Elections 2021: Conservative and Labour candidates clash over Mill Road bridge closure in Cambridge
Local election candidates for the Labour and Conservative parties have clashed over the closing of Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to cars – with representatives from both sides saying the other should take responsibility.
Labour candidates described the Conservatives’ campaign literature criticising the scheme as “completely misleading”, because the change was implemented by the Tory-led county council.
But the Conservatives said the closure was introduced owing to pressure from Labour councillors in the area.
A “modal filter” was installed on Mill Road in June last year, preventing private cars and taxis from passing through without receiving a fine. The bridge remains open to buses, cyclists and pedestrians.
The closure was put in place by Cambridgeshire County Council using the government’s pandemic-related “emergency active travel fund”.
The modal filter was put in place on an experimental basis, using legislation that allowed the council to bypass the usual consultation and decision-making process, but that will expire after 18 months unless councillors vote to make the change permanent.
In a Facebook post, Romsey Conservatives said: “We stand with local business’ and residents in condemning the way the bridge was shut without talking to residents and businesses.”
And in a recent campaign video, the Conservative mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, says Labour has “made so many mistakes on Mill Road”, and asks Tory candidates in the video to explain the situation
The Conservatives’ Romsey candidate, Mohammed Azamuddin, responds: “They have been saying that it is the Conservatives behind closing the bridge, but they wrong, because it is local councillors behind this”.
Conservative campaign literature in the area describes the bridge closure as “undemocratic” and an example of “not good governance”.
But Neil Shailer, Labour’s candidate for the Romsey seat at the May 6 county council elections, described the Conservatives’ campaign messages on the issues as “nonsense”.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” he said. “You have got a Conservative mayor, with Conservative candidates, talking about the closure that was decided by a Conservative county council, at the behest of a Conservative government. And they are blaming Labour for that – it’s a very odd position for them to take.”
The reaction to the closure from Labour councillors in the city has been mixed. The county council’s highways committee approved the change last year unanimously – including supportive votes from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the majority Conservative group – as part of a much longer list of schemes affecting areas across the county.
One Labour city councillor, Gerri Bird, was strongly critical of its impact on the disabled, questioning the quality of the implementation, and arguing it would restrict access for wheelchair users such as herself.
Cllr Dave Baigent has spoken in defence of the closure and said, following Labour canvassing, that he believes around 75 per cent of Romsey residents support it.
He claimed Mr Palmer’s position on the bridge closure was “all over the place”.
“He was part of the team that brought on this closure, and now he is standing on the bridge saying it’s wrong,” he said.
Mr Shailer, the Labour candidate, said he is opposed to the way the scheme was implemented without consultation, but said: “We broadly supported the fact that we needed to have measures that allowed people to distance.”
He called for more public consultation and noted the potential to alter the restriction in response to concerns raised about access for taxis and the disabled, as well as improving walkways, and including the restriction in the wider transport strategy.
And he said Labour councillors and candidates “are very much in touch” with residents and businesses in the area.
Mr Palmer said: ‘The closure of Mill Road came because of pressure from Labour members in the area.
“Whilst the county council is Conservative-led, in situations such as this, the chairman of the relevant committee relies on the local members to bring forward local views.
“It is clear in Mill Road that the views and needs of the traders have been ignored by the local labour members and they feel let down.”
He said he accepts cycling is very important but decisions on transport need “balance”, and that if re-elected he would call for a review of the closure.
The leader of the Conservative group, Steve Count, said Labour councillors supported the scheme and also had input into the scheme’s implementation.
Labour’s current county councillor for Romsey, Noel Kavanagh, who is not standing again, said he was “flabbergasted” at the Conservative campaign rhetoric on the issue.
He said the county council drew up a list of schemes, including Mill Road, which was supported cross-party by the committee. Cllr Kavanagh said he supported the temporary Mill Road bridge closure on the grounds of public safety and ensuring social distancing, following the directive from central government.