Blockade plan for protest on Mill Road bridge in Cambridge
A last-ditch protest to try to persuade councillors to reopen Mill Road bridge to cars is being organised by traders who say their livelihoods depend on it.
Meanwhile, a new group of residents called Mill Road 4 People, who are opposed to the bridge reopening, are also hoping their calls will be heard.
Controversy has raged over the bus gate on Mill Road in Cambridge ever since the bridge was closed to all traffic except buses and bicycles in June 2020 in order to allow pedestrians to be socially distanced on the pavements.
Hairdresser Piero D’Angelico, spokesperson for Mill Road Traders, a group of 154 businesses in the area, said: “Mill Road bridge was closed to aid social distancing during the pandemic and because that is no longer required it should be reopened. On July 19, the government is officially ending restrictions, so we are protesting that restrictions on the bridge should stop too.”
The protest is set for the morning of Saturday, July 24 when the campaigners plan to block the bridge completely.
Mr D’Angelico explained: “We will block the whole bridge and not even a bus will be allowed through this time, which we have never done before. We will inform Stagecoach as a courtesy, of course. We will apologise for the inconvenience but it is our whole livelihoods at risk here.
“We did a survey of our members and 88 per cent wanted the bridge to be reopened to traffic and 100 per cent said the consultation on the decision was inadequate.”
Now the traders are calling for the bridge to reopen and for the council to instigate a six-week consultation during which everyone’s views can be heard.
“We will be happy if the county does a proper democratic consultation on whether to reopen the bridge because people will comply. It is the only way to bring peace to our street.” added Mr D’Angelico.
He argued that since the bus gate was installed, businesses had lost a huge amount of customers.
“People’s takings are down by 50 per cent on average. People don’t even try to come to Mill Road any more because it’s not a friendly road for cars. The people who don't want the bridge opened are not affected in the same way because they are not losing money, their livelihood does not depend on this. People rely on Mill Road Traders to speak for them because they don’t dare to speak out in case people boycott their business.
“The bridge closure is only beneficial to a group of coffee shops and bars in Broadway in Romsey which is only 3.8 per cent of the traders. Other businesses such as hairdressers or the carpet shop or opticians have customers who come from further away by car.”
Meanwhile, Mill Road 4 People is a new group set up on social media that has set out an alternative plan for a low traffic neighbourhood on Mill Road.
Its website does not reveal who runs the group but one of their members, Liz Walter, spoke with the Cambridge Independent.
She explained: “We are a disparate group who got together because we felt there must be a middle way through the arguments about whether the bridge should be open or closed that retains some of the advantages of both points of view.”
Their goals include encouraging active travel, making Mill Road safe, with low traffic and low pollution, supporting a wide range of businesses, enhancing the sense of community, providing reliable, affordable public transport and providing an attractive environment.
Ms Walter said: “We have talked to businesses who would be happy to have a low traffic neighbourhood as there could be parking bays for deliveries, better public transport, and you could allow each business to register a delivery van. We are trying to understand the barriers for traders.”
She added: “I would like the council to extend the ETRO to December when it runs out and use that time to consult on a new traffic regulation order. We want a low traffic environment and a thriving street and the officers need to come up with something. Consultation is key and that’s one of the things that has upset people the most. Imposing things on local people is never a good idea.
“The traders have not given us any proof that the money lost is because of the bridge closure rather than Covid. I don’t want to minimise that - there will be some businesses probably that will lose money as a result but we have something like 14 hairdressers on Mill Road. Now, maybe that’s just not sustainable and maybe one of them needs to move to Cherry Hinton and maybe that wouldn’t be the end of the world if they did. Yes, it’s very sad for those businesses, but for one person’s business are we going to choke up the lungs of their children for the next decade?
“We just don’t buy the idea that so many people used to travel to Mill Road in a car to shop there. It’s unfortunate the pandemic happened before any research could happen. In Walthamstow, traders said 60 per cent of customers came by car but research actually showed it was 20 per cent. So traders massively overestimated the number of people coming by car.
“Unless you live really close to the bridge it doesn’t make much difference if the bridge is closed or not. How often do you go and look at a carpet? Probably once every two years. If you live 20 minutes’ drive away and you have to travel another five minutes, I don’t think that will put you off.”