Today (23 June 2020) marks 122 years since St Matthew’s Piece was given to the people of Petersfield “for the recreation of the inhabitants for ever.
Now the tranquillity of the small park is under threat from developers who want to build a large block of student flats on the northern half of the original Piece.
The pandemic means Friends of St Matthew’s Piece, who oppose the development, can’t throw an anniversary party. But a small group will gather (safely) at 3pm on 23 June to mark the day with decorations and readings.
St Matthew’s Piece was opened in 1898 specifically to provide healthy public open space in a very crowded part of Cambridge. It is needed more than ever now.
Temporary cycling and walking measures are being put in place across Cambridgeshire during the Coronavirus crisis to help people get out and socially distance during this pandemic.
One of the first schemes is Mill Road, Cambridge, where from Wednesday, 24th June work started to widen footways using temporary barriers. Where footpaths have been widened, the road will be narrowed and there will only be sufficient carriageway width to allow one vehicle past at a time, so give-way features will be introduced at each section of widened footway.
Mill Road Bridge has been closed to all vehicles except buses and cyclists, the closure will be enforced by signs and automatic number plate recognition cameras.
Many of Cambridgeshire County Council’s schemes are being authorised under Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETRO) which will be in place for 18 months.
The first six months of each ETRO will be a consultation period.
One rumour needs to be put to rest immediately. There is NO plan to make Mill Road a one-way road in whole or in part. This idea was mooted at one point, but it was removed at the request of Mill Road’s county councillors – Linda Jones (Petersfield) and Noel Kavanagh (Romsey).
If a road is currently a narrow two way street where motor vehicles need to slow down to pass each other, changing the road to a one way street will increase vehicle speeds. Vehicle drivers may also be tempted to drive faster because they do not expect any oncoming vehicles.
If motor vehicles speeds increase, this will reduce how safe the road is.
It appears to be a hang-over from last summer’s gas-main works along Mill Road (simultaneous with the bridge works) when there was a suggestion that to ease the gas-main works there should be one-way traffic along the Petersfield (city end) section of Mill Road. This was dropped as likely to create more problems than it solved.
The question was asked, within county highways, whether this would be a useful element for the Covid-related Experimental Traffic Regulation Order.
Mill Road’s ‘Community of Communities’ have the two local Cambridgeshire County Councillors – Councillor Linda Jones, Petersfield, and Councillor Noel Kavanagh, Romsey – to thank for ‘having our backs’ on this, both insisting that bus service provision must be at the heart of any scheme for Mill Road.
This report presents evidence that investment in better streets and places delivers quantifiable commercial returns. Businesses, residents, developers and visitors all benefit from investment in the public realm and walkability.
Promoting walking and cycling now underpins much national and local policy, with a strong evidence base showing the benefits for health, air quality and the wider environment. Active travel also complements efforts to revive high streets and create liveable, vibrant communities. Although walking and cycling infrastructure requires less comparative investment, it has generally been treated as the ‘poor relation’ of infrastructure spending and is still often an afterthought in urban planning. At a time when public resources are scarce, improvements to streets should be attractive to governments seeking high returns from public spending.
The business and commercial case for investing in walkability remains a challenging area within which to make robust claims about commercial returns. This is largely due to the absence of evaluations at the post-build or post-intervention stage. Five years on from the publication of The Pedestrian Pound hard, quantitative assessments remain very rare.
Does investment in the public realm and walkability create additional commercial benefits? There is a growing body of qualitative and case study evidence which, when evaluated alongside the available quantitative data, shows public realm investments deliver significant, cost-effective benefits to consumers and businesses.
The plans include the closure of Mill Road Bridge to private motor vehicles, a step that many residents have requested for some time. Currently, it is impossible to socially distance while walking or cycling down the road, especially once on the bridge, yet doing so is crucial to containing the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown cannot be eased safely without taking extra measures such as this.
The positioning of some barriers isn’t well-thought-out…
This has prompted us to publish a separate post – How is it working so far… – looking at barrier positioning, pavement safety and the problems on Mill Road Bridge. It is ironic that measures to increase space for pedestrians, leads to pavements being blocked by vehicles. This is, as another trader pointed out to us, “An accident waiting to happen.”
It is noteworthy, though, that Arjuna have long been pulling their vehicles onto the pavemen for loading/unloading. They have said that it “helps the traffic” Unfortunately it prioritise drivers of motor vehicles over pedestrians, including their own customers.
Blue badges belong to individuals, regardless of whether they are a car drivers or not. They can be used by friends and relatives when giving the blue badge holder a lift etc. So they aren’t tied to a car, but an individual, so not sure how easy access would be given…
There is also a form to ‘send a supportive message to the County Council’.
Need for signage to help traders…
Will Mill Road have clear signage at both ends? It is essential that Cambridgeshire County Council install something appropriate, like this…
We contacted our local Cambridgeshire County Councillors.
When the Mill Road Bridge was closed as a result of GoviaThameslink’s work, last summer, there was, at least initially, inadequate signage to inform vehicle drivers and others that all of Mill Road’s businesses were open, but the bridge was closed.
Members and officers worked hard to get GTR to comply, for which thanks is due.
With the Covid-related works about to commence, trust there will be no issues with signage this time, as it will be entirely under the Highway Authority’s remit. I attach a suggested sign, though I’ve no doubt that the county team, in consultation with Mill Road’s Traders, will be able to come up with an improved version.
Mill Road Bridges
I agree about the need for signage and I specifically raised the issue of the inadequacy of last summer’s Signage with Cambridgeshire County Council. They stated that under the current measures they can create specific signage and are not bound by the DfT handbook. Keep a watch on this and feedback concerns.
Slogans have been sprayed on the carriageway. Whilst the slogans are a little cryptic, they would appear to express opposition to the plan to limit the bridge to cyclists, pedestrians and buses.
And, this being Mill Road there are a variety of viewpoints…
There is no doubt that this graffitist is in favour of restricting traffic over the bridge. As is this one, on the Romsey side…
Cambridge Independent have a report on the on-road graffiti – Mill Road spray painted with protest messages – though Alex Spencer seems to have missed the hand-drawn and hand-written graffiti in support of the Cambridgeshire County Council plans. We have contacted Alex to let him know. (And, no, neither the on-road nor the on-sign graffiti were from our organisation, nor the website manager in a personal capacity.)
Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner is reported as calling the scheme “ill thought-out” and condemning the county council for failing to consult the public beforehand.
I know that the county council are keen to spend the money they have been given by government but a rush-job is not going to give us the best outcome.
We need a scheme that works for everyone and which respects the unique character of Mill Road. Mill Road will not be the same if traders are pushed out of the city and we lose independent shops that have been hit with one crisis after another.
Daniel Zeichner MP quoted by Alex Spencer, Cambridge Independent
The money 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 and closely with the city and district councils. However, these measures are only temporary and people will have the opportunity to feedback to us. We will listen to all feedback, including that from shop owners, local residents, cyclists and those that worship on Mill Road.
Cllr Ian Bates, Chairman of the Highways and Transport Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council, quoted by Alex Spencer, Cambridge Independent
There has been much comment, recently, in national news media, of central government decisions made ‘on the hoof’ and drafted ‘on the back of a fag-packet’.
To be fair, safeguarding measures which would not be delivered until (say) December after prolonged consultation would be about as much use as a chocolate teapot. (Other metaphors are available, if you area on a low-carb, low sugar diet.)
It is also worth noting that local councils (of whatever political complexion) frequently complain of initiative-itis from central government (of whatever political complexion) of inadequate funding and inadequate revenue-raising powers.
Whilst the proposals to allow more pedestrian space are welcome, there appears to have been no mention of protecting pedestrian space in Mill Road, East Road, nor elsewhere.
Why does no Experimental Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting pavement parking appear to be under consideration?
Pavement parking is a menace in ‘normal’ times – particularly, but not exclusively, to people with disabilities, physical, visual, auditory or hidden, to young children, and it is wrecking Mill Road’s pavements, which were not designed to carry vehicular traffic. There is, indeed, aggressive driving onto the footway.
An Experimental Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting pavement parking would help pedestrians keep their distance during this pandemic. It would also give lasting benefit to residents and traders.
And Cambridgeshire County Council have had powers to deal with this for over nine years.
Councils with civil parking enforcement powers (including Cambridgeshire County Council) were given ‘special authorisation’ in February 2011 by the (then) Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Norman Baker, to prohibit parking on footways and verges, wherever they considered it necessary. This would be through a traffic regulation order (TRO, or ETRO).
There would be no ongoing cost to council tax payers.
Enforcement would be self-financing as penalty charge revenue would help to pay the salaries of the existing enforcement officers.
Currently, enforcement officers need to wait to investigate the reasons why a vehicle is waiting (eg lawful loading/unloading or unlawful ‘Just popping into the shop’ waiting). Drivers know that they can come out our the shop or take-away say, “Sorry, I’m just going,” and get away with this misuse of pavements, time and time again.
At the present time, outside of Greater London, parking on the footway is not unlawful. But driving on the pavement is. Spotted the obvious logical flaw?
However, where a pavement parking prohibition is in place, it is breached the instant a vehicle mounts the footway, for whatever reason. Enforcement officers could issue an immediate Penalty Charge Notice.
It is my belief that Cambridgeshire County Council should introduce an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting pavement parking along the length of Mill Road, where the footways are subjected to such abuse, and on East Road (which is particularly prevalent around the burger outlet).
There may well be other areas around Cambridge where similar ETROs would be of benefit.
Peterborough, which is a Unitary Authority brought in a city-wide Traffic Regulation Order prohibiting pavement parking in 2017. Although this is a Conservative-led authority, it was proposed by Labour councillors and gained multi-party support. The clever thing they did was to bring in a overarching Traffic Regulation Order and leave implementation to be a matter for discussion where local communities, or the emergency services requested it, or it was otherwise seen as essential.
A Unitary Authority means that Peterborough City Council have all of the responsibilities which, in Cambridge are split between Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council.
Peterborough City Councillor Richard Ferris, Labour member for Park ward, said:
“It’s unusual when you get cross-party support like we did at the meeting. It’s a massive issue in Park ward. It’s up there as one of the top half-a-dozen issues people contact me on.”
Perhaps Cambridgeshire County Council are waiting for central government to introduce a national ban throughout England (save for permitted exceptions, such as in various Romsey side-streets). Despite having their own powers.
The House of Commons Transport Select Committee discussed this in September 2019. The Chair at that time, Lilian Greenwood MP, said:
“Pavement parking has a huge impact on people’s lives and their ability get around their communities. […] evidence to our inquiry revealed the impact on those with visual and mobility impairments and people with children.
“We are deeply concerned that the Government has failed to act on this issue, despite long-standing promises to do so. This is a thorny problem that may be difficult to resolve to the satisfaction of all, but the Government’s inaction has left communities blighted by unsightly and obstructive pavement parking and individuals afraid or unable to leave their homes or safely navigate the streets.”
The Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:
“I am pleased the Government has taken on board the previous Committee’s concerns about the very real difficulties presented by pavement parking and our proposed solutions. […]
“However, we have to now deliver this change. The Government promised to look into the issue in 2015 but consultations, roundtable events and internal reviews failed to lead to any actions to improve the experience of the public. This Government has signalled an intent to finally deliver change. We now need a detailed timeframe from the Department for Transport to ensure this happens.
“In publishing today’s Response, we are putting the Government on notice that we will be monitoring progress carefully. We look forward to reviewing progress on each of the pledges and our Committee has committed to a further evidence session in 12 months’ time to drive real change.”
But Cambridgeshire County Council has had powers to prohibit this menace since February 2011. What are we waiting for?
Do you have views about the measures which Cambridgeshire County Council are taking? Would you like to walk along a vehicle-free pavement? Whatever your view, as long as it is expressed politely, you can add your comments below.
I make it 118 responses that I’ve been copied into – all negative, in varying degrees.
There is a significant groundswell of opinion in the local community against the development. There is already enough student accommodation in the local area and we would urge the developers to reconsider.
Petersfield residents have spoken loud and clear...
The proposed building, on stilts above an existing structure, would rise 19.7 metres (nearly 65 feet) above the ground at its highest point. It would tower over surrounding terraces and the popular tree-lined public open space.
The worry now is that the developers will push ahead with this monstrous scheme anyway, or scale back only cosmetically – to something like the grotesque proposals provisionally floated and loathed back in 2014.
How is the lockdown affecting our Muslim community? Our Web-Editor receives email updates and thought it would be good to share these with the whole Mill Road ‘Community of Communities’.
THE MOSQUE GOES ONLINE
The lockdown required the Mosque to close for prayer from the middle of March. After ten years of hard work to make the project for a new mosque in Cambridge a reality, Muslims and all Mill Roaders were been saddened to see it close, albeit temporarily.
Look, however at what a vibrant team of volunteers is doing to keep Cambridge Central Mosque at the living heart of Cambridge Muslim life, and serving the whole community.
TUNE IN TO LIVE BROADCASTS FROM THE MOSQUE
Listen to the adhan, Qur’an recitations, lectures, and much more as they’re happening, on the Mosque’s Live Media page.
It will come as no surprise that, throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Muslim community have been vigorous in efforts to help the whole community: Critical Care Unit at Papworth Hospital; Jimmie’s Homeless Shelter; vulnerable families & individuals; Iftar Supplies to Addenbrooke’s.
In the olden days, by which I guess I mean way back in mid-March, the railings at Ditchburn Place were full of posters, and I used to like browsing them as I walked past. Even if they were advertising events to which I couldn’t go, it was nice knowing what was going on in Mill Road or elsewhere in the city.
Now the posters have been taken away, but at intervals a moving poster asks us to ‘help brighten the day’ for all the residents who are staying in their flats to keep safe but who are missing their friends and families. The idea is that passers by tie ribbons to the railings or a coloured rainbow or another decoration.
And as the photographs show ‘we’ have responded; there is a lovely variety of things here now, and I’m sure more and more will appear. The idea of tying things to trees, or to buildings is a very ancient one, and one which appears all over the world. In places like Nepal and Bhutan strings of prayer flags flutter from trees and buildings so that the wind sends the prayers to the gods. In other cultures, tourists fix padlocks to places like the Eiffel Tower or to the Ponte dell’Accademia in Venice; I guess as a statement of ‘I was here’.
I have added several ribbons to the Ditchburn railings; some on behalf of people who are having a tough time or who are not going out right now, and one as a kind of talisman; good luck to us all, and to Mill Road and its future. If you’re planning to be out in this part of the road do put into your pocket a bit of ribbon or wool or whatever, and add your own.
Thank you, Ditchburn residents for coming up with this idea and, in your words, helping us all brighten a sad and worrying situation.
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’?