Mill Road bridge closure in Cambridge to continue into summer after attempts to ‘skew’ consultation
The controversial trial closure of Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to all traffic, except buses, cyclists and pedestrians, will continue into the summer after attempts to “skew” the consultation were detected by the county council.
It confirmed today (February 18) that a “large number of duplicate entries” had been received to its survey on the issue - meaning quantitative data from it will not be taken into account when determining if the closure should be made permanent.
The council said it took “expert advice from the Consultation Institute” and “decided that whilst the general comments made via the survey can be analysed, it is not possible to robustly analyse the quantitative data gathered about the bridge closure due to the extent of the issue”.
It added: “Unfortunately, the extra work caused by these irregularities means that the project can no longer be reviewed at committee in March. The Mill Road bridge project will now be reviewed by the highways and transport committee in June, following the May local government elections.”
The closure to private motor vehicles was launched in June 2020 as part of efforts to promote safer cycling and walking amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The move found support from many cyclists, some residents and environmental campaigners, who welcomed the improvement in air quality.
But it was fiercely opposed by many Mill Road traders, who argued it would imperil their businesses by making it harder for people to visit them.
Cameras were installed to catch those flouting the new rules, and red and white build-outs have been introduced along Mill Road to promote social distancing.
The Cambridge Independent understands that some of the duplicate entries were in favour of closure, and some were against.
Cllr Mark Howell, Cambridgeshire County Council’s vice-chair of the highways and transport committee, said: “We haven’t encountered actions like this on this scale within a consultation. We’ve followed best practice and ensured the survey was available to all who wanted to let us know their feedback on the changes to Mill Road.
“It was great to see so many people engaging and letting us know their thoughts. So it’s particularly disappointing that a minority of individuals have chosen to act in this way.
“We’ve taken advice and believe that the best thing to do is for the committee to review the written responses we’ve received via email and letter throughout the six month consultation as well as the comments put forward in the open response areas of the survey.”
The consultation on the measures - introduced among a raft of Experimental Traffic Regulation Order during the pandemic - began in June and ran until December, with a further survey open for six weeks in November and December.
The survey asked respondents whether they were in favour or against the bridge closure, what they would like to happen next and what they thought of the ‘build outs’ introduced on Mill Road to encourage social distancing.
Traders complained that the bridge closure had been introduced illegally, which was refuted by the county council. There was also a warning from the traders that the survey was “open to abuse”, because it could be repeatedly answered by the same person.
The county council said it had received more than 3,500 responses, with more feedback in letters and emails.
Data from the six-month statutory consultation written responses and the survey will be made publicly available with contextual information, the council said, but will not be used in making decisions on the future of the scheme.
However, the county council confirmed to the Cambridge Independent that councillors will be able to consider the written responses from the consultation and qualitative data from their survey when making their decision.
A council spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “No further consultation is proposed at the moment. If councillors indicate that they would like further consultation or engagement undertaken on the trial closure when they review the project in June, then we will do so.
“We are looking into what we can do to ensure that future consultations are not subject to duplicate entries and we are seeking advice from the Consultation Institute. However, we will need to balance the needs for an open process and easy access to leave comments with any checking process.”
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