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Mill Road bridge: Cambridgeshire councillors poised to decide on its future

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More than a year after Mill Road bridge was closed to cars, councillors will finally decide whether to reopen it or keep the bus gate in place.

The bridge has been closed to all traffic except buses, cyclists and pedestrians since June 2020 in a bid to help pedestrians remain socially distanced on the pavement by creating passing places called build outs.

The experimental traffic order (ETRO) was expected to be reviewed after six months, but this decision was put back following a failed consultation, which Cambridgeshire County Council realised could be completed many times by the same person.

Councillors will now decide at the highways and transport committee on July 27 whether to reopen the bridge, keep it closed or call for another public consultation on the scheme which has proven divisive for local residents, some of whom have enjoyed the quieter road and easier cycling, others who have suffered crushing blows to their businesses.

The results of a Cambridge Independent online poll on a range of options for Mill Road bridge
The results of a Cambridge Independent online poll on a range of options for Mill Road bridge

Meanwhile, a Cambridge Independent poll showed that 33 per cent of respondents wanted the bridge reopened and 43 per cent wanted it to stay closed, with the remaining 22 per cent supporting compromise solutions with some drivers, such as those with disabilities, allowed over the bridge.

Mill Road Traders’ Association spokesman Piero D’Angelico said: “Everyone is tired of this fight. All we are asking is for a fair and democratic consultation to decide whether to reopen the bridge or not, and we will abide by the decision. I don’t know why people are scared of that.

“The businesses I talk to have seen their takings reduced dramatically since the closure and often Mill Road is completely dead now. I hope the council will choose to reopen the bridge while it holds a consultation to at least give us a little bit of a chance. This bridge closure has taken our money, our dignity and our livelihoods.

“I know a lot of businesses who are too scared to speak out about wanting the bridge reopened in case people boycott them and they can’t afford to lose any more money.”

The Mill Road Traders’ Association handed in a handwritten petition asking the council to reopen the bridge last December. It was lost by the council, only resurfacing earlier this month.

A previous Mill Road bridge protest. Picture: Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter (49468758)
A previous Mill Road bridge protest. Picture: Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter (49468758)

The council report explains two petitions were received from the Mill Road Traders Association (one handwritten and one online, that was linked with two other petitions: one from the Licensed Taxi Association and one from Labour city councillor Gerri Bird), that called for Mill Road to be reopened. There were 839 signatures recorded for the handwritten petition and 3,924 to the online petition.

Piero added: “The legitimacy of our petition has been questioned in the council papers by Camcycle. But we could have proven that it has been filtered for double entries and all the signatures are in alphabetical order.”

A total of 577 respondents contacted Policy & Regulation at the council as part of the statutory objections phase of the Mill Road ETRO consultation period, and 51 per cent (293) of them indicated they objected to the Mill Road ETRO.

Of the respondents who objected, 57 per cent were from businesses. Responses discussed concerns that the bridge closure had resulted in less passing trade, resulting in the potential and actual loss of local businesses in the area. And there was concern this closure had compounded issues relating to closures on Mill Road in 2019 for work to the bridge.

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

A recently launched campaign group, called Mill Road 4 People, wants to keep the bridge closed. Spokesperson Andrew Allsworth said: “This doesn’t have to be a binary decision. There is so much we already agree on, for example the importance of access for people with disabilities, the need to support our independent traders, and the wish for a safer, less polluted environment.”

Charlotte De Blois, another member of Mill Road 4 People, said that some local residents, especially the disabled or businesses who need to have regular deliveries, should have bridge rights if the bridge remains closed. She said: “Although I as a resident on the road would not apply for bridge rights, I can see many people have very very justified needs. Having said that, I live on the road. My grandson has been taken into Addenbrooke’s as an emergency, with breathing difficulties because of pollution. And my husband has been knocked as he stepped off from our garden path onto the pavement by a delivery lorry mounting the pavement. I am absolutely committed to the fact that these problems which are life threatening need to be solved. It needs a nuanced solution. People have to be consulted in a very intelligent way, not just ticking boxes.”

The sign painted on the tarmac of Mill Road bridge reads: "One road, one community" (49468775)
The sign painted on the tarmac of Mill Road bridge reads: "One road, one community" (49468775)

The council’s report on the Mill Road changes recommends the removal of the ‘build-outs’ that widen the pavements for people to pass each other at 2m apart.

If the committee chooses to continue with the existing bridge closure, then further consultation is recommended and trial changes are suggested such as set delivery hours or some taxis being allowed. However, blue badge disabled drivers would not be included in exceptions as the council says this cannot be monitored because badges are issued to people, not vehicles.

Cllr Peter McDonald, chair of the highways and transport committee, said: “I’ve asked officers for more information on this project given the strength of views both for and against the bridge closure to private motor traffic, which they have supplied. This will help us councillors on the committee make the best decision possible on whether to continue with the bridge closure or to reopen the length of the road to all vehicles.”

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