Beehive Centre – Redevelopment

Public exhibition and digital consultation

Image of leaflet, headed:
With aerial view of location
More text:
Railpen would like to invite you to a public exhibition and digital consultation on our updated proposals for the redevelopment of The Beehive Centre.
Click the image above to view/download a 2-page PDF with full details.

The Beehive Centre is adjacent to Sturton Town to the north of Mill Road on the Petersfield (city) side of the railway.

Find out more about Victorian Cambridge & the Building of Sturton Town.
Find out more about the old Beehive Pub, on the corner of Ainsworth Street.

In June 2022 we held our first stage consultation on our proposals for The Beehive Centre at which we outlined our principles for development and asked for the local communities input to create a scheme that brings social value and tangible benefits to the local area and Cambridge.

The consultation was well attended and we heard and captured a wealth of insights and ideas from local people about what you value about The Beehive Centre today, and what you would like to see in the future. This feedback has informed our updated proposals which we are ready to show you at our upcoming consultation.

We strive to work with the people of Cambridge to reimagine a key strategic site, embracing sustainable and inclusive design through a vision to the creation of a new local centre with accessible, green and useable spaces to strengthen Cambridge’s status at the forefront of the science, technology and innovation sector.

four communications on behalf of Railpen

Public exhibition

Thursday 24th November – 2:30pm to 6:30pm
Friday 25th November – 2:30pm to 7:30pm
St Barnabas Centre, (Old Schoolroom) St Barnabas Church, Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2BD
No prior booking required.

Digital consultation

The digital consultation webinar will take place on Wednesday 23rd November – 6:00pm to 7:00pm

To register your interest for the digital consultation, the QR code on the PDF can be captured with your smartphone/tablet. Otherwise it resolves to:

If you are unable to attend either consultation nor the public exhibition but want to learn more you can email or phone 01223 960001.

Many of you will be aware that Railpen, who invest the Railways Pension Schemes’ assets, will be redeveloping the Travis Perkins site adjacent to Devonshire Road for long-term tenanted residential accommodation, and that, whilst this has been broadly welcomed by the community, some of the details of Rail Pen’s initial plans were felt to be in need of improvement. Of course, this is an entirely different project to the Beehive Centre, but we’ve referenced it to give context on Rail Pen.

Whilst this post is open for comments, and readers are welcome to debate the issues around the proposed development, this does not guarantee that four communications or Railpen will be able to engage with them on this platform.

Mill Road Community Centre – Update

Opening in the New Year!


Wednesday 16th November 2022, 7:30pm
Old School Hall, St Barnabas Church,
Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2BD

Please come and join Petersfield Area Community Trust and Romsey Mill Trust to find out more details about all the exciting opportunities.

Image of the new centre overlaid with "Opening in the New Year!"
Wednesday 16th November, 7:30pm
Old School Hall, St Barnabas Church,
Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2BD
Please come and join us to find out more details about all the exciting opportunities for volunteering; our proposed community programme; how the centre will operate & pay its way; an opening event, & even more…
Further details:
Your New Community Centre Needs YOU!
Click the image to download a printable copy of this poster

Please consider printing and displaying a poster to publicise the meeting. Share widely to let all of your friends, colleagues, neighbours and social media contacts know about the meeting.

What can you do to help make the Mill Road Community Centre a success? Email

Mill Road Rocks

Have you seen Mill Road’s very own rock garden just outside Ditchburn Place?

Transforming a hitherto derelict pocket of land by the entrance gates to Ditchburn Place, the Mill Road Rock Garden has been developed by local resident Fiona Smith and volunteers from the Mill Road Fringe, and is brought to you thanks to Love Mill Road – the charity which nurtures and celebrates the Mill Road community – and the generosity of Scotsdales Garden Centre.

Photo of painted rocks, in recycled frames, on a background of slate fragments.
Photo: Lenja Bell

Over the last few months local community groups, including Ditchburn Place residents themselves, have been painting rocks which are featured in the recycled frames. You can spot all sorts of different designs from slogans of encouragement, to cartoon characters to birds and animals and flowers. The Rocks are painted in acrylic paint and sprayed with varnish to keep them from fading.

Rock painting has been around for centuries but saw a revival during lockdown. It is something which is accessible to everyone and at every age. Rock painting has been proved to support mindfulness with positive benefits for mental health. It is also a great family activity.

Photo of painted rocks, in recycled frames, on a background of slate fragments.
Photo: Lenja Bell

Besides the residents of Ditchburn Place, Mill Road based Lifecraft, The Edge Café and Romsey Mill have taken part.  From further afield Rowan Humberstone – Arts centre and forest school for adults with learning disabilities – Arts and Minds – using the arts to help people living with mental health challenges – and Cambridge Manor Care Home have all painted rocks for the garden. Mill Road Fringe thanks everyone involved including the volunteers who have put it all together. The site awaits its permanent sign which we hope will be designed by someone with local connections.

There is room for the garden to grow!

Just help yourself to one of the blank stones near the end by the gate, bring it back once you’ve painted it and place it in one of the frames. If you know of a group that would like to take part, please email

Displaying the rocks at Ditchburn Place will enhance the local environment and improve a piece of land that was previously barren. It is visible, so people walking along can enjoy looking at them and long lasting, as we can encourage anyone in the community to add their own rock. We hope it will be a feature of interest along Mill Road for everyone to look out for and enjoy.

To find out more about the Mill Road Fringe visit Mill Road Fringe – Mill Road Winter Fair 

If you have ideas for future projects, please email or 

Mill Road Community Centre

Let’s get organised!

Petersfield Area Community Trust are holding an ‘Open Forum’ on Wednesday 5th October, 7.30-8.30pm in the Old School Hall, behind St Barnabas Church, Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2BD.

The meeting is open to all local organisations and individuals who would like to contribute to activities in the new Mill Road Community Centre, which should open before the end of the year.

The Community Centre will be jointly managed by Petersfield Area Community Trust and Romsey Mill.

Image of new community centre with Petersfield Area Community Trust logo
Text reads:
Wednesday 5th October, 7.30-8.30pm
Old School Hall, St Barnabas Church,
Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2BD
Whether you’re part of a local community group, or a willing volunteer, come and join us to find out more, let us know your ideas, and tell us what you can contribute to community activities at this exciting new local facility.
Further details:
Your New Community Centre Needs YOU!
Click on the image to download a printable PDF of this poster.

For further details, email

Please note: this is not about potential plans for the old Mill Road Library. (See our earlier post Mill Road Library – a community asset.)

Mill Road Library – a community asset

Can the Mill Road community put together a sustainable plan for the old library?

On Wednesday 10th August 2022, local community groups received notice from Cambridge City Council that Cambridgeshire County Council intend to sell the former Mill Road Library building.

City Councillor Mike Davey (Petersfield ward) convened a meeting on Wednesday 7th September 2022 which was attended by over 100 local people.

The Grade II listed building, where community and cultural activities have always taken place, is on the City Council’s list of ‘Assets of Community value’ detailing buildings or land which are felt to provide an important service to their community.

More discussion will need to take place, but two local community groups have registered an interest in making a community bid under the ‘Community Right to Bid‘ rules, which means that it cannot be sold until February 2023, to give the local community a chance to compete with commercial groups. There is much work to be done to make this project succeed but also a large number of people eager to make it happen.

Google street view of the Mill Road Library
Image: Google Maps

Many suggestions for how the old library could serve the community were mooted at the 7th September meeting. There was also warm welcome for the new Mill Road Community Centre which will be opening soon, on the Ironworks (former Mill Road depot) development and a determination that the two centres should work in close conjunction.

Suggested uses for the old library included:

  • an arts cinema, theatre, and venue for local musicians and literary activities
  • an art gallery and exhibition space focussing on local artists
  • a cultural space for Community Arts
  • a venue for the Cambridge Literary Festival

Speaking later to Mill Road Bridges, Piero d’Angelico, Mill Road Traders’ Association Ambassador, saw the old library project as analogous to running a business: “As a trader, I know what my outgoings are, and how much business I must do in order to cover my costs and make a living.” D’Angelico stressed that finding uses which generate a reliable income stream will be key to mounting a successful bid.

One attendee – a long-time Mill Road community activist – hoped that an arts cinema could provide such an income stream. Finding the right ‘niche’ would be tricky; there are three commercial cinemas in Cambridge – Vue, The Light, and the Arts Picturehouse. This latter, is part of a group undergoing ‘financial restructuring’. See: Cineworld files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in US.

It is worthwhile noting that Mill Road Fringe – an offshoot of Mill Road Winter Fair – will be showing three films soon. However, as these are free, they wouldn’t pay the bills!

Join Mill Road Fringe on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th September at St Philip’s Church for free screenings of three groundbreaking arthouse films.
These film nights herald the start of a new series of events by Mill Road Fringe over the course of the autumn, leading up to the return of the Mill Road Winter Fair on Saturday 3rd December. The films being shown are Microcosmos, Rocks and Flee.
Each film is distinctively rich, remarkable and conveys diverse narratives/stories. All these film screenings have free entry and are likely to be popular, so do turn up in good time to be sure of getting a seat. Feel free to bring your own refreshments (alcohol not permitted) and enjoy the show.
The films have been curated by Hitomi Shinozaki and Tony Jones, of Cambridge Film Projects. They are presented by Mill Road Fringe, which works in association with Cambridge’s Mill Road Winter Fair to nurture and celebrate the area’s community, creativity and independence.
Click the image to visit the Mill Road Winter Fair website for full details

Jordana Learmonthe from Cambridge Art Salon, a hub of local artists, has written to Councillor Davey to pledge the Salon’s support by committing to use the exhibition space, if the facility is provided, and thus some rental income will be ensured.

Another commentator was in touch with Mill Road Bridges to suggest that the building be divided into two floors, with one floor being rented out to an organisation, or to small firms, that can pay a market rent. That could leave the other floor for any community-related functions that complement the new facilities being built, rather than competing.

A number of attendees observed that a brand new, purpose-built community centre, immediately behind the old library, is scheduled to open late this year, seeing it as essential that activities pursued in the old library building be complementary to the new community centre, providing a different type of activity. The general feeling at the meeting seemed to support this aim.

John Franks, Chair of Petersfield Area Community Trust, told Mill Road Bridges, “Using the old library as a generic community centre won’t pay the bills; we have a really good purpose-built one next door!”

Asked if there is now a clear plan, Franks told us, “It’s more the case that people are still open and looking for other ideas.”

It’s down to all of you, in the Mill Road community: if you would like to help Petersfield Area Community Trust in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library, email

If it’s such an asset, why is it being sold?

It’s complicated… Here’s the view of local historian, blogger, and former civil servant, Antony Carpen.

I’m not going to go into the party political issues. I imagine this would have been a very tough negotiation between members of the [County Council’s] Joint Administration. I can’t believe that Labour councillors would have wanted the building to be sold off if there wasn’t a hope of putting together a bid for community ownership. But ultimately the past 12 years of central government austerity has meant councils across the country have had to take similar decisions because ministers and Parliament have not given them powers to raise revenues through much wider means.

Cambridgeshire County Council to sell the old Mill Road Library building,
Cambridge Town Owl (aka Antony Carpen) August 12, 2022

And a bit of history…

Sketch of The New Library, Mill Road, Architect J Waters
Image courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection, F.F.J96 25963

Mill Road Library, most recently in use as a Hindu temple, and now to be sold by Cambridgeshire County Council, was opened on Wednesday 2nd June 1897, by the Cambridge City Council. The library passed to the County Council’s control when all of England’s local government was reorganised in the 1970s, finally closing in March 1996.

A brief history of the building can be found here – From Books to Bhajans – on the Capturing Cambridge website. Also worth a read is Mr John Pink: Founding Father of Cambridge’s Public Libraries, 1833-1906, by Cambridge Town Owl, January 9, 2018.

In 1998 the Indian Community and Cultural Association became the new tenants, and erected some beautiful carved stonework inside. However, all was not well…

The Indian community organisation that took over the library were granted a 25 year full repairing lease on a peppercorn rent in exchange for maintaining the building fabric. This building which is grade 2 listed was considered a financial liability to the County so this was seen as a zero cost way of maintaining the structure.

Unfortunately the lessees did not spend any money on external maintenance in 10 years allowing water to enter the building and cause extensive damage. The City Council which is responsible in law to ensure listed buildings do not fall into disrepair served notice on the County Council about the deteriorating state and the County sent in surveyors who […] estimated the repairs to be in the region of £300,000.

Frank Gawthrop, local resident and activist

More here: The 5000-strong Cambridge community fighting against eviction by Debbie Luxon, Community Reporter, Cambridge News, 12 October 2019.

This left the superb carved stones at threat of being tossed into a skip and used as hardcore. See our earlier post: Beautiful Indian stonework under threat. Thanks in no small part to Piero d’Angelico, Mill Road Traders Association Ambassador, the stonework, believed to be worth £500,000, has been saved and is due to be erected in Ditchburn Place gardens. See: Cambridge temple archway wins planning permission for park installation by Alex Spencer, Cambridge Independent, 20 May 2022.

This blogpost is open for comments but, if you are able to help, getting in touch with Petersfield Area Community Trust is much more important.

Mill Road Library building for sale

Image: Google Maps

On Wednesday 10th August 2022, local community groups received notice from Cambridge City Council that Cambridgeshire County Council intend to sell the former Mill Road Library building. Full text of this letter is shown below.

Dear community group,

I am writing to advise you that the owner of the former Library, Mill Road Cambridge, has notified us of their intent to sell the property.  This property is on a list of ‘Assets of Community value’ which is kept by the City Council.  This list has all of the details of buildings or land which are felt to provide an important service to their community and as such, if they are sold, community groups should have an opportunity to raise the funds to purchase the asset.  You can see the full list of Assets of Community Value here:  Community Right to Bid scheme – Cambridge City Council

The owner of the former library cannot sell the building for a period of 6 weeks from the date they notified us of their intention to dispose of the property.  This is called the ‘interim moratorium period’.  The interim moratorium will end on Friday 16th September 2022.  You are advised that should your community group wish to be treated as a potential bidder for the asset you must notify us of your intent within this period, at which point we will inform the owner. 

If you do wish to be treated as a potential bidder you will have until Sunday 5th February 2023 in which to develop a proposal and raise the money required to bid to buy the asset, so long as you have notified us before 16th September.  Please note that the owner can sell to whomever they wish – this process is simply to allow community groups time to consider whether they wish to bid and if so, to have time to raise the funds for the purchase.

You should be aware that in order to be treated as a potential bidder, interested parties must qualify as a community interest group by a) having a local connection with the land, and b) falling within one or more of the following definitions;

  • a charity;
  • a company limited by guarantee that does not distribute any surplus to its members;
  • an industrial and provident society which does not distribute any surplus to its members and is registered or deemed to be registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965; or
  • a community interest company.

There is some useful guidance on whether a body qualifies as a charity here:

For guidance on community interest companies you could look at:

If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.

Yours sincerely,

Julie Cornwell (she/her pronouns)
Community Funding and Voluntary Sector Manager
Cambridge City Council
On behalf of the ‘Community Right to Bid’ scheme

Amongst groups to receive the letter were Petersfield Area Community Trust whose chair posted:

We are disappointed that the building is being sold, as we hoped the County Council would find a new community use for this historic building on a lease that kept it within public ownership. However, this process gives community groups a chance to assemble a bid, and we would love to hear from any group who would like to do that. Cambridge City Council manages this process for any community asset in Cambridge, so we or any eligible group have until Friday 16th September to advise them if a group would like to take this opportunity. Giving the City Council a notification of an intent to bid would cause a moratorium on the sale until Sunday 5th February 2023, in order to give the group the chance to assemble the bid, although this is still a tough goal in just six months. We are sure there would be huge community support for an effort to buy the building, and its location just behind the new Mill Road Community Centre may provide new opportunities for community collaboration. PACT would be happy to hear from any group which is not sure of their own eligibility to trigger the moratorium.

John Franks, Chair of Petersfield Area Community Trust
Read the full Petersfield Area Community Trust news release here.

If you would like to help Petersfield Area Community Trust in their quest to put together a community bid for the former Mill Road Library, email

Local historian Antony Carpen, blogging as Cambridge Town Owl, posted on Friday 12th August 2022, in support of Petersfield Area Community Trust, giving some of the background to the library, and its recent travails.

You can read his full post here: Cambridgeshire County Council to sell the old Mill Road Library building.

It’s well worth subscribing to Antony’s blog to get email notifications; just scroll down and find where to enter your email and click the subscribe button.

And if you’re in a position to make a donation to support Antony’s ongoing work, you can do so here.

This blogpost is open for comments but, if you are able to help, getting in touch with Petersfield Area Community Trust is much more important.

Cut The Clutter

Living Streets Week Of Action Week Of Action 2022 (11-17 July).

Pavement clutter might seem trivial, but it is a serious problem.

It can make getting around hazardous, especially for disabled people, older people and those with young children. If we really want our streets to be safer and easier for walking, it’s time to tackle this.

Living Streets

The Living Streets Cambridge group are campaigning at a local level. Blogger, vlogger, local historian, community reporter and all-round good egg, Antony Carpen, has filmed this short video highlighting some of the issues. Mill Road Bridges is happy to support this week of action.

Video by Antony Carpen for Living Streets, Cambridge

Antony produced this video without charge for Living Streets Cambridge. (Maybe we should say ‘pro bono’, this being Cambridge). If you would like to support his work please consider visiting Antony’s Ko-fi crowd-funding page and making a donation.

Then take a look at Antony’s blogs – The Cambridge Town Owl and Lost Cambridge – which are both well worth a read.

In an earlier blogpost – Pavements for Pedestrians – we have highlighted the hazard posed by the misuse of Mill Road’s pavement by vehicles parking, loading and unloading, together with the failure of Cambridgeshire County Council to exercise their powers to prevent this, at no additional cost to council tax payers. (And it’s not just a problem for Mill Road.)

Living Streets (nationally) is calling for local authorities to prioritise clearing footways and pavements through measures including (but not limited to):

  1. Banning all A-board advertising on the pavement
  2. Putting in place plans and budget to remove excess or unused street furniture (eg signs and poles, guard rail and utility boxes or phone boxes)
  3. Providing guidance to businesses using pavement space for outdoor entertainment that they must maintain a 1.5m pavement width
  4. Ensuring maintenance of trees and hedges that encroach on pavements
  5. Making a commitment that EV charging points and cycle storage will only be placed on pavements where 1.5m clearance width for pedestrians can be maintained; where there is insufficient space on the footway road space should be reallocated eg through the use of well-designed build outs.
  6. Ensuring that rental e-scooter parking is placed on the carriageway, and not on pavements – there is no need to sacrifice pedestrian space in order to support micromobility.
Living Streets

Some poor (and good) practice along Mill Road

Traditional street furniture
Bus stop near to al:amin stores, Mill Road. other details as caption.
Traditional bus stop replaced by passenger information board…
But the old pole remains, and the siting of the control box is out of line with the new pole.
Image as caption
Litter and recycling bins by Cho Mee stores, Mill Road. But why here?
This doesn’t seem like a litter hot-spot.

Image as caption
Wheelie-bins block the pavement on a side-street
A Rogues Gallery of vehicles along Mill Road’s pavements

Cycle stands
Image as caption
Cycle stands by Tu Casa obstruct the whole of the footway.
The area to the left is, legally, Tu Casa’s forecourt.
And, if they would like to have some outdoor seating, what then?
Cycle stands near the dry cleaner's on Mill Road.
Cycle stands on a shop forecourt are better, but cycles may ‘drift’ onto the footway.

The display-boards seen behind the cycle stands are on shop forecourts, but how many pedestrians know the difference?

The cycle stands in the slideshow below, however, are much better sited, being off the footway and well to the side of any pedestrian desire-lines.

If you would like to help cut the clutter on Cambridge’s streets, email Living Streets Cambridge.

You are also welcome to leave (polite) comments below.

Maths School on Mill Road?

Eastern Learning Alliance intends to open a new free school, Cambridge Maths School, a specialist sixth form centre catering for students across the whole of East Anglia.

This would be in the former premises of the Regent Language School, 119 Mill Road, Cambridge CB1 2AZ, at the western foot of Mill Road bridge.

Unfortunately, this came to our attention only recently, and well after the public consultation event on Wednesday 22nd June, at the Old School Hall, St Barnabas Church, Mill Road, Cambridge, CB1 2BD. We are, however, in time to inform you about the Section 10 Statutory Consultation, which ends on 29th July 2022.

Cambridge Maths School
Section 10
Statutory Consultation Summer 2022
Consultation ends 29th July
Click the image above to read/download the 6-page PDF

The Cambridge Maths School is set to open in September 2023 under the Eastern Learning Alliance, a Multi Academy Trust that is currently comprised of Impington Village College, Chesterton Community College, Witchford Village College, Downham Market Academy, The Cavendish School and Girton Glebe Primary School.

An initial site for the school has been identified on Mill Road in the centre of Cambridge. This is a repurposed language school, with science labs added to the already well-established school. The school will be open to 80 students across years 12 and 13.

It is the intention to eventually secure a larger site for the school to allow for up to 200 students. This site will also be in central Cambridge with similar excellent transport connections. Details will be made available as soon as a suitable site has been secured.

Cambridge Maths School consultation PDF

Mill Road Bridges sees advantages in new specialist facilities for sixth form students, however, there would cause for concern if parents were to be ferrying students to and from the Maths School by car. Whether or not new traffic restrictions are introduced on Mill Road bridge, an additional (say) 40 car movements in and out of the restricted access to this site, would amount to 160 additional vehicle movements each school day.

The academy trust refers to “excellent transport connections” and says:

Because CMS is a sixth form school, students will travel to the school in the same way they would be expected to travel to any other post- sixteen provision they would otherwise choose to attend. The location of the school provides excellent transport links for students travelling to the CMS from across the whole of East Anglia, being only 5 minutes from the Cambridge Station, and so students and staff will be expected to travel by public transport, cycling or walking and will not add any traffic to the area.

Cambridge Maths School consultation PDF
Note that the trust says “students and staff will be expected to travel by public transport, cycling or walking”. This is far from being an assurance that this expectation will be written into staff contracts, nor into the school rules for students.

You can respond to this consultation online, here. Note that the questions are identical to those in the PDF which you can read/download, above.

In the view of Mill Road Bridges, the most important section is the box: If you have any other comments or queries, please list them here. The online box appears to be able to expand to take an extended narrative comment.

You are also welcome to comment (politely) below. Yes, we are aware that an Education Minister recently gave a middle finger gesture to a crowd. We will not permit the equivalent on this website.

Please also note that any comments made here will not necessarily be seen by the Eastern Learning Alliance.

If you have a dream…

… but never thought you could do it…

Cambridge Community Arts, a Cambridge-based social inclusion charity, have just released their part-time, year-long creative courses for adults starting in September 2022. Their course programmes, offered in partnership with Cambridge Regional College, allow you to explore your chosen art form in depth. Course programmes on offer include Photography, Visual Arts, Music for Performance, Music Production, Creative Writing & Drama.

Cambridge Community Arts logo
Click the logo above to visit the Cambridge Community Arts website

Some of these courses are based on Mill Road and its side streets, with others in Arbury, Chesterton and off Newmarket Road.

Cambridge Community Arts
SEPTEMBER 2022 - JULY 2023 brochure front page
Click the image above to view/download the full 12-page PDF brochure

We bring people together in small groups in the community, to learn and practice all forms of art.  They gain in confidence, improve their mental health, make friends and in some cases get back to work”.

Jane Rich, CEO of Cambridge Community Arts
Photo: student painting
Photo: Toby Peters

Why not pop along to Cambridge Community Arts Open Day on Tuesday 12th July 2022 from 1pm-4pm at Arbury Community Centre, Campkin Road, Cambridge CB4 2LD, when you’ll have the chance to talk to course tutors, staff and past learners to find out more.

Courses are open to adults 19+ who live in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority area. There is a reduced rate for those on a low income or means-tested benefits. If courses become oversubscribed, Cambridge Community Arts prioritise those with health conditions, disabilities and/or unpaid caring responsibilities.

Full details and application form can be found on the Cambridge Community Arts website or phone 07763 280029.

About Cambridge Community Arts 

Cambridge Community Arts helps to build community, connections, and confidence through creativity. It offers creative arts courses in a safe, friendly, and supportive environment and creates healthy creative communities, by improving mental health, reducing social isolation, increasing educational achievements and progressing people towards employment. 

Registered Charity no. 1187718

St Matthew’s Piece Trees – Under Threat

A guest post from Valerie Neal, a Friend of St Matthew’s Piece

Local residents have been fighting to protect and conserve local amenity and environmental assets via Friends of St Matthew’s Piece since 30thApril 2020 – and, before that, via Petersfield Area Community Trust, since 1998). We stand on the shoulders of the giants who, 100 years earlier, in 1898 had established St Matthew’s Piece. This included planting the magnificent London Plane trees that provide all of us with such wonderful benefits today. Read more on the history of St Matthew’s Piece, on the St Matthew’s Piece Timeline 1890–2020.

Trees in Petersfield 

Consider how poor is the tree cover generally in the surrounding area. Our little St Matthew’s Piece is Petersfield’s only official park (versus the 56 parks in the other 13 Cambridge wards; see the 2018 Cambridge Local Plan’s Appendix C). Petersfield  is poorly provided for not only with regard to Public Open Space but also when it comes to tree canopy, number of trees, and tree coverage. All of this while Petersfield has the most densely housed population in Cambridge, living in properties that are predominantly very small houses or flats (with little or no private gardens; see p24 of the most recent Friends of St Matthew’s Piece submission to the Planning Portal).

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece are not the only ones to have noticed. A recent (late 2021) pan-European study included Cambridge in its review of 1000 cities – Green space and mortality in European cities: a health impact assessment study [The Lancet, VOLUME 5, ISSUE 10, E718-E730, OCTOBER 01, 2021]. This revealed that 68% of Cambridge residents do not have the WHO-recommended access to green space. 

These 68% are, naturally, not evenly distributed across Cambridge. The Environment ‘Domain’ of the latest iteration of the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation reveals that the area around St Matthew’s Piece falls into the 2nd most deprived of 10 deciles nationally, with regard to this parameter.

All of the splendid mature trees around the (now, tragically, privatised – in 2018) northern half of St Matthew’s Piece have continued to thrive, thanks to the twin protections of Tree Preservation Order No 4/2005 and their location within the Mill Road Conservation Area (1993). The benefits are mutual: these trees are themselves vital to the Mill Road Conservation Area. Check Tree Preservation Orders on the Cambridge City Council website here.

But that does not mean these precious trees are safe. 

A New Threat 

On 15th March, a scant week before the 22nd March deadline set by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning for the submission of comments, Friends of St Matthew’s Piece learned by chance of the ‘tree application’

22/0271/TTPO | T1, T2 & T3: London Plane – Reduce height by ~5m and spread by ~4m balancing crown of all three trees. Prune on a triennial cycle to maintain broadly at reduced dimensions. | St Matthews Centre And St Matthews Piece Sturton Street Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB1 2QF

This proposed a brutal cutting back of three of the original 1898 trees along Sturton Street: each by 5 m in height and 4 m in spread. Why? To address problems detected in a 25-year-old property at 193 Sturton Street – a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). The papers on the planning portal concerning 22/0271/TTPO are viewed by Friends of St Matthew’s Piece and other Objectors as scanty, flawed and contradictory, building a very weak case for any cutting back any of the trees – never mind all three trees. 

The trees are still at risk. The local community responded magnificently to an appeal from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece to defend them. Within five days, no fewer than 43 local Objections to the planning application were submitted. 28 have been uploaded under the ‘Documents’ tab of the Planning Portal for 22/0271/TTPO; as well as 15 Comments (all objections) under the ‘Public Comments’ tab. The objections are thoughtful, well-informed and effective – worth reading.

If you wish to add your voice to these Public Comments, you can register and submit your views right until the application goes to a meeting of the City Council Planning Committee. 

City Councillor for Petersfield Ward, Richard Robertson, has ‘called in’ the application, which means it can no longer be decided by a Planning Officer but must go before the Planning Committee to be determined. We don’t yet know when this will happen (the next meetings are 14th June and 6th July 2022). 

Arguments against the proposal are varied and wide-ranging. Many wrote in support of the importance, value, diverse environmental roles and beauty of these historic trees. The most powerful perhaps relate to water, as explained in pp 17–19  of the full submission by Friends of St Matthew’s Piece –Objection to 22/0271/TTPO.

The insurance company could spend upwards of £80,000 to underpin 193 Sturton Street, to address the subsidence they have found there since the summer of 2019. The alternative they propose instead is to severely cut back our three protected trees and spend around £8,000 to repair the cracks and redecorate. They argue that the damage to the house is due to the trees taking up too much water, and have tried to prove this by measuring the movement of the house at 8 different points over the course of 1 year, running May-to-May. Here is their graph:

Graph titled:
Precise level monitoring for points 1 to 8 - related to drain

But are our trees the true cause of this subsidence?

The lower curves on the insurance company’s graph, the ones showing the most movement, all echo precisely that seen – on a matching May-to-May horizontal axis – in the annual variation in soil moisture deficit (SMD). This 2nd graph is from the Environment Agency, based on more than 60 years of data. This shows a predictable and well established regional seasonal pattern in soil moisture deficit:

Environment Agency Graph 
East Anglia
Ranking derived from data for the period Jan-1961 to Dec-2017
Horizontal axis: May 2020 to May 2021
Vertical axis: soil moisture deficit (mm)
Source: Environment Agency Monthly Water Situation Report

Parts of 193 Sturton St have therefore been recorded as moving entirely in synchrony with the: 

  • longstanding, 
  • natural, 
  • firmly established, and 
  • widespread 

annual cycle of soil drying under the property. This occurs over the entire East Anglian region – irrespective of any effect of trees on St Matthew’s Piece. It is the view of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece that no evidence is produced in planning application 22/0271/TTPO that crown reduction and spread reduction of our three trees would have any significant or sustained protective impact at 193 Sturton Street – in the inescapable context of this annual hydrogeological cycle. 

Furthermore: many houses are just as close to St Matthew’s Piece trees but it is only this one that has cracks – the problem seems to be with this new house, not with these old trees.

Local residents may also recall the long-running dispute about the trees at Alexandra Gardens Residents set up 24/7 watch over Alexandra Gardens trees in Cambridge to ‘keep chainsaws at bay’ [Mike Scialom – Cambridge Independent – 06 August 2021]

How many more Cambridge trees will face similar threats, when the fundamental problem is unlikely to be the trees themselves but over-abstraction of water associated with over-development and its impact on the local water table?

If you would like to join Friends of St Matthew’s Piece or assist in any of the issues raised in this blogpost, kindly hosted by Mill Road Bridges, please email Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.