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Case against Mill Road bridge closure revealed by campaigners

The grounds on which campaigners have taken Cambridgeshire County Council to the High Court over its decision to close Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to most private motor vehicles can now be revealed.

The council voted in March to impose a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) that would allow only bicycles, taxis, emergency vehicles, Blue Badge holders and buses to cross the bridge.

Mill Road bridge Picture: Keith Heppell
Mill Road bridge Picture: Keith Heppell

Drivers who are not exempt would face a £70 fine for travelling through the new bus gate, which is expected to be enforced by automatic number plate recognition cameras. A council consultation found 72 per cent of respondents were in favour of the move to improve the environment for walking and cycling.

But Cambridge resident Pam Wesson, the chair of Friends of Mill Road Bridge, has forced the council to pause its plans to close the bridge while she seeks a quashing order against the TRO in the High Court.

This means the bridge is likely to remain open until at least the end of the year as no date has been set for the court case.

Now the six points in the legal case against the council have been revealed.

Pam, who runs a vintage shop in the city and fears the change will be devastating to traders, said: “We are making this information public now because we are very proud of the work we have done so far and because too many people are still unaware of the approaching problem they’re going to have avoiding a £70 fine that they never voted for. The consultation was, in our view, undemocratic and incomplete.

“We have a preference for transparency that we don’t see in our local government often. We are madly fundraising – we need another £10,000 to £20,000 for our legal fees.”

The grounds for the quashing order are:

Ground 1: Failure to provide adequate reasons for proposing the (TRO) order.

The Friends claim that the statement setting out why the council proposed to make the order did not give reasons that are “adequate and enable the reader to understand why this order was proposed to be made”.

The council said that the TRO was “for avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using the road or any road or for preventing the likelihood of any such danger arising”, “for facilitating the passage on the road or other road for any class of traffic (including pedestrians)” and “for preserving or improving the amenities of the area through which the road runs”.

However, the Friends claim that the deeper explanation was not given until after the consultation ended.

Ground 2: Failure to provide and/or notify objectors of the reasons for the making of the order.

The Friends say that while objectors were sent an email telling them the TRO decision had been made, it did not contain a sufficient explanation about why the decision was taken. Instead, they were given a link to meeting papers, agenda documents, minutes and decision summary.

The claim says: “A member of the public should not have to conduct a paper chase to find the relevant officer reports and minutes of committee meetings in order to understand the true reasons for making the order.”

Ground 3: Mistake of fact in relation to the exemption for carers of Blue Badge holders.

The claim states that: “The chair of the highways and transport committee made a clarification in the meeting on 7 March 2023, just before calling a vote stating expressly that the current proposed exemptions “doesn’t [sic] require them [Blue Badge holders] to be in the vehicles”. This statement followed the expression of concern on some committee members in relation to access to carers of Blue Badge holders.”

However, it has since been clarified that “the exemption to use the bridge would only apply to vehicles registered by the Blue Badge holder where the Blue Badge holder was present in the vehicle”, says the claim from Pam.

The court document adds: “There was therefore a mistake as to existing fact, in terms of how the order would be implemented.”

Ground 4: Failure to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (‘PSED’).

This relates to whether the council considered properly under the Equality Act 2010 how disabled Blue Badge holders would be affected by the decision to impose the Traffic Regulation Order on the bridge.

The claim states that the council has “failed to consider how the requirement to pre-register up to two vehicles will affect Blue Badge holders – namely, in terms of how this will not result in only a partial exemption from the bus gate. In short, it is only if the Blue Badge holder is travelling in one of two pre- registered vehicles are they exempt, and not when they are travelling in cars belonging to friends or families who have not been (or cannot be) pre-registered.”

Also, it says that the council had not properly notified the public about the need for Blue Badge holders to pre-register two vehicles to cross the bridge when the draft TRO was published.

Ground 5: Decision erroneously took into account potential to attract funding.

The claim says of the committee meeting in which the TRO was decided: “The minutes and transcript of the meeting make clear that the ability to secure funding to make improvements to the public realm on a different section of Mill Road at a later date was material in determining whether to resolve to approve the order.”

However, that is not one of the grounds which a local authority can use to make a TRO, according to the document.

Ground 6: Failure to consult other organisations as part of statutory consultation.

The claimant acknowledges that the council did consult with the Freight Transport Association, now known as Logistics, about the proposed bridge closure. However, the Friends state there is no evidence that the council considered consulting others.

The Friends of Mill Road Bridge are still fundraising to pay for all of their legal fees. To help, William Bannell, a YouTube blogger and member of the Friends, is publishing a book about the campaign called Cambridge Cracker presents: The Battle For Mill Road Bridge.

The £10 book is due to be released on December 1 and will be available at some stores in Cambridge and via Amazon. William also plans to sell copies at Mill Road Winter Fair.

Pam Wesson, chair of the Friends of Mill Road Bridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Pam Wesson, chair of the Friends of Mill Road Bridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

William said: “The book outlines in three parts the history of the debate surrounding the bridge closure; how the Friends of Mill Road Bridge put together their claim and the basis for their grounds, and the judicial review process itself so far, including the summary of claim, the council’s response and a summary of the recent interim hearing.

“It contains all the gory details about this controversial episode of Cambridge’s story. It is written for public knowledge and to allow people to better understand what is going on, because still so little is known about what is going on.”

Views on whether the bridge should remain open have divided the community in Romsey and Petersfield. More than 100 people marched from Donkey Common to the bridge on October 21 in protest that the bridge is still open to private traffic in spite of support for a bus gate. The protest was arranged by Mill Road 4 People, which wants to see the TRO enacted and a bus gate put on the bridge.

Katie Hawks, the group’s vice chair, said last month: “Every month that goes by without the bus gate is another month of congestion, pollution and danger for pedestrians and cyclists on a street that has never been designated an arterial route in the Local Plan, and which could and should be a pleasant residential and shopping area.”

The council’s consultation found 72 per cent of respondents wanted to see the bridge closed to private vehicles.

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “The substantive case has not yet been heard, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on the details ahead of any upcoming court hearing.

“However, we believe we have followed all technical and legal steps.”

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