New man Neil Darwin from Opportunity Peterborough explains how they helped to avert a planned cut in train services into Peterborough, and he goes on to outline their plan to boost Peterborough’s profile. Broadcast at 07:10 on Wednesday 30th June 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show hosted by Paul Stainton on BBC Radio Peterborough.
STAINTON: Plans to cut peak train services into Peterborough from London seem to have been averted. East Coast Mainline had announced plans to cut rush-hour Kings Cross services from next May. But after talks with Opportunity Peterborough it seems we’ll now be getting virtually the same service as we do now, with a bit of extra capacity. Neil Darwin is the Director of Economic Development at Opportunity Peterborough. That’s a nice title Neil. Good morning.
DARWIN: Morning Paul. Thank you.
STAINTON: A pretty recent announcement. Up until yesterday afternoon at about five o’clock we were doing a very different story this morning.
DARWIN: I think it was nearer six o’clock actually Paul. Basically if we roll it back as you mentioned, the turn of the year East Coast Mainline put out their Eureka timetable and started to make some relatively frightening suggestions about the level of service Peterborough would receive from May next year. And as you rightly indicate we were planning on running a story which would try and develop a lobby which would try and protect the services from that point on.
STAINTON: You were a bit late in the day coming to the party with this, weren’t you?
DARWIN: No we’ve been working with them all the way through. But as you know at the moment there’s a range of cuts that are being made by Government, and announcements seem to come out all the time.
STAINTON: This was announced over a month ago, wasn’t it?
DARWIN: Parts of it were.
STAINTON: Four months ago, some of it.
DARWIN: Well parts of it were. And from our perspective we need to see whatever they’re saying implemented. And at the moment most of this is verbal conjecture. But as far as we’re concerned we’re keeping hot on the heels of this one to make sure we don’t lose out to other competitor cities.
STAINTON: So what happened yesterday then? What forced a U-turn, if you like?
DARWIN: Well what we understand is through various different consultations up and down the main line, which as you know will run up to Scotland and run back down, East Coast have come back and confirmed that they are listening to different stakeholders, and have come back with, are about to come back in the next fortnight with a different set of proposals, which I think will be much more in keeping with what the city needs and wants.
STAINTON: Right. Ok. We first unveiled this change to the timetables in February, as I said. And you’re saying you’ve been working all that time to facilitate this change and get East Coast Mainline to see some sense?
DARWIN: Well amongst others. A range of stakeholders in the city have obviously been involved. It’s not just Opportunity Peterborough. But certainly the weight of numbers has started to turn the corner, so that we do maintain a level of service which we need.
STAINTON: So originally it was planned to have fewer trains between London and Peterborough between four thirty in the afternoon and seven o’clock at night.
DARWIN: That’s correct.
STAINTON: And we were going to lose the nineteen minutes past five and the seven o’clock services, and they wouldn’t call at the city. Where are we now?
DARWIN: Where we are as of this morning and are awaiting a written announcement in the next fortnight, what we’re being told is basically peak-time service will continue virtually as now, ie six trains per hour. There might be one or two slight tweaks to the timetable but that will be minutes rather than trains not running. We are talking about increased capacity, numbers to be confirmed. But I think the message has gone home that we’re no longer satisfied to stand all the way down to London, and that’s certainly being listened to and being addressed, as it is in other parts of the country. So we won’t be out of keeping with other places there. Going North, I’ve been told that the journey time to Leeds will be ten minutes quicker. That’s not the busier direction for the train, but any cuts in journey time will be welcomed by certainly our local business community and indeed anyone who wants to travel North. And there’s talk around an additional train stopping during the evening peak, rather than any cuts. So from my perspective that’s very different from what was being proposed back in February, when we would be losing trains.
STAINTON: Yes. Would it have had that big an effect, a couple of trains not stopping at Peterborough though? Would it have had that big an effect?
DARWIN: It was potentially more than a couple of trains though Paul, across the day. And all of a sudden, in terms of our visibility along the line, rather than stopping and people having the opportunity to get off and walk round here, and from our perspective that’s potential investors, people who could bring new jobs to the city, we would just not have had that visibility. First stop out of London would have been places like York. they would have just flown through here at about a hundred miles an hour, and we would have not had the volume of people travelling through Peterborough.
STAINTON: I suppose it might have had an impact. We’re trying to attract jobs from London, like the civil service jobs. That would have had an impact on that.
STAINTON: Yes. And we will still lose a few services up to Scotland, won’t we?
DARWIN: The conversation I’ve had with East Coast around that is their answer to that quite simply is well you can always change at Newcastle, which is probably about right. In terms of direct trains, yes we would lose direct services to places like Aberdeen and Inverness, which in the scheme of things from my perspective I’d rather protect the journeys from London and Leeds, rather than worry about the Scottish lines too much, which aren’t from an economic perspective one of our main trade routes.
STAINTON: Neil. This is the first time we’ve spoken to you on the show. You’ve only been in post six eight weeks.
DARWIN: About that, yes.
STAINTON: What’s top of your to-do list to help Peterborough emerge strongly from the climate that we currently find ourselves in?
DARWIN: If I can indulge and have four priorities, conversations I’m having very much round how we market the city. I think I would be so brave to suggest that Opportunity Peterborough hasn’t in the past done a particularly good job at all.
STAINTON: I think most people would agree with you.
DARWIN: Which is why I’m happy to say it. We’ve got some clear priorities. We’re working very closely with local stakeholders around promoting the Environment Capital, the Home of Environment Capital brand, which for me in terms of a USP for the city is something we can really sell hard. So we’re looking to get that off the blocks pretty quickly. We need to engage with the business community far more broadly than we do at the moment. And part of Opportunity Peterborough’s key role is supporting those ambitions, whether it’s in terms of building skill levels, working with the skills provider community to ensure we’re turning out the right kind of individuals with qualifications. That’s a key priority for us. Business representatives have spoken to me already and basically said we need to ensure that we have a pipeline of skills coming out of our schools and our colleges, which we need to look at. In terms of inward investment we have on our books at the moment around thirty enquiries. we need to convert those quicker than we do at the moment. They could bring significant jobs to us. But all in all what we need to play on is the fact that we’re a very very convenient location, which goes back to our conversation about the rail service, and quite simply make sure we are very visible to potential investors. One further piece of work I’ve mentioned that we’re starting to look at is how we can use Cathedral Square in terms of the properties around it, to attract a different kind of use in some of the vacant units, and ensure that we have some quality offer in terms of restaurant and bars around the Square, which really befit the public realm works that are now in the process of being completed.
STAINTON: That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Very nice.
DARWIN: It would create the step change we need.
STAINTON: Listen, Neil. Thank you for coming on this morning. We wish you all the best with your plans, and we hope Opportunity Peterborough can see a few of them through.