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Extinction Rebellion protesters: Why we're blocking Cambridge roads during Big Weekend

Major disruption is expected as climate change protesters plan to block roads in Cambridge city centre to focus councillors on the “very real need to get a grip on traffic, congestion and air pollution”.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cambridge activists will block roads and prevent access to the Grand Arcade car park on Saturday (July 6).

Extinction Rebellion Cambridge protestors explain why they're blocking Cambridge city centre roads
Extinction Rebellion Cambridge protestors explain why they're blocking Cambridge city centre roads

The action coincides with the Big Weekend, taking place on Parker’s Piece, which draws thousands to the city each year.

The roadblocks are expected to cause major congestion in the city centre and also coincide with work on Mill Road bridge.

Extinction Rebellion campaigner Nathan Williams told the Cambridge Independent: “Disruption is always a last resort, but for years campaigners tried to negotiate a traffic-free day. But no one would show political leadership.”

He added: “This action will make it clear that they can’t dodge the issues any longer. We will be inviting city and county councillors, the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the mayor to meet us to discuss how they can show leadership on the climate crisis and set ambitious targets that transform how we live and move around in Cambridge.”

Mr Williams said the group had specifically chosen this weekend for a number of reasons.

He explained: “Firstly, with so many people in town, it’s an opportunity to reach more people than on a normal weekend and so grow the movement.

“Secondly, we wanted to provide the Big Weekend visitors with a chance to wander the centre free from traffic and pollution and relieve congestion on the pavements by opening up the roads. We want them to see what Cambridge and other towns could look like without traffic.

“Thirdly, by signalling our intent more than a month ago, we hope to actually reduce the amount of traffic coming into the city on the day. And finally, choosing this weekend will focus councillors’ minds on the very real need to get a grip on traffic, congestion and air pollution.”

The Big Weekend, which is organised by Cambridge City Council, will welcome thousands of people of all ages across three days of free entertainment on Parker’s Piece, from Friday, July 5 to Sunday, July 7.

The city council, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary are all strongly advising people to travel by public transport, including Park & Ride, to avoid the congestion.

The roadblocks planned include closing a rectangle of roads north of Lensfield Road, involving blocks at Regent Street, Trumpington Street and Tennis Court Road to the south, at the western end of Pembroke Street and initially at the north end of Trumpington Street and Regent Street to stop vehicles using the streets from the north.

During the closures, there will be various activities including a garden area, a tennis court on Tennis Court Road, a samba band, a freecycle shop, a rebel university where XR will host talks about the climate crisis and about the movement, and a programme of musicians from the main stage from 12.30pm. The protesters do not intend to disrupt the Big Weekend.

The council has written to city centre businesses, colleges and other organisations to advise them about the protests and to suggest they plan appropriate contingency measures.

Meanwhile, Mill Road bridge will be closed to vehicles for eight weeks from Monday (July 1) for crucial work being carried out to improve rail services, and it will also be closed to pedestrians for a number of spells, including during the Big Weekend.

Cllr Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said: “We strongly encourage anyone thinking of coming to the Big Weekend, or visiting central Cambridge on July 6, to leave their car at home and walk, cycle or use public transport.

“If people have to make part of their journey by car, they should leave it at one of the Park & Ride sites to avoid getting stuck in city centre congestion.

“I would urge people to plan their journey and think about how they can walk, cycle and use public transport wherever possible.”

Commenting on the protest, Cllr Moore added: “We absolutely understand and support the message behind this protest and that is why the city council declared a climate emergency in February.

“We are wholly committed to doing all that we can to tackle climate change and we have already achieved a good deal.

“We continue to invest in initiatives that cut carbon emissions from council buildings and services, and to use the powers and funding available to us to help local residents and businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

“So, we have the plans in place, but the reality is that we can only do so much. That is why we continue to call on government, industry and regulators to implement the necessary changes to enable Cambridge and the rest of the UK to reach net zero carbon by 2030.

“It is imperative that the government gives councils more powers to act locally and provides the national policies and the investment in renewable energy sources, home energy efficiency, public transport and low-emission vehicles needed if we are to achieve the 2030 target.”

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