Adjudged by The Times in March 2013 as 26th out of ‘The 30 coolest places to live in Britain’, over twenty-five thousand people live in the three Cambridge city wards – Coleridge, Petersfield and Romsey – which surround Mill Road.
Our community outnumbers the population of Wisbech, that of March, of Huntingdon, of Ely and of St Ives.
The Mill Road community of residents and traders are fiercely proud of their mile of independent shops, cafés and restaurants; we view Mill Road as our High Street, our Town Centre.
Cambridge is renowned for quality architecture and open spaces. But are we seeing this on Mill Road’? Two recent planning applications — Mickey Flynn’s site in Petersﬁeld and The Labour Club in Romsey — both support the claim that buildings are being parachuted into the street scene without respect for the surrounding area.
Recently submitted plans for this site have failed to respect the City Council’s advice that new developments should ‘Maximise the unique characteristics of the site to create a sense of identity’ and ‘Make a positive contribution to the character of the surrounding area’ (Design Guide. 2011). This site could and should be designed to enhance the surrounding area (perhaps opening onto a pavement café), but the plans only made a nod towards this option. The new proposed development rises above the pavement, while the building line comes forward towards Mill Road, reducing the existing welcome sense of space for pedestrians.
Development of this site is a one-off chance to enhance this area, bordered by one of Mill Road ’s distinctive historic buildings — the Bath House. The plans fail to recognise or add to the partial improvements made 15 years ago. These established a base-line by using high quality materials — recycled granite bollards; a special lamp column; Judas Tree; ground cover planting; and underground soakaway. The redevelopment of this former snooker hall should be the completion of this scheme — creating a ‘public square’ in Petersfield and bringing the ‘Cambridge’ quality into Mill Road. Revised plans awaited.
Romsey Labour Club
Over the bridge, plans have now sadly been approved by the City Council for the redevelopment of a piece of local social history — the Romsey Labour Club. Although ‘retaining’ the original facade, the old building will be dwarfed by a block of student flats. This mockery of the historic frontage reduces the important story that it tells about Romsey and is unsympathetic to the Conservation Area. The inappropriate use of materials shout at pedestrians, while the height will block out light from the surrounding streets.
Mill Road is at the centre of a Conservation area. No other arterial road in the city has this designation. The road’s history is central to the story of Cambridge. It is a ‘High Street’ in its own right. It serves the population of a small town in the surrounding catchment area, with the highest pedestrian footfall of any main road outside the city centre, but the City Council has no ‘Plan’ for Mill Road.
Developers exhaust planning officers and residents by first submitting applications that ignore planning guidance. They then return with plans that are marginally improved, and which are accepted. Too often plans lack aspiration and fail to reflect local knowledge. But what is built will be here for 100 years, and it is important that it is not ‘just good enough’, but ‘the best’. So, is it time to have a ‘Mill Road Plan’?
There was a time when the Cambridge News referred to Mill Road as ‘Street of Fear’, and the part of Mill Road ‘over the bridge’ was the most fearsome of all. Now though, things have changed with TravelSupermarket recently naming Romsey Town as the ‘14th coolest place in Britain’.
As a long-time Petersfield resident, it pains me to say that I am inclined to agree that parts of Romsey are cooler. I don’t think it’s because Romsey has better shops and bars – I wouldn’t like to bet who would win in a fight betweenUrban Larder and Garden Kitchen, or Fidelio vs Fabio – and we have some unbeatable gems on our side, Arjuna, Fantasia and of course thepeerless H Gee, to name but a few.
It’s all a question of layout. The Broadway area of Romsey has a village feel, something whichPetersfield doesn’t quite achieve. The widepavements on both sides of the road at TheBroadway are largely responsible for this.
So, is it time for Petersfield to up its game or be left behind? We’ve recently acquired a tailor, an upholsterer, an Italian trattoria and the eclectic Fantasia, but there are units empty before the bridge, whilst Romsey seems to have a far higher rate of occupancy. Why is this? Are the rents on the town side so much higher or is it just easier to keep a business going on the coolend of the street?
Mill Road News would love to hear from youwith your views on these questions.