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Gas works ‘last nail in coffin’ for Mill Road in Cambridge say traders




Beleagured traders who say the closure of Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to motorists has caused chaos and damaged trade are reeling after it was announced that they now face seven weeks of gas pipe repairs in the street.

They warned it could be the “last nail in our coffin” following the lockdown.

Cambridgeshire County Council used an Experimental Traffic Order (ETRO) to closed the bridge over the railway to all traffic except buses and bicycles.

Mill Road bridge in Cambridge shut to cars due the Covid 19 pandemic. Picture: Keith Heppell. (38409010)
Mill Road bridge in Cambridge shut to cars due the Covid 19 pandemic. Picture: Keith Heppell. (38409010)

The aim was to allow more pavement space so that pedestrians and cyclists could pass each other safely with a two metre gap.

The move proved contentious. It was welcomed by cyclists and some shoppers, but traders say it has caused nothing but traffic chaos, with many motorists ignoring the signs anyway.

Now they fear roadworks planned by Cadent gas network will be the final straw and have threatened to sue county council for loss of earnings if the bridge is not reopened.

Piero D’Angelico, spokesperson for Mill Road traders, said: “Once again, another thing has been dropped on Mill Road with not even a heads up. We just found out there are going to be roadworks for seven weeks along Mill Road in a letter from Cadent and it is starting next week.

Traffic chaos on Mill Road bridge. Pic: Piero D'Angelico (37560290)
Traffic chaos on Mill Road bridge. Pic: Piero D'Angelico (37560290)

“It's a huge kick in the teeth. I wish people would talk to us so we could work out some strategy.

“These gas works coming now on top of everything else are going to kill off Mill Road. We lived through 12 weeks of gas works last year from Cadent so we know what they will look like. They will be digging the road all day, which was so bad last year - unbearable, dusty and smelly. Some people were without gas for days and had to close down. Why they have to come back again this year, I have no idea.

“Mill Road is a mess now. There are already roadworks here - the City Fibre people, the highways, the council depot lorries. That is all you see, just big lorries and all the work and signage they have done with the widening of pavements. It just looks like Mill Road is covered in road works. It's not a pleasant street to visit now.

“It's the last nail in the coffin for Mill Road and a lot of people will be forced to go back to the government’s dormant business scheme and shut their shops. What's the point of opening the door when you are not going to get any trade coming here? It's like we are going back to lockdown but it's a different type - it is a shut down.

“People are not coming here. It is dead, it's horrible to walk through because of all the roadworks. If people are being encouraged to cycle - cycle where? Instead of making the streets safer it's actually more dangerous now.”

Mill Rd Traders Association members against the closure of Mill Rd, from left Shapour Meftah, Piero D'angelico, Pamela Wesson and Abdul Arain. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39093499)
Mill Rd Traders Association members against the closure of Mill Rd, from left Shapour Meftah, Piero D'angelico, Pamela Wesson and Abdul Arain. Picture: Keith Heppell. (39093499)

The gas works by Cadent are set to start at the junction with Mackenzie Road and end at the four-way junction of Mill Road, Parkside, Gonville Place and East Road. They are currently set to run from July 27 to September 11.

Asked why the disruption was necessary after gas works on the same stretch of road were carried out last summer, a Cadent spokesperson said: "This project involves installing new service pipes to properties, including vertical gas service pipes supplying flats above shops... The work follows on from the work we did last year and will connect the properties to the new gas mains we installed in the road last summer. Once this work is completed the old gas mains will be decommissioned.

"This work needs to be carried out to help ensure local businesses and residents continue to enjoy safe and reliable gas supplies for cooking and heating. The gas pipes should last into the 22nd century and will cut the disruption caused by leaks from old pipes. Work has been carefully planned with the local authority to ensure it is delivered with as little disruption as possible. As with the work last year we’re carrying out the work during the school summer holiday period when roads are generally quieter to minimise disruption.

"To do the work, we also need to deploy temporary traffic lights and we will be manually operating these during peak times, to ease congestion. We’re sorry for any inconvenience people may experience as a result of our work and we’re doing all we can to complete the work as soon as possible."

Traffic chaos on Mill Road bridge. Pic: Piero D'Angelico (39093538)
Traffic chaos on Mill Road bridge. Pic: Piero D'Angelico (39093538)

Meanwhile, the ANPR camera designed to catch motorists crossing the bridge, which is now closed to all traffic except buses, bicycles and pedestrians, is still not operational.

The county council acknowledged the camera has not been working since its installation on July 9.

A spokesperson said: “We are just finalising the signage and then we will start enforcing.”

Motorists caught flouting the rules will be fined £60.

The spokesperson added: "Safety is our top priority and our team have been monitoring the site carefully. The area is clearly marked and signposted so drivers are aware of the changes to Mill Road bridge."

Meanwhile, the traders have sent a solicitors’ letter to the county council saying the closure of the bridge “will severely affect businesses along Mill Road” and are demanding compensation for loss of earnings if the bridge is not fully reopened.

Hands off Mill Road Bridge - the protest sign appeared on the road last month
Hands off Mill Road Bridge - the protest sign appeared on the road last month

The letter adds: “Car traffic over the bridge is important for bringing in customers from Cambridge and the surrounding areas. The closure is all the worse for the impact of closure of businesses for the past three months due to Covid-19. The same problem, we are instructed, arose last summer when the bridge was closed due to gas works, and compensation was paid by the company doing the work at the time.

"We understand that for two months closure, 44 traders claimed for compensation and over £300,000 was paid. Clearly over the 18 months, any loss of trade figure would be much greater.”

They warn that “if the council does not immediately reconsider” the bridge closure “traders will look to the council for compensation for losses resulting from implementation of this ill-considered ETRO.”

A county council spokesperson said: "We are aware that Mill Road Traders Association has sent the county council a letter calling for the removal of the Mill Road bridge bus gate. We acknowledged their letter (on July 14) and will reply in due course after we have fully considered the contents."

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