’ve got to put in the infrastructure, and that is where we gain in working with the private sector. The city can’t afford to employ people like parking experts and drainage experts, so they’ve been sourced privately.”

PIP is also in the middle of drawing up plans for Northminster – an £87m, 107,640 sq ft residential-led scheme – but its most significant project is the new hub, on which it has appointed Bride Hall Developments as development partner. The developer has a close relationship with the council, having worked on phase one of Fletton Quays – a 100,000 sq ft HQ for Peterborough City Council, which was forward-sold to Legal & General. The development was completed in 2019 and cost £45m.

“Bride Hall Developments originally came on board to develop just the council offices,” explains Holdich. “It started with a bidding process; they won and once they had worked with us on the council’s HQ, they bought what would become the government hub site.” Development of the new government hub is progressing well according to Vernon Phillips, project manager at Bride Hall Developments. However, the company has had to overcome several hurdles to get to this stage.

“One of the constraints we had was getting consent for a larger building than we originally had approved,” he says. “We wanted to stretch the site out. We worked with the council and got that [consent].

“There were restrictions on the heights of the building; we couldn’t be blocking views of the cathedral, so drawing up plans wasn’t a walk in the park.

“Also, when you have tower cranes going up next to railways, Network Rail has to be satisfied you’re working in a safe way so there’s no danger. There are HV [high-voltage] power cables on the site, which we also have to factor in.”

Development constraints

Bright echoes Phillips’ point on the challenges in relation to the first phase of Fletton Quays. “Back in 2015, the land was a brownfield site that the market did not have that much interest in,” he says. “There were significant development constraints, flood risks, contamination and 132,000 HV cables running down the centre, so things that would put buyers and investors off.”

Despite the many challenges, Phillips says the government building has been an easier project to work on than the council’s new HQ.

“That council building had a grade II-listed Victorian engine shed, which had to be restored. The government one has HV cables and network processes to look after, but we learned a lot from the first outing,” he says.

Phillips is confident the new government hub will be a resounding success and will spur further development activity in the city. In addition to Fletton Quays and Northminster, plans for a leisure centre, new housing and electric car parks have also been discussed, and the city’s burghers are keen to attract new businesses and employment opportunities to the area.

“Obviously, if you’re improving a city, everyone benefits. We are trying to attract a more diverse job market and a higher-wage job market,” says Holdich.

“Peterborough has quite a low-wage economy. We want more highly skilled jobs available, and that’s what these developments will provide. We want to make this a city ready for tomorrow.”

Although it’s a relatively young city, Peterborough has always moved with the times, and this has put it on a strong footing as it enters the next stage of its evolution. As Bright says: “Cities aren’t static; they’re living creatures and regeneration is what keeps the vibrancy.”

Source: Property Week

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