The former Head of the Peterborough New Town Development Corporation thinks that ambitious plans to redesign large parts of Peterborough city centre must be put on hold for the duration of the current economic crisis. This interview was broadcast at 08:10 on Monday 21st June 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show hosted by Paul Stainton on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
PAUL: Now the vision for Peterborough city centre is one without Bourges Boulevard. A redeveloped station and a new shopping centre, that would be nice, wouldn’t it. It was revealed on Friday’s show by City Council Leader Marco Cereste, who’s trying to raise a billion pounds in private investment for Peterborough’s regeneration. (TAPE)
CERESTE: Bourges Boulevard divides our city down one side. It cuts the city centre in half, and stops you from getting reasonably easily to the railway station and the other side of the city. It was great when it was put in there, but I don’t think we need it any more. I don’t think we need anything of that scale anyway. (LIVE)
PAUL: Earlier we spoke to Independent councillor Charles Swift. He said whilst the plans were ambitious Marco Cereste had he didn’t think they were possible in the current climate. (TAPE)
SWIFT: I wish Marco all the luck in the world but I think we’re living in cloud-cuckoo land, I do honestly, and I’ve hear it all, I’ve seen it all, but .. and I wish once in my lifetime I could be proved wrong, but listening to the gentleman from Peterborough United, there’s fifty per cent less people go to football matches now with a hundred thousand more population than what there was fifty years ago. And you’ve got to be realistic about this. (LIVE)
PAUL: On the line is Wyndham Thomas former Chief Executive of the Peterborough New Town Development Corporation, the people who built Bourges Boulevard and most of what we see in Peterborough today. Good morning Wyndham.
WYNDHAM: Good morning to you.
PAUL: So what was the idea behind Bourges Boulevard in the first place?
WYNDHAM: Well in the first place we wanted to bring a road down which would cross the river west of Town Bridge as it was called for so many years and still is.
PAUL: So near Asda somewhere.
WYNDHAM: But there was an obstacle. It was called the Central Electricity Generating Board’s power station.
PAUL: Quite a big one.
WYNDHAM: It was a big one. It was coal-fired, so they had a big yard for coal storage as well. Now we tried to aquire that. We approached the Central Electricity Generating Board. And they laughed us out of court. They said this is the most efficient power station in the whole of Britain and it would go on for years and years and years. And you couldn’t afford the price anyway, although we were a Government agency with long-term loans. Anyway, no deal was done, so we had to make do then with what was left, and ended up trying to improve Town Bridge as the only crossing across the river. And we lost that opportunity. Just a few years later CEGB replanned its functions. That power station was closed, and we could have done a much better job had they been more far-sighted and more co-operative.
PAUL: So now we’ve got Asda where you would have had another bridge, essentially, around that area.
WYNDHAM: That’s right. And a wider one with a better curve into the road south of the river, and then the connections going east and west.
PAUL: So your reaction to the plan now, it is only a plan, to get rid of Bourges Boulevard, and move that road altogether, you must be in favour?
WYNDHAM: Well in principle yes, but I’ve just been listening to what Charles Swift had to say, and one questions then, not the intrinsic virtue of the proposals, but whether they will ever be carried out, and we live in tough times. We did through the nineteen seventies and nineteen eighties. The Development Corporation had real crises to cope with. Things are no better now. So one is inclined to be pessimistic about whether the proposals are achievable in practice.
PAUL: We were pitching for a billion pounds of private money last week. How feasible is that, do you think.
WYNDHAM: Well that is not feasible any longer now. All one can hope is that in say four or five years time it will be feasible and practicable, and Peterborough will have made a name for itself. And certainly I welcome very much the ambitious approach of Marco Cereste and his close colleagues. The city badly needs that. It has always needed that. And it has almost always lacked it.
PAUL: What changes, intrinisc changes and big changes, do you expect to see in the next five years in Peterborough? Any at all?
WYNDHAM: No. Not many. Minor improvements maybe. But what one would welcome is a sustained ambitious approach, led by people like Marco Cereste and others, who would keep up the aims and the ideals, and work out the practicality of it all. And that’s what’s been lacking, two things, ambitions and pride in the place. They’re badly needed, more badly needed now than ever before.
PAUL: You mentioned of course that you didn’t want to put Town .. the Bourges Boulevard bridge where it was. Was there anything else that you didn’t get to do, that you would have like to have done in Peterborough city centre?
WYNDHAM: Nothing in particular that I can think of.
PAUL: You didn’t want to build fountains, Wyndham?
WYNDHAM: I’m not struck by fountains. Fountains are generally failures, and I’m not in favour of what’s been done, simply because it’s wide open to, first of all, collapse and malfunctioning, and then abuse. I’m in favour of some kind of water features, but fountains I think are going to be a disappointment to the City Council and to the ratepayers.
PAUL: Could they end up costing us a lot of money?
WYNDHAM: They could do. And they will need very careful management throughout to prevent that. But I’m not optimistic.
PAUL: Wyndham, thank you for coming on this morning. A pleasure to talk to you as always. Wyndham Thomas, former Chief Executive of the Peterborough New Town Development Corporation, one of the men who put Peterborough together and made it what it is today. Your thoughts then. He doesn’t expect any changes, big changes, to the way Peterborough looks over the next five years. Not a big fan of fountains.