Mill Road Bridge restrictions end – but what of the future?

By CB & RW

In the real world the relationship between cause and effect can be difficult to trace but that is the task that Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee faced in deciding the future of Mill Road Bridge. 

Nobody doubts that Mill Road Traders experienced hard times during the pandemic, but was their hardship the result of restricted access to Mill Road Bridge? Or could it have been part of a wider decline in trade, which caused huge retail giants such as John Lewis and others to teeter, with Debenhams, Top Shop and others vanishing from our High Streets and shopping centres?

The Highways and Transport Committee’s decision to reopen the bridge, which was passed by the acting Chair’s casting vote on Tuesday 27th July appears to endorse this correlation. A connection between poor respiratory health prior to lockdown and pollutants that exceed those levels considered acceptable by the WHO, was not endorsed by that majority of one.

This followed a noisy demonstration the previous Saturday, which highlighted the strongly-held opinions on both sides of this issue.

image as caption
Protest by people opposed to the experimental closure on Mill Road bridge
Picture: Keith Heppell (linked from the Cambridge Independent website)

Cambridge Independent‘s Mike Scialom put it accurately – Mill Road bridge closure protest reveals divisions that will take time to heal. The article has embedded videos which show City Councillor for Romsey ward Dave Baigent, who supported the bridge restrictions – but as a city, rather than county councillor, had no vote on the implementation of the ETRO and has no vote on the future status of the bridge – being roundly abused by some of the demonstrators.

A Cambridge Independent report –Mill Road bridge in Cambridge set to reopen after single deciding vote – by Alex Spencer also includes photos and videos.

Over at Cambridge News, Christy O’Brien reports: Mill Road Bridge to reopen to traffic after controversial closure.

A live report of the meeting, from Camcycle can be found here on Thread Reader App here.

The positive aspect of this decision is that there will be a consultation on the experiences of residents and traders and the impacts that removing the restrictions on the bridge will have on health, collisions and an upturn in trade. These are trends that must be monitored.

Cambridge Independent‘s Gemma Gardner reports that work to reopen Mill Road bridge to all vehicles is set to begin on Tuesday 3rd August – Date set for work to reopen Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to all traffic. Whilst Cambridge News‘s Harry Gold advises Drivers warned Mill Road Bridge not yet open to cars.

Meanwhile, there is a question mark over whether the abrupt ending of the scheme could have financial implications for Cambridgeshire County Council’s future central government (DfT) funding for active transport schemes.

£338 million package to further fuel active travel boom

Funding for infrastructure upgrades, changes to The Highway Code and new requirements to ensure that active travel schemes’ effects are properly assessed.

Department for Transport and The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP

In a sign of the growing frustration within government at some councils, both Conservative and Labour, which have removed active travel schemes in the face of sometimes noisy objections, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris is formally writing to the leaders of all English local authorities with transport responsibilities.

Peter Walker Political correspondent, The Guardian

Read the full article: Hastily abandoned low-traffic schemes could cost councils funding

But how can we all help our much-loved restaurants, cafés, pubs and independent shops to thrive? Promotion would be a start.

Gwydir St Car Park (car symbol)
For Mill Road’s great restaurants, cafés,
pubs, independent shops and much more
Could we have signage like this on Gonville Place?
Mill Road (cycle symbol, pedestrian symbol)
Great restaurants, cafés,
pubs, independent shops
and so much more
And signage like this on the Chisholm Trail, at the railway station, on Parker’s Piece and at the Collier Road exit of Anglia Ruskin University

This post is open to (polite) comments. Before commenting you might wish to read 10 views on the decision to reopen Mill Road bridge in Cambridge to all traffic, compiled by Cambridge Independent‘s editor Paul Brackley.

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Sarah Oliver
Sarah Oliver
4 August 2021 10:51

Good ideas on promoting Mill Road. I’ve always thought that it should be promoted at the station as a more interesting (and not longer) route walking or cycling to the centre – much more interesting than going up Station Road and Regent St. It would give tourists a broader view of Cambridge life than just visiting the Cam Univ sites.

Shapour Meftah
Shapour Meftah
31 July 2021 10:05

Mill Road Traders' Association logo
Press Release 29 July 2021

Mill Road Traders Association represents 168 businesses along Mill Road, and as an association, we are committed to working cooperatively with all groups and all individuals to ensure that Mill Road remains the heart of our vibrant community.

As traders, we want Mill Road to be accessible to all and to provide a safe access to homes and businesses for every member of our community.

We feel strongly that the county council should have consulted with us before deciding last year to close the bridge and should have taken issues of access and safety into consideration at the time the original decision was made.

We understand that comprehensive schemes to reduce vehicular traffic are being developed by Cambridge City Council in conjunction with Greater Cambridge Partnership and Cambridgeshire County Council, and we look forward to working with the councils on those proposals in conjunction with other business groups across the city.

We are also committed to lobbying local government for improvements in the cycling infrastructure in Mill Road and are pleased to already be in discussions or have contacted other stake holders including Camcycle as to how we can make this happen.
We want as many people as possible to be able to access our businesses via all available modes of transportation, including by cycle and on foot.

We hope that the county council’s decision on Tuesday represents an opportunity for all of Mill Road to engage in a collective discussion about Mill Road’s future, and that is a discussion that the MRTA will come to with an open mind, ready to listen and engage with people of all perspectives.

Shapour Mefthah, Chair, Mill Road Traders Association

Martin L-S
Martin L-S
Reply to  Shapour Meftah
6 August 2021 15:14


Your survey graphic claimed that 19 business closed since the bridge closure, implying this is because of the bridge change.

Why is that list still not published? Will you undertake to publish that list, so it can be scrutinised?

(There is obviously no data protection issue – shop closures are a matter of fact.)

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin L-S
Edward Jenkins
30 July 2021 22:00

Yes, I feel the Mill Road Traders representatives, together with individual businesses should now be more positive and proactive in approaching Cambs County (and City) Councils with ideas to make Mill Road once again attractive to potential shoppers, both from within the city and from outside areas. Certainly, imaginative and well positioned signage should be a part of this.

Oh, and a post script, ‘please no more party politics’!

30 July 2021 20:40

I just wanted to say – I’m very disappointed about the bridge reopening and I’m not a cyclist or anti-disabled before people leap on me. I walk everywhere with a pram and find it much nicer to walk downtown, and I worry due to pollution and asthma.

The method of the reopening seems totally bizarre, one woman got two votes because one of the politicians got pinged – I wasn’t sure if this is a joke.

But if one thing can come out of it, maybe the reopening lobby could turn its attention to ensuring disabled access on the pavements? I have a pram, as I said, and last week had to walk in the middle of the road the whole Romsey side of the bridge because vans were parked on the pavement making it too narrow. Fine for me, I just picked up the pushchair but for a wheelchair [user], impossible. And outside the parade near the opticians is the same. Given the hoards of vulnerable shoppers set to descend on Mill Road, surely these cars should be moved along and not allowed to force people into the road…?

Martin L-S
Martin L-S
Reply to  Laura
5 August 2021 12:28

The method of the reopening seems totally bizarre, one woman got two votes because one of the politicians got pinged – I wasn’t sure if this is a joke.

The vote was evenly split, 7-7, and so the Chair had a casting vote. This is entirely normal practice for any kind of committee.

One of the politicians did indeed get pinged, but they had a substitute member take their place, again as is normal practice.

PS I too am very disappointed too about the result. All the existing problems of collisions, pollution, poor disabled access, pavement parking, etc., will return. For now of course – there is to be a new phase of consultation.

Mick Brown
Mick Brown
30 July 2021 17:31

Cambridgeshire County Council, in their wisdom, placed the bus gate and build-outs on the bridge so people could stay two metres apart when crossing it during the pandemic.

This partial closure of the bridge was instantly latched onto by Camcycle and local political parties as coincidentally being the ideal way to control traffic on Mill Road.

But was it?

Putting aside the bridge’s height, it is simply a short part of Mill Road, halfway along, where there are no shops or other commercial premises. Why does this represent the ideal position for a bus gate? In my opinion, it doesn’t; it merely cuts the road in half logistically and causes social division and disadvantage. This was proven nearly 40 years ago with experimental traffic lights, and has been again recently.

In my opinion, if a bus gate is considered desirable after genuine public consultation, then there should be two, not one gate. Neither of them should be on the bridge, which would again create one loser and one winner – Romsey with its parklets and Petersfield with all the taxis and station-bound traffic.

I suggest one gate near Tenison Road with the other near Coleridge Road. They possibly could operate during restricted hours with exceptions for disabled drivers, taxis and delivery vehicles. Between the two, the vast majority of businesses would be united in one commercial and social community.

Details would be a matter for consultation but it seems to me that the decision to reopen the bridge could be seen as a form of blessing, and to have kept it closed would have been an eventual disaster.

Don’t forget, the City Council Plan sees Mill Road as an ‘area of opportunity’, and developers are eyeing the area. Smaller landlords could sell up to them and upmarket accommodation with more expensive but fewer shops catering for commuters would soon appear. That would genuinely mean the end of Mill Road’s unique identity.

Reply to  Mick Brown
31 July 2021 17:05

The point of having the gate on the bridge, I think, was that every street on either side of it was still accessible to traffic by some route. I do like the idea of some sort of restrictions at each end of Mill Road rather than at its centre, especially if that could be done in such a way as to help discourage rat-running down Tenison Road. But it would have to use a method that allows access to residents, blue badge holders, and delivery vehicles, which I understand is impossible with current bus gate technology. Are there other ways of restricting traffic at those points that would discourage through traffic but wouldn’t cause these access issues for people who need to drive in the restricted area?

Mick Brown
Mick Brown
Reply to  Claire
5 August 2021 12:51

Yes, it shows that when we actually start thinking about it, it’s difficult to work out exactly how to do it.
The bus gate on the bridge fell down simply because officers couldn’t guarantee that blue badge holders could be allowed through as easily as taxis. The technology doesn’t allow it yet.
I’ve heard councillors say “there must be a way via technology”, but they were told it would take at least nine months and, even then, the barrier would need to be part of a citywide scheme.
Despite all the ideology, it could take a lot longer than six months to reach an agreement, unless a scheme is imposed like last time.
The barriers on Gwydir Street took a long time to reach agreement, and the ones around Fairfax Road etc several years. Mill Road itself is far more complex.

Martin L-S
Martin L-S
Reply to  Mick Brown
5 August 2021 12:45

Cambridgeshire County Council, in their wisdom, placed the bus gate and build-outs on the bridge so people could stay two metres apart when crossing it during the pandemic.

No, the bridge restriction to through-traffic was put in place in order to facilitate safety along the whole of the street, not just the bridge itself. These were (1) to enable social distancing by the shops, because if you have through-traffic of the previous volume people basically can’t step into the road, and (2) encouraging walking and cycling by minimising the safety threats from traffic, as per the government policy change clearly announced on national TV in May 2021.

The published Statement of Reasons stated both of these:

Cambridgeshire County Council has made the above named order in response to the Covid 19 emergency. Installing a Bus Gate at this location will alleviate traffic congestion in an area where the close proximity of habitations, shops and other businesses promote high levels of pedestrian and cyclist traffic. Preventing through traffic and prioritising bus movements will enhance safety by making it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to maintain at least a 2 metre separation whilst they conduct their business as well as minimising the threat of other vehicular traffic. 

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