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Peterborough Station Quarter: Redevelopment

Volume 719: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2022

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the redevelopment of Peterborough Station Quarter.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Peterborough station is a major rail interchange on the east coast main line. Along with our hardworking residents, our location is one of our city’s biggest advantages. Our station provides a fast train to London and connections across the country. That matters for passengers and it matters for freight. However, the station needs renewal and modernisation, and the land surrounding the train station is one of Peterborough’s biggest development opportunities. We recently submitted a levelling-up fund application to the Government asking for help to transform the area, known locally as the station quarter.

Why back Peterborough? For a start, we are the largest city in the area, ahead of Cambridge and the rest of our combined authority area. We are already growing at more than twice the national average for England and Wales—over 17% between 2011 and 2021. We have major manufacturers and high inward investment. We provide employment, shopping, health, education and leisure facilities for people across a much wider catchment area; our rail lines expand that area further still. Peterborough is ideal for local commuters in east Northamptonshire, south Lincolnshire, Rutland, Fenland and north Cambridgeshire. We are the gateway to the east of England.

When all that is said, we have significant challenges and untapped potential. That is why Peterborough is identified as a levelling-up priority 1 area. We are below the national average in relation to unemployment and skills, and our score on the need for economic recovery and growth indicator shows why action is needed. That action has already begun. The first block of Anglia Ruskin University Peterborough, the city’s new university, has already opened thanks to Government support through the first round of the levelling-up fund, but that investment needs to be combined with further action to get the results that my constituents deserve.

If the new university can be regarded as the spark, Peterborough station can provide the rocket fuel. From Peterborough, someone can arrive at King’s Cross in under 50 minutes, and the journey to York takes only half an hour longer than that. There are express rail connections all the way to Scotland. Before the pandemic, the station served 5 million passengers a year, with nearly 1 million using it as an interchange for services to other destinations. Rail journeys are starting to recover now that covid is under control, and that will continue—although perhaps with more leisure travel and less daily commuting.

At present, the station has a number of surface car parks spread over a dispersed stretch of land of around 10 acres. That is high-value land; it has the potential to transform the area. If unlocked for new commercial and housing developments, it will potentially transform not only Peterborough but a much wider area. Top-end commercial and office space is particularly important, but so are new homes. Land around the city railway station is ideally suited for new housing, especially for young people—the launch pad many of them need to go on to thrive.

The station building has limited capacity to accommodate forecasts for passenger growth. Network Rail’s modelling is another reason to invest. We already have limitations and problems that should not exist at a gateway station of such importance. For example, one of our two existing footbridges is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010, with access only on one side. If someone gets to the concourse building, they will soon discover that it has only seven automatic ticket gates, which become unpleasantly congested at peak hours. A new western entrance and better footbridges to accommodate demand are vital. They would make commuting easier for many thousands of people—not least the local Member of Parliament, who lives close to the western entrance.

Congestion is becoming a significant issue. Network Rail ran a station capacity assessment this year, which showed how bad things could become in the future. In addition, London North Eastern Railway has identified operational issues with the current station layout and facilities, such as a lack of platform space and a small gateline. LNER manages 11 stations on the east coast main line and dispatches more train services at Peterborough than it does at any other station, including York and Newcastle. Over 15% of all passenger movements at Peterborough are connecting interchange services, so any disruption not only affects Peterborough station but has a significant knock-on regional impact. While manageable at present, those issues will get worse with the future projected demand for train travel that we all want and desire. In short, a significant cash injection is needed to avoid future issues on the east coast main line.

The station is located approximately 500 metres west of the city centre, defined as Peterborough town square, and 200 metres west of Queensgate shopping centre and Peterborough bus station. However, despite its proximity to those key facilities, the station feels isolated from the city centre, both visually and from an active travel perspective. That is demonstrated by the severance created by the dual carriageway, Bourges Boulevard, between the station and the city centre, and the presence of multiple underpasses to guide pedestrians between those locations. To help realise the future contribution of Peterborough train station to not only Peterborough but the entire eastern region, the city has just applied to the levelling-up fund with a bid of around £48 million, which would pay for the first phase of redevelopment of the station quarter. That bid was submitted to the Government by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on 1 August. It would be not a handout for Peterborough, but an investment in the whole region, and perhaps the whole country.

A mixture of Government and private funding would be spent on a commercial and residential development as part of the station quarter programme. It would enhance Peterborough train station and the land around it to include a mixture of flats, shops, bars, cafes and office working space, as well as better transport links to and from the station itself. That is especially important for those with disabilities and those with mobility issues. A new western entrance to the station with a car park, to create a double-sided station with a new, wider footbridge over the train tracks, would alleviate pressure on city centre roads, making it easier and safer to travel around the city. The idea for a double-sided station takes inspiration from cities that have removed traffic from their city centres, such as Ljubljana, Copenhagen and Brussels, and as a result have seen significant benefits to the local economy and the quality of life of residents. I hope Peterborough can soon be mentioned in the same breath as those great European capital cities, and it could all start with investment in our station quarter.

Such investment would enable Peterborough to transform its growing centre into a vibrant and attractive space that residents can be proud of, while stimulating businesses and providing greater economic benefit to the city. One only needs to look at the major upgrade of King’s Cross station, which ended in 2012, to see what a transformative effect an upgrade of that scale can have on the surrounding areas. Our local, historic Great Northern Hotel, which opened in 1852, would be retained as a cultural asset in the new development. The station quarter programme would also create an impressive entrance to the city of Peterborough, something that would boost tourism and repeat visits to our great city. Green areas with biodiversity and community spaces would be created, with easy and pleasant navigation routes to and from the city centre by bike and foot.

The enhancement of Peterborough train station would also improve rail passenger journeys and encourage more rail travel, which would have a positive economic impact on the city. Regionally, it would have a positive impact on train travel, as the station provides an important gateway to Cambridge, the rest of Cambridgeshire, and other key areas in eastern England and the rest of the UK. In addition, it would support Peterborough in attracting more knowledge-intensive and high-level employers through its transport links.

Peterborough is relatively low cost for office, housing and retail accommodation, and is easy and quick to reach by train. We already have one Government hub, which is about to be opened in the city. Our new university opened its doors to students this month. The university has been working with regional businesses, as co-creators of the curriculum, to ensure that students leave job-ready, with skills that are in demand by employers. The university will play a pivotal role in raising the city’s skill levels, lifting aspirations and having a transformative effect on the life chances of its students. It will increase the health, wealth and prosperity of our local people. It will provide new opportunities for the region’s promising students, including those who may have not considered a university education before.

In Peterborough, a new Hilton Garden Inn hotel will soon open its doors, and a new Odeon multi-screen cinema is ready to open later this year. If we look at the sky scene in Peterborough city centre, we see cranes, development and all signs of life springing up everywhere following covid-19. The city is pumping. We know that investors are keen to take advantage of our potential. At a recent conference, in 2020, over 90 significant investors pledged their interest in our city. The time really is now for Peterborough. We have the infrastructure in place. We have the connectivity links. We are upskilling our population.

Peterborough is the gateway to the east of England, and the station quarter is the gateway to the city. It is vital that the station quarter and the station itself are fit for purpose, not just for the Peterborough of today but for the city that it will be in the six years it will take to complete that development. The levelling-up fund bid for the station quarter represents a chance for this Government to use that prime asset to bring jobs, retail and other visitors to our city. We know that investors are interested in Peterborough. If we get it right, the levelling-up fund contribution will be supercharged, leading to hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment. All of that will benefit not only Peterborough but every town and city within a commutable distance by train.

When our outgoing Prime Minister began the levelling-up challenge, it was about using new infrastructure to improve everyday life. He wanted to increase opportunity across the city. This Government were as good as their word about getting investment into Peterborough, and I know from her campaign visits to Peterborough that our new Prime Minister is committed to that investment continuing. The station quarter bid would see that delivered. It meets the Government’s investment and transport goals. It would strengthen Peterborough’s accessibility for employment, shopping, health, education and leisure in the east of England. It would give my city another economic boost, encouraging even more businesses and private investment. That means jobs, jobs, jobs—better jobs. In short, it would level up not just Peterborough but the entire east of England. At the same time, it would address the future of the rail network.

I know that the Minister has been listening carefully, and I look forward to hearing the Government’s position. Peterborough station might be a local concern, but it is of national importance.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for raising this important matter, and for setting out the proposed project so clearly. I also celebrate my hon. Friend’s work in campaigning for Peterborough. I know how hard he works, not only in relation to the levelling-up fund round 2 bid to develop the Peterborough station quarter, but for wider investment across his constituency. It is clear from his speech that he deeply understands the rich history and the present needs of the community in Peterborough.

This Government’s central mission is to level up the United Kingdom by spreading opportunity more equally across the country, bringing left-behind communities up to the level of more prosperous areas. I am therefore delighted to have this opportunity to set out our ambitious plans to address this and ensure the success of the whole country, realising the potential of every place and every person across the UK.

As a Government, we have already made progress towards levelling up, but, as I am sure hon. Members will agree, we must continue to focus on delivering this crucial priority. That is where the levelling-up White Paper comes in, to build on the billions of pounds already invested in local areas over the last few years. Such funding has benefitted places across the United Kingdom, including my hon. Friend’s constituency of Peterborough. This is our plan for reversing the country’s inequalities and for improving the United Kingdom.

While the strategy is set, I know that many hon. Members are interested in what it means for their local places and communities. Importantly, new initiatives announced in the White Paper will build on the success of a wide array of funding schemes that are already in progress. Through programmes such as the levelling-up fund, mentioned by my hon. Friend, the Government are already providing crucial capital investment in local infrastructure across the United Kingdom.

I will talk in more detail about the levelling-up fund and touch on what is already being done to level up local places and invest in our communities. My hon. Friend called this debate to discuss investment in infrastructure that will help to improve everyday life for local residents, and I commend him for his sincere and passionate support for the ambitions of Peterborough to develop the station quarter. As we are in the middle of assessing round 2 bids, it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail or make judgments on individual bids. However, I welcome the bid for future funding and the thought that has gone into it. We are clear that the second round of funding will look to build on the success of round 1, which saw £1.7 billion awarded to 105 successful projects across the UK.

I am pleased that Peterborough is one of the five places in the east of England that will receive a share of the £87 million awarded to 12 successful projects from the first round of the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. In round 1, Peterborough received a significant £20 million Government investment that will help to build part of the new Anglia Ruskin University campus and really put Peterborough on the university map—I can see my hon. Friend is nodding, and rightly so. It will also boost the economy and create more than 500 jobs. The local community and 1,700 students will benefit from a new interactive science lab and education space, called the Living Lab.

Regeneration of the city centre brownfield site forms the centrepiece of the new University Quarter Cultural Hub, which is expected to attract 50,000 visitors a year. Part of the space will also be open to the public, showcasing the city’s net zero future through exhibitions and events, including festivals of ideas, immersive displays and evening classes. The project will also help to upgrade, create and connect existing and new museums, an arts venue, two theatres and two libraries in 50 acres of renewed, open green space, part of the regeneration of the river embankment that will open up a key leisure area for the city centre.

We recognise that community pride, such as that in Peterborough, is really important. This is why the levelling-up fund is focused on regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets. These are themes that I know hon. Members and their constituents are interested in and a key part of the levelling-up agenda.

My hon. Friend will be aware that Government investment in Peterborough has been considerable. The 2017 Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority—the CPCA—devolution deal includes significant benefits for the communities of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It includes a new £600 million fund—£20 million annually for the next 30 years—to support economic growth, development of local infrastructure and jobs, and a directly elected mayor. The £6.3 million investment in the A47/A15 junction 20 eased congestion at Peterborough Parkway and unlocked community infrastructure. Peterborough City Council secured £22.9 million from the towns fund, which is delivering better sustainable transport links and connectivity for city.

Looking at transport in particular, local transport in the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority has received considerable support. That includes £4.3 million of funding from the zero-emission bus regional area scheme, and a new vehicular bridge between Whittlesey and Peterborough, which opened in July after a £30 million investment, to improve travel times by replacing a level crossing. The CPCA was also awarded £1.7 million in active travel funding to support short journeys by foot or cycle. Works include widening pavements, reallocating traffic lanes to accommodate cycle lanes, and installing cycle parking. Those are just a few examples of how this Government are investing in the area, and I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that, in Peterborough, we are well on the way to levelling up the transport infrastructure and improving the experiences of residents and visitors alike.

As hon. Members may know, the levelling-up fund is competitive, with funding distributed to places across the UK on the basis of successful project selection. I know that many places, including Peterborough, have prepared applications to the fund after the launch of round 2. As my hon. Friend has outlined today, local investment really has the power to change local lives, create jobs and create further investment for places. The aim of this funding is to empower local areas to identify and bring forward genuine local priorities. It will fund projects prepared in collaboration with local stakeholders that have clear benefits to the local community and are aligned with a broader local economic strategy. I am pleased to hear that Peterborough has submitted a bid for round 2 funding, but, as I have said, this is currently being evaluated, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specifics during this period of the competition. What I can say is that we look forward to announcing successful bids for the second round of the fund later in the year.

To close, I once again extend my thanks to my hon. Friend for bringing forward this debate. I am in no doubt that he will continue to be a passionate campaigner and advocate for his constituency.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.