Mill Road protest hailed a 'huge success'
A protest about the closure of Mill Road bridge has been hailed a huge success by campaigners.
Residents and traders came out in force today (Wednesday, June 24) to demonstrate against the county council’s decision to widen pavements on the bridge and close it all traffic except buses and bicycles without consulting them.
The roadworks are part of a countywide plan to improve cycling access and enable social distancing for pedestrians. But traders say the closure will damage their businesses which are already struggling after the lockdown.
Mill Road Traders spokesperson Piero D’Angelico helped to organise the demonstration. He said: “The atmosphere today was fantastic and the protest was a huge success. So many people came out to support us and we managed the protest in a very professional way.
“I hope that seeing the strength of feeling here today from people whose lives will be affected by this decision will prick the conscience of the council. We feel betrayed by them - they have treated us like children by not consulting us about the bridge closure.
“I am very grateful to all the people who came out to protest with us and to the taxi drivers who were in solidarity with us over this issue - we counted over 400 taxis. I hope now we will be able to have a discussion with the council before this plan goes any further - my door is open.”
Campaigners occupied the bridge for several hours and were joined by a stream of taxis supporting the protest as they have also been banned from the bridge.
Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner and former mayor Cllr Gerri Bird have both spoken out against the bridge closure plans.
And a Cambridge Independent poll, involving more than 1,500 people, found 57 per cent were opposed to the move, and only 43 per cent supported it.
Asked how it would affect their shopping habits, 50 per cent said they would visit Mill Road less often, 36 per cent said they would visit more often and 14 per cent said it would not affect their visits.
Protesters chanted “don’t kill Mill Road” and made speeches against the longer-term closure.
A crowd estimated at more than 50 people joined the protest – although some passersby criticised it, saying the protest was “causing chaos” and saying there was a need to move to a more cycle-friendly mode of transport.
“Cars are killing Mill Road,” one passerby yelled in response to the protest.
A long line of taxis also joined the protest, driving the length of Mill Road honking their horns in support and then driving over the bridge.
One taxi driver told the Local Democracy Reporting Service there were between 100 and 150 taxis involved.
The Chair of the Mill Road Traders’ Association Shapour Meftah criticised both the county council’s planned closure and the way it has been decided, arguing there was no consultation.
He said: “We are protesting against what they are doing to this road because we were not consulted at all.
“When they closed the bridge for two months for the railway tracks and gas work [last year] it affected a hell of a lot of traders – some of them didn’t even have money to pay for their rent.
“So because of that we know we have to get united against this. We know there have to be some changes – we agree with that – but get us involved, then we can come up with some sort of solution and at the end we are going to agree with you”.
A representative of the Cambridge Hackney Carriage Association said: “This was an undemocratic decision forced upon the locals without consultation.
“The taxi trade attended today’s peaceful protest to object against this decision and in support of local independent businesses.
“As for us taxi drivers, we say do not discriminate against those members of society who are least able to walk and cycle. By restricting access to taxis the most vulnerable will pay more, roads will get more congested, adding to unnecessary pollution.
“Allow taxis to go where buses go”.
Tariq Ahmed of Adam Cabs said: “We fear that with the Mill Road closure our drivers will not be able to reach customers – like pensioners and those with disabilities – who rely on taxis.
“Plus going around the alternative roads means a fare hike for people who cannot afford it”.
A resident speaking at the protest, Meredith Lloyd-Evans, told the crowd: “For us residents round here one of the really big impacts has been the total lack of democracy.
“There’s been no consultations, there’s been none of the prescribed things that even with an experimental order like this — not an emergency order, please note, nothing to do with Covid – it’s an experimental order, and it’s an experiment on us that wasn’t notified to us either through the local media online, or through notices on the road or through letters through our door.
“The first we knew about it was when the traders and other people and the Residents’ Association, got together and told us about it.
“This is the combination of a really long-running feud between the city council and the county council. The city council looks after our own local issues and our own local interest and the county council is always trying to sort out traffic in a way that really gives us problems.
“This is just the total tip of the iceberg for us and it’s going to mean death to the really vibrant community that we have round here that’s got us into the top 10 vibrant roads in the UK, time after time”.
The protest started around 11am and was finished with the bridge reopened by early afternoon.
The county council issued a statement in response to the protest, explaining why the closure had to be implemented so quickly.
The chairman of the council’s highways and transport committee, councillor Ian Bates, said: “Receiving funding for more than 90 schemes to improve cycling and walking transport links across the county is good news for Cambridgeshire. It will allow people to get out and about during the pandemic while enabling them to stay safe and maintain social distancing.
“Just to be clear, Mill Road bridge will not be shut to all vehicles – it will remain open to buses as well as cyclists and pedestrians. The measures we are putting in place – such as wider footpaths – will allow for more pedestrian space, which will increase accessibility and is essential for people to adhere to social distancing as lockdown is gradually eased and our towns, villages and cities start to open up again.
“The money for the scheme is part of the government’s ‘emergency active travel fund’, and must be used within eight weeks. As we are in the middle of a pandemic, we are working on these projects quickly. However, these measures are only temporary and people will have the opportunity to feedback to us.
“We welcome all feedback from those affected by the changes, including shop owners, local residents, cyclists and those that worship on Mill Road. It’s important also to note that the changes are being made under an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO). The use of an experimental order allows for the consultation to run alongside the implementation of the scheme and amendments can be made to the scheme during the life of the experiment.”
Additional reporting: Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter