10 views on the decision to reopen Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to all traffic
From bitter disappointment to surprise and delight, there has been a range of responses to the decision that Mill Road bridge in Cambridge is to reopen to all vehicles.
Cambridgeshire County Council’s highways and transport committee voted on Tuesday evening that it should reopen to cars and other private vehicles, with a full review of future options to be undertaken.
It took a casting vote from the chair, Labour’s Cllr Gerri Bird, to make the decision. Cllr Bird said she had been particularly concerned about disabled access.
It follows months of wrangling and debate over the Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) imposed in June 2020 to encourage social distancing during the pandemic.
That ETRO meant only pedestrians, cyclists and buses have been able to use the bridge for the last year - an arrangement that opponents said was ruinous for traders, while supporters welcomed the cleaner air along Mill Road and improved safety for cyclists.
Here we explore how various groups and individuals have reacted to the decision.
Labour blames Tories for mishandling the ETRO - and says Mill Road must be considered as part of wider package of changes
Cllr Elisa Meschini, deputy leader on Cambridgeshire County Council and leader of the county Labour group, said: “There are clearly very strong opinions on both sides of this debate. That much has been clear right from the introduction of the ETRO.
“It’s deeply unfortunate that the previous Conservative administration so spectacularly mishandled its introduction, without any proper consultation with local residents and businesses. There is no easy answer to this question, and their mishandling has only confused the issue.
“We are now, as a council, faced with finding a way forward from the mess created by the previous administration. Members of the committee were free to vote in line with the feedback they had received from their residents. Of course, residents hold widely differing views on the closure, and we’ve seen that reflected in the debate.
“What we need to focus on going forward is the consultation process, and ensuring we listen to all residents’ views on how we achieve a less polluted, less congested city.”
Cllr Lewis Herbert, Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, said consultation over Mill Road will be important in wider plans to reduce pollution and improve air quality across the city.
“We badly need a package of changes across Cambridge,” he said. “Labour county and city councillors support the work already underway from the Greater Cambridge Partnership on potential citywide action that will deliver cleaner city air, improved walking and cycling, better bus services for longer journeys and far better alternatives to reduce car journeys.
“When those GCP proposals are developed in the autumn, we look forward to a lively debate on the best way forward given that the majority view in our city is that we have to cut car journeys and congestion to improve our daily lives and also reduce carbon emissions.”
Cllr Dinah Pounds, Labour city councillor for Romsey, said: “So many more families with children of all ages and commuters have chosen to cycle and walk to school or work while the road has been safer. Allowing the Mill Road to be a rat run only encourages more car use. Climate change and health-damaging pollution are here now. We cannot ignore this and carry on as if nothing is happening.”
During the committee meeting, Labour councillors also voiced the differing views of residents and the need to consider Mill Road among the wider issue of city transport and congestion.
Cllr Richard Robertson, Labour city councillor for Petersfield ward, said: “There is no clear view of the residents living in the areas mainly affected in Petersfield. There is strong opinion on both options, and it is important to respect and represent the views on both sides.
“It is also apparent that the bridge closure has had knock on effects on other roads such as Coldhams Lane and Cherry Hinton Road. What is needed is a strategy for traffic across the whole city.”
Cllr Richard Howitt, Labour county councillor for Petersfield, said: “I and many of my constituents want better traffic management, but we don’t want it at the expense of our neighbours.
“The report does make clear that relative traffic levels have increased in East Road, Cherry Hinton Road and Coldhams Lane… Like many of my Labour colleagues, I want to see a lower traffic, lower pollution Cambridge.
“However, I think there is a case to consider that this should be done as part of the forthcoming city access for Cambridge as a whole, using the holistic approach outlined in the report and not picking out Mill Road as a special case.”
Liberal Democrats say verdict of one Labour councillor has thrown away the chance to make a positive impact
Cambridge Liberal Democrats said they were “frustrated” that a Labour county councillor had voted with the Conservatives “turning away from sensible compromises which could have brought the community together”.
Liberal Democrat county councillors had voted to amend the existing arrangement in order to allow taxi and disabled access across Mill Road bridge, which they said would have retained the other benefits of much reduced traffic.
Cllr Tim Bick, leader of the Lib Dems on Cambridge City Council, said: “It is incredibly disappointing to see one Labour councillor throw away the opportunity we had to make a positive impact on the living environment in Cambridge. Liberal Democrats at a city and county level are committed to reducing traffic and car journeys in the city, alongside improving city access through better public transport and safer cycling and walking.
“Cutting congestion, reducing pollution – these are real and pressing challenges that require mature leadership and engagement with our communities; neither Labour nor the Tories have stepped up to provide that on Mill Road.
“Allowing taxi and disabled access across the Mill Road bridge was a sensible change made in response to some of the practical objections to the existing scheme. Our own campaigners have argued for these exemptions since last summer, and it is sad that these are not now going to be given a chance. We also definitely need wider measures to reduce car journeys across the whole city, but these are now in preparation and this was no time to put the whole process into retreat.
“The debate this afternoon revealed a divided Labour Party offering little leadership, which is bad news for the hopes of many of us that we might be about to make real progress towards a low traffic city and a safer, cleaner environment in which active and public transport can flourish. I do hope this can be repaired.”
Camcycle says new Labour/Lib Dem coalition has failed to live up to its promises on climate change
The cycling charity Camcycle had supported the ETRO, pointing to improved safety and cleaner air.
Afterwards, it said in a statement: “Camcycle is disappointed with the decision by the Highways and Transport Committee to remove the bus gate and motor traffic restrictions on Mill Road bridge.
“The chair of the committee, Labour councillor for West Chesterton Gerri Bird (in place of Lib Dem councillor Peter McDonald who was unable to attend, had the casting vote after the committee vote was split 7-7.
“We believe this decision was contrary to the wishes of the majority of local residents, which was made clear by the data and representations made to councillors and the results of recent elections.
“It was also an outright failure of the new county council Lib Dem and Labour coalition to abide by their own promises to put climate change at the heart of their administration.
“However, the committee did agree to undertake a full review and consultation on the options for a bus gate with appropriate exemptions and we look forward to working with the Cambridge community to develop ideas for a vibrant Mill Road that is safe and pleasant for people walking, cycling, trading and spending time and money on Mill Road.
“Proposals for Mill Road should also take into account the urgent need to reduce motor traffic not just on this road, but also across Cambridge. The Greater Cambridge Partnership is working on a city access strategy to reduce car traffic in Cambridge and this should be taken into consideration when plans for improvements to Mill Road are made.
“The outcome has done nothing to solve the problems on Mill Road. Air pollution will return, road danger will return, pavements will remain inaccessible, loading restrictions have not been improved, car and cycle parking has not been improved. The community remains divided and unrepresented by policy and a heavy stream of traffic that will only continue to increase as we recover from the pandemic.”
Camcycle’s executive director Roxanne De Beaux, a Mill Road resident, added: "The decision today will be very disappointing for many local people and businesses. However, it is vital that we now work to ensure a thorough consultation takes place to ensure effective measures are introduced to Mill Road to reduce the road danger, air pollution and carbon emissions from excessive amounts of car traffic while creating a vibrant and accessible road that is great to travel along, conduct business and to spend time and money.
If you want to see traffic reduction on Mill Road then please keep up the pressure on your county councillors to ensure this consultation begins as soon as possible and join Camcycle to support our work."
Mill Road for People says we’re heading back to congestion and collisions
The recently-established campaign group describes itself as a group of Cambridge residents working on a non-partisan basis to seek consensus to get the best Mill Road for everyone. It supported the ETRO.
It said: “Mill Road for People is extremely disappointed that the Highways and Transport Committee chose to remove all restrictions to traffic on Mill Road, Cambridge at their meeting earlier today.
“We are sure the thousands of local residents who have expressed their anxiety at the prospect of this outcome will be shocked to discover that so much traffic is about to re-enter our community.
“The committee’s decision today simply takes us back to all the problems of collisions, congestion, pollution, and disabled access that existed before.
“However, the committee opened up a new phase of work, which is to consult on a long-term solution for Mill Road, over the coming six months. We will continue our work to speak to residents and traders to find a sensible, compromise position. We are confident that the result of a well-run consultation will result in solutions very similar to those proposed by Mill Road for People.
“Adding 12,000 cars a day back to Mill Road achieves precisely the opposite of the worthy promises made in the May 2021 local elections.
“The joint administration agreement between the Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Independent groups says that ‘We will focus on modal shift to encourage more residents out of their cars, along with infrastructure development, the encouragement of sustainable travel, and securing safe routes and connections for pedestrians and cyclists’.
“Moreover, Conservative Party candidates in Romsey and Petersfield stood on an explicit ‘open the bridge’ ticket in the May 2021 elections and were roundly defeated. There is clearly no mandate from voters to justify this decision today.
“We call upon the Mill Road Traders Association and Cllr [Richard] Howitt to state what solutions they would actually agree to, to solve the long-standing transport problems that Mill Road has.
“We also call upon Cllr [Gerri] Bird, whose casting vote was crucial in the reopening of the bridge, to hold meaningful discussions with Mill Road For People.
“Mill Road for People will continue to campaign for a low traffic low pollution street for the benefit of all.”
Mill Road Traders’ Association is delighted
The association had campaigned vehemently against the closure, saying it was destroying trade.
Spokesperson Piero D’Angelico, who told the meeting of businesses closing as a result of lost trade, said afterwards: “I am so shocked. I can’t believe that we have won and that the bridge is being opened. It means everything. It means businesses will be given the chance to live. It means life can start again. People here have lost so much and now there is new hope.
“We began to think it might go our way when there were so many cheers in the meeting whenever anyone talked about reopening the bridge.”
On Tuesday, the strains of Sinatra’s New York, New York could be heard on the bridge, with the lyrics changed to Mill Road, Mill Road.
Author Anita Lehmann fears more accidents
Writing on Twitter, the award-winning author and historian said: “I'm gutted about this decision. The closure allowed my family to use the bridge and get to school safely. Now I'll be back to witnessing near accidents every day. Mill Road bridge is not made for two-way traffic plus gazillions of bikes and pedestrians on tiny pavements.”
She added: “This isn't about pitching one side against the other. I can see there were issues with the bridge closure - consultation, disabled access, taxis, etc. But equally, the very serious road safety and environmental concerns must urgently be addressed.”
See more reaction and analysis in this week's Cambridge Independent, out now.
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