Neil Darwin from Opportunity Peterborough talks to the BBC’s Andy Burrows about their current strategy, on the day that the fountains were turned on in Cathedral Square. Broadcast at 16:19 on Tuesday 1st June 2010 in the Drivetime Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
ANDY: We’ll just stay with the fountains in Cathedral Square for just a moment though, because as we were talking the other side of the travel, the fountains were turned on today after months of work. And before we came on the air I spoke to Neil Darwin. He’s the Director of Economic Development with Opportunity Peterborough. That’s the company charged with rejuvenating the city. And I asked him how significant today’s event is to the future of Peterborough.
DARWIN: In terms of what’s been happening today, I think they’re a massive boost for the city. What we do know is that investors do like to have a good look around the city before they relocate anywhere. And having something as prestigious as the fountains is extremely good news for the city.
BURROWS: Are you getting much interest?
DARWIN: I’ve had one or two team members report back after lunch that there’s a good deal of interest in the fountains, not only from people on the street, but a number of local businesses. What we’ve heard over the last couple of months is that one or two organisations and companies have moved into Cathedral Square on the basis of the public groundwork that has been happening in the area. So I think it’s fair to say that not only will the fountains have a short term impact, but also a longer term impact as well.
BURROWS: Yes and it’s that kind of longer term impact that I really wanted to focus on. You honestly think this could be a springboard for better times for the city centre, do you?
DARWIN: It’s very clearly a starting point for us. What we do know is we have a number of quality offers in the city. But actually one of them, until now, hasn’t been the public realm. Cathedral Square now looks superb, and from my perspective that makes the job of selling the city to prospective investors that much easier. What we need to remember is that when people make investment decisions, they’re not only looking at their factory space, or their office space, they’re looking at the quality of life that goes with it. And actually from Peterborough’s perspective, having the Cathedral Square looking as it now does will actually help people make positive decisions about the city.
BURROWS: We live in very difficult economic times though, don’t we? Are major companies really looking to move into a place like Peterborough?
DARWIN: We’ve got a good level of companies looking to move into the city, even within the current economic position we’ve got. What we try to do within OP now is gear up a marketing campaign that will actually elicit more enquiries. But for the short term we’ve got a good number of companies who are showing and expressing interest in the city, not least opportunities in the city centre, particularly in the leisure retail arena, which in light of where retail and culture have been over the last five ten years, not least in Peterborough, we see that as a very positive sign.
BURROWS: And at the same time, people have to have the money to spend at the shops they might open, at the bars, the pubs ..
DARWIN: That’s right.
BURROWS: .. the clubs they might open as well. Are you confident that Peterborough’s economy can sustain any companies that move in?
DARWIN: Well Peterborough’s strength at the moment is the breadth of the economy. We’ve got a good diverse economy strength in a number of different sectors. What we will be doing within OP is making sure that we work with the existing businesses in the city, to ensure that going forward we target the right companies who should be moving into the city, and being very focused in how we do that. Quite simply, as you say, we do need money to be spent in the city. And part of OP’s work is to ensure that we do develop and support the economy in as best a way as possible, and ensure that we do have a rounded economy that can withstand any future shocks like recessions, which, let’s face it, do happen periodically, just part of an economic cycle.
BURROWS: The fountains got turned on today then. And they’re something that people .. they’re tangible though aren’t they? They’re something that people can see and experience. What’s next for the people of Peterborough, do you think, and for visitors into the city centre?
DARWIN: Well from OP’s perspective one of the focal points we’ve got at the moment is some of the empty units, and seeing what we can do with some of the empty units to bring some vibrancy back into the city centre. And again, very clearly, within the company here we’re very actively starting to pursue forward thinking marketing campaigns that really start to diversify the offer we have within the city centre. So we have a number of targets that we’re working with to see whether we can encourage them to make positive investment decisions in the city, rather than relocate to what I would consider to be competitor cities.
BURROWS: Like .. what .. Milton Keynes, Leicester, that kind of thing, Cambridge?
DARWIN: Those kind of .. Cambridge .. those kind of places. Absolutely. Lincoln, places that we should be striking out and making sure that we come out on top.
BURROWS: So an end to the empty units then in Peterborough, the empty shops?
DARWIN: That’s clearly got to be a target for all of us.
BURROWS: Interesting that one certainly. Neil Darwin from Opportunity Peterborough, the company charged with redeveloping the city, speaking to me just before we came on air this afternoon.