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Is this combination lock on Cambridge’s anti-terror barrier really high security?




Anti-terror barrier's iron gate is chained to bollard and locked by combination padlock. Picture: Mike Scialom
Anti-terror barrier's iron gate is chained to bollard and locked by combination padlock. Picture: Mike Scialom

The anti-terror barrier on King’s Parade has been presented as an essential item of high-security infrastructure - but the high-security gate is kept in place by a pretty low-tech five-digit combination lock costing about £60 from a hardware store.

So how long before the lock becomes a tempting target for someone out to make their name? After all, Cambridge has had considerable success with code-breaking on a scale that dwarfs five numbers requiring one simple sequence. Think Alan Turing, or Crick and Watson. Folks like that enjoy a challenge.

The new barrier, which is scheduled to block off the renowned Cambridge parade for the first time on Thursday, involves seven security ‘barges’ (large weighted supports in matt black) installed across the iconic street to prevent a vehicle being driven by a terrorist into Cambridge crowds. One of the barges houses a yellow-painted iron gate, which is secured to a nearby bollard. The chain on the gate certainly doesn’t look very all-weather, and the padlock leaves a lot to be desired.

These are not the only concerns for a public waking up to the fact that Cambridge is now in the front line against terror. Shepreth-based engineer Dr Brian Robertson regularly cycles or walks along King’s Parade.

“This barrier defies common sense and has been installed without proper consultation with the appropriate groups, such as walkers and cyclists,” he told the Cambridge Independent. “The barrier is an eyesore and not appropriate to the proper setting. Important groups of users such as cargo bikes and child transporters have been excluded because the gap is too narrow. Only one gap has been provided for cyclists so the design is malicious and will result in cycle accidents.

“The barrier is also part-time and so does not solve the problem of terrorism when the barrier is open - it’s all about whipping up fear and hysteria among the public. Why don’t they install a beautiful Henry Moore statue permanently in the middle of the road instead? Alternatively put some nice concrete benches that people can sit on.”

“I’ve always had the view that we need to have additional public art between King’s Parade and Quayside,” Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert responded. “The permanent installation needs to be something the city can be proud of and the council will be working to achieve that.”

Public realm engineering & project delivery team leader at Cambridge City Council, John Richards, said the barrier is an interim design.

“These types of Traffic Orders require consultation before a scheme is implemented on a permanent basis,” he said, “so we shall be using the next 12-24 months to listen, monitor, take stock of feedback and develop a plan for a potential long-term solution.”

And the combination lock? Mr Richards said the padlock and chain would not secure the gate shut when King’s Parade is sealed off, between 9.30am and 7pm seven days a week.

“When closed it secures to a docking barge with a slide-through and locked bolt,” he said of how the gate connects to the barge. “When locked together as a unit, the equipment acts as a drag anchor, restraining any vehicle as a weapon-style attack.”

Perhaps the furore also points to other concerns. There’s indignities to being a cyclist, even in Cambridge, and there shouldn’t be. Consider the often-dreadful state of the roads, the fast-disappearing road markings (only intermittently renewed) and the constant sense of having to compete for space with motorists which is made worse by stop-and-start cycle lanes right across the city. Perhaps the furore about the anti-terror barrier is also an expression of that frustrating lack of progress.

Anti-terror barrier combination lock has five digits. Pictures: Mike Scialom
Anti-terror barrier combination lock has five digits. Pictures: Mike Scialom

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Cambridge groups protest King’s Parade anti-terror barrier



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