Mill Road bridge in Cambridge set to reopen after single deciding vote
Mill Road bridge in Cambridge is set to reopen to traffic, councillors decided in a tense vote today (Tuesday July 27).
County councillors were split about whether to remove the temporary bus gate on the bridge which only allowed pedestrians, cyclists and buses across for the past year following an experimental traffic order designed to allow social distancing for pedestrians during the pandemic.
The final casting vote fell to acting chair of the highways and transport committee Cllr Gerri Bird. She said she was voting to reopen the bridge as she was “very concerned about the access to the elderly and disabled and taxis”.
Officers at the meeting warned councillors that it was not possible to keep the bridge closed but allow disabled people to have access across the bridge as there was no way to monitor Blue badge holders or enforce that restriction.
Since the bridge was closed in June 2020 there has been a fierce debate about the negative impact on businesses in the area as well as the problems it caused for disabled and elderly people who could no longer travel easily from one side to another, and faced huge taxi bills. Meanwhile other residents were grateful for better cycling and less pollution on the street and the chance to dine out on Mill Road pavements.
Now the bridge will be reopened while a “full review” of options available is considered by the county council.
Mill Road Traders’ Association spokesperson Piero D’Angelico, who had told the meeting of businesses suffering and even closing as a result of lost trade, said: “I am so shocked - I can’t believe that we have won and that the bridge is being opened. It means everything. It means businesses will be given the chance to live.”
Meanwhile cycling charity Camcycle were disappointed by the result as they had campaigned hard to keep the bridge traffic free. Their spokesperson Roxanne de Beaux said: “We believe this decision was contrary to the wishes of the majority of local residents which was made clear by the data and representations made to councillors and the results of recent elections.”
Petersfield Labour councillor Richard Howitt spoke up for the traders in the meeting, saying: “I think the claims made by the traders and about loss of business, rising debt and staff layoffs has been shown true by their survey that 19 shop closures, and 11 shops are up first for sale. This has to be taken seriously. Mill Road has a unique character. And if lost, it may be lost forever.
“The traders have told me that they've compared their continued losses to how far business has returned in other shopping areas of Cambridge, and showing that the bridge, not just Covid is the cause. They have the signatures of 168 business owners, supporting their survey, and the chair and vice chair (of the committee) have seen those to know that they are legitimate. Some of the traders have been critical of the Labour Party, so I've got no political brief to support. However, as a councillor, and as a long standing local resident. I've known some of them for many years. And these are people of good character. For those arguing for continued bridge closure to seek to criticize the traders, and the information they have produced, I do not think you need, or should do that. This has been a far too bitter and divisive debate and all sides should recognise that there is merit in what each other says.”
Meanwhile, in the committee meeting, Romsey councillor Neil Shailer was clear he had won the recent council election on a mandate of keeping the bridge shut and that he believed it was what local people wanted. He said: “During the recent elections, none of the other parties campaigned to open the bridge, not the Lib Dems, not the greens, not Labour. Only a few who backed the wrong (side) campaigned to open the bus gate to private cars and they blamed us for shutting the bridge. They accuse us of wanting to keep it completely shut. But even that didn't hurt our votes. It helped us. Team Romsey won with a landslide. And I do not take that mandate lightly. I have received hundreds, hundreds of emails about the bridge. In the past six days alone. I have been contacted by 71 new people with heartfelt pleas to keep the bus gate on the bridge.”
Campaign group Mill Road 4 People said they were "extremely disappointed that the highways and transport committee chose to remove all restrictions to traffic on Mill Road, Cambridge at their meeting earlier today. We are sure the thousands of local residents who have expressed their anxiety at the prospect of this outcome will be shocked to discover that so much traffic is about to re-enter our community."
Tim Bick, leader of the Lib Dems on Cambridge City Council, commented: “It is incredibly disappointing to see one Labour councillor throw away the opportunity we had to make a positive impact on the living environment in Cambridge. Liberal Democrats at a city and county level are committed to reducing traffic and car journeys in the city, alongside improving city access through better public transport and safer cycling and walking.
“Cutting congestion, reducing pollution – these are real and pressing challenges that require mature leadership and engagement with our communities; neither Labour nor the Tories have stepped up to provide that on Mill Road.
“Allowing taxi and disabled access across the Mill Road bridge was a sensible change made in response to some of the practical objections to the existing scheme. Our own campaigners have argued for these exemptions since last summer, and it is sad that these are not now going to be given a chance. We also definitely need wider measures to reduce car journeys across the whole city, but these are now in preparation and this was no time to put the whole process into retreat."
Read more reaction and debate in the Cambridge Independent - out from Wednesday July 28