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Leader Mohammed Farooq's column January 4

04 January 2024

I’d like to start off by wishing everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope you all had an enjoyable festive period and found time to relax and spend time with family and friends.

The downtime gave me time to reflect on what has been a busy couple of months since becoming Council Leader and the areas of focus for 2024.

I am pleased with what we have achieved in just a few short weeks. We’ve spent time meeting individuals and groups who play a key role in our city including the Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, the Civic Society, who were pleased that we share their passion and enthusiasm for the city, the Lighthouse Project, which does fantastic work in our city to support people who are in housing crisis, and the Dean of the Cathedral. Everyone is pleased with our transparent and compassionate approach.

Our work in building a relationship with the Combined Authority is already paying dividends with £200,000 agreed to commission further feasibility work for a new electric bus depot in Peterborough. The CPCA has also allocated £6.5m to commission an outline business case for the A16 Norwood project, unlocking a 2,945 home development site. Further funding announcements are likely to be made soon and we will keep you updated.

In 2024 we will be continuing to build relationships, attracting investment and focusing on our priorities of growth and prosperity, protecting the vulnerable, education and environment.

There is much to look forward to as we continue to help our historic and wonderful city to develop and grow, ensuring it remains a great place to live, work and play.

A major success story of recent times has been our new university, ARU Peterborough, which continues to go from strength to strength. I’m looking forward to attending a special topping out ceremony later this month for the new phase three building there. The new building includes a Living Lab – a publicly accessible science centre which will be a wonderful asset for Peterborough. I’m proud of all the hard work from partners to help realise a vision for higher education in the city.

On a similar note, work is already under way on Peterborough College’s new Green Technology Centre - one of eight projects we’re contributing funding towards as part of the Government’s Town Fund Programme. Once open, it will deliver an innovative curriculum to get students ready for careers focused on green technology – such as sustainable construction and electric vehicle manufacturing. This will enable more residents to become ‘job ready’ in these up-coming in-demand roles.

We hope to have some exciting updates on Towns Fund projects throughout the year, as well as progress on our work to re-vamp the city’s Station Quarter, so stay tuned.

Arguably our biggest challenge is the council’s financial position - we have made a real progress in recent years to turn this around, but we are certainly not out of the woods yet.

On this subject, I must remind everyone that our current budget consultation runs until January 7 so there is still time to have your say and please spare a few minutes to do this if you can.

We have set out plans to deliver a balanced budget which councillors will be asked to approve at the Full Council meeting taking place on 21 February.

We will meet our financial challenge and will continue to invest in the services that you need to create a city of opportunity for all. However, in doing so there will be some difficult decisions that we need to make along the way.

In the long-term, we will change the recent narrative around our budgets which has been cutting spending to balance the books. We will achieve this by transforming our services, making sure those services we provide meet demand with the budget we have available. We will also aim to increase the council's income streams through increased growth and without increasing the tax burden on our residents.

The council is making strides forward in this area and my cabinet colleagues and I will be focusing our efforts on this too.

Since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen some fantastic public events take place in Peterborough and that’s something we are keen to continue.

In recent weeks our city centre has featured a Christmas market and open-air ice rink which is in place until January 7, but looking further forwards we want to make the best use of our open spaces to help people come together.

I was delighted to see that the hugely popular Ibiza Orchestra is returning to the city’s Embankment in June which will no doubt draw crowds from far and wide.

The Great Eastern Run returned to Peterborough in 2022 and has been a very welcome re-addition to our events calendar, attracting hundreds of runners and spectators. Entries are already open for this year’s event on October 13 – visit www.greateastern.run

Keep an eye on the council’s social media channels for updates on activities and events throughout the year.