Wildflowers for St Matthew’s Piece

While many of us hit the shops for last-minute lockdown supplies this week, volunteers on St Matthew’s Piece were stocking the larder for insects.

Bees and other pollinating insects are essential to the life cycle of plants. But their numbers are plunging as the amount of open land dwindles and their sources of food disappear.

Volunteers from On the Verge Cambridge and Friends of St Matthew’s Piece came together on a sunny November morning to plant the Piece with hundreds of wildflower bulbs. On the Verge Cambridge works with schools and community groups to plant wildflowers in suitable spots, so insects don’t have to fly long distances in search of food.

Ben Greig and Jo Scrivens from On the Verge Cambridge, with volunteers from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece setting up their banners before planting wildflowers

The group planted anemones, bluebells, winter aconite, wild garlic, crocuses and snakeshead fritillaries, each in a different part of the park. When the flowers bloom, they will provide a rich supply of nectar.

Ben Greig from On the Verge Cambridge, planting wildflowers on ST Matthew’s Piece

St Matthews’ Piece is currently threatened by developers who wish to build a large block of flats on its northern edge.

Artist’s impression of the student flats hovering over the former Howard Mallett Centre like an alien spaceship

“It’s such a beautiful place, with all its stately trees – but developers want to cut some of them down,” said Janet Wright, of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

“So many people come here with their children or just to take a walk. From next year on, they’ll be spotting flashes of colour as various flowers start coming up. I just hope they won’t have a block of flats looming over them.”

“Quite a few people walking through the Piece were pleased that we were planting flowers and hoped the planned development wouldn’t be allowed.”


Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked (here) on Facebook.


Ben Greig and Jo Scrivens from On the Verge Cambridge

Find out more about On the Verge Cambridge, here, or email Ben Greig, Alice Willitts and Jo Scrivens by email at onthevergecambridge@gmail.com.

Under construction

Two major projects are currently under way in the Mill Road area – Maintenance and stabling sidings for Govia Thameslink Railways (with Trainwash facilities of huge concern to Great Eastern Street residents) and Ironworks, the former Mill Road Depot.

Mill Road Scenes
By Ed Jenkins
Cranes on the Former City Council Mill Road depôt and Ridgeon’s Cromwell Road Site developments in Petersfield and Romsey, respectively
‘Sentinels’ Over Petersfield!
A ‘Flock’ of Cranes’ Over The Bridge
Watching over Great Eastern Street!
Open Air Classroom On Site, North of Mill Road Bridge. Project Managers taking advantage of the good late Summer weather!
Cranes standing guard over the Bridge!

Peace campaigner now speaks up for the Piece

She defended her country in the Second World War — now Dorothy Runnicles is defending St Matthew’s Piece. 

By Janet Wright
for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

Dorothy Runnicles

Developers who want to build a large block of student flats on the edge of this small but well-used Petersfield park slipped a consultation document out in April, while most people were preoccupied with lockdown.

“As a former local resident, now 95, I totally reject the proposed centre,” Dorothy wrote to developers Federated Hermes, along with more than 100 local residents who also sent in their objections. Though confined to her present home in Gloucester by the pandemic, she sent her support to Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

After her wartime service in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, Dorothy became a pacifist, trained as a social worker and is still active in numerous community groups. In recent years she has advised the government, NHS and national charities on issues around inclusion and ageism. Due to represent the navy at the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Dorothy was instead phoned by the Princess Royal when all events were cancelled. 

A founder-member of Petersfield Area Community Trust, she has studied the results of increasing inequality, 20 years after a survey found that 10% of the Petersfield population lived below the poverty line. 

“The statement ‘We’re in it together’ has to be challenged,” Dorothy told Friends of St Matthew’s Piece. “The private business world is achieving what it wants. This area has a long history of continuous development, and of losing community assets.”

Petersfield, though densely populated, has less public open space than any other ward in Cambridge.

Artist’s impression of the student flats hovering over the former Howard Mallett Centre like an alien spaceship

“There are lots of people in Petersfield without gardens, some occupying one room in a house,” says Dorothy. “If people haven’t got gardens and haven’t got much money, they need free access to some open space. That’s being deliberately taken away from Petersfield.”

Click the image to learn about Super Matt’s campaign

The proposed student flats would be built above the former Howard Mallett youth centre – Dorothy notes that rates of youth offending increased after the centre was closed. Developers would also fell at least two of the mighty plane trees that are a feature of St Matthew’s Piece.

“Trees are extremely important,” says Dorothy. All the evidence shows there’s something important about the function of trees. Loss of trees is a health problem. Losing the big trees that are protecting our environment is extremely risky.”


Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked (here) on Facebook.


And see the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece campaign video…


Learn more about Dorothy on the National Development Team for Inclusion website, here.

Watch video recordings of Dorothy on Legasee – The Veterans Video Archive, here .


Planning Application – Former Sally Ann’s

Caro Wilson writes:

Please do take the time to study the details of the planning application and add your comments.

A recent view of the former Sally Ann’s shop, Caro Wilson

Readers may not be aware that before 44a Mill Road was the Sally Ann’s shop it was Fine Fare, Cambridge’s first self-service supermarket.

Fine Fare, Mill Road, courtesy of the Cambridgeshire Collection, from the Capturing Cambridge website

Before that it was The Playhouse, Cambridge’s first purpose-built cinema.

Playhouse c1936, from the Capturing Cambridge website

Do take note of its pedimented roof line and do go and take a look at the side wall where generations of children waiting for the Saturday film show carved their initials and made holes in the brick work with their copper pennies.

Side wall August 2015, photo by Simon Middleton, from the Capturing Cambridge website

Read all about the history of this important building 44a Mill Road on the Capturing Cambridge website, compiled by members of the Mill Road History Society

Your comments on the planning application on the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning portal could help to persuade the owners of this site to preserve as much as possible of its important heritage.


See also Redeveloping the Mill Road Playhouse Cinema, 26th September 2020, on the Lost Cambridge blog.


Whilst you may add comments below, these will not be seen by officers of the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning partnership, nor be taken into consideration by the Cambridge City Council Planning Committee.

Traders overwhelmingly in favour of re-opening Mill Road bridge to cars

“The current bridge restrictions are having a detrimental effect on Mill Road Traders, residents and shoppers”

This was the message delivered by Shapour Meftah, chair of Mill Road Traders’ Association to senior County Councillors, council officers and contractors, at a meeting, on Wednesday 9th September at 2.30pm on Donkey Common, (next to Parkside Pools).

Cambridgeshire County Council and contractors were represented by Chair and Vice Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, Ian Bates and Mark Howell, contractor Skansa’s Principle Engineer, Anthony Eades, and County officers; Sonia Hansen (Traffic Manager) and Andhika Caddy (Engineer).

Traders cited these reasons for opposing the bridge restrictions:

  • Added extra time to people’s daily travel/commute 
  • Causing not less but MORE pollution because alternative routes for car drivers take longer and are over-congested
  • No access to disabled badge holders and emergency vehicles
  • The bollards and barriers have narrowed the road and resulted in more major traffic incidents along Mill Road and danger to cyclists and pedestrians 
  • The dangers of the build out particularly to cyclists with on coming traffic as well as buses which try to overtake parents with their children 
  • Disconnecting people from one side of Mill road to the other; It was explained to those present that Mill Road is not divided by the two boundaries it is ONE road 
  • Following  the 2019 rail works on the bridge and the ongoing gas works one obstacle after another has paralysed businesses and Mill Road has not been given a chance to get back on its feet after months of national pandemic lockdown and enforced closure of businesses
  • Closing the bridge hasn’t helped at all towards social distancing which is, by the government’s own admission not such a risk when passing someone in the street (sic on the closed bridge itself which was the contrived reason given for its closure) whereas gathering or waiting outside restaurants may be
  • People don’t feel safe walking; the government emphasis on encouraging people not to use public transport has made people feel that they are safer in their cars.
  • A number of shops are closing down on Mill Road due to the lack of footfall which has been caused by the bridge closure to cars

The Mill Road Traders’ Association Survey results and the ongoing Open Mill Road Bridge Petition which has already attracted over 2000 signatures was  presented to Councillor Ian Bates and his team.

The survey assessed the impact of the bridge restrictions on both traders and residents within the Petersfield and Romsey wards.  187 Businesses were sent out surveys and 170 responses were received. The 17 businesses which did not respond are no longer trading at this moment. See graphics, below.

  • 4.8 % (8 businesses) in Mill Road support the current restrictions
  • 87.6% of businesses want the bridge fully open
  • 7.6 % of businesses don’t mind
  • 92.9 % are independent businesses
  • 7.1 % are not independent
  • 100% of businesses felt that the Council Consultation was inadequate
  • 76.5% of independent businesses say that they are suffering
  • 17.6% of businesses report no change
  • 5.9% say they have benefitted from the restrictions

Councillor Ian Bates responded was that the County Council are listening and will will be reviewing the results of the Mill Road Traders’ Association survey. For the time being, Traders and Residents have been advised by the County Council to send all their objections to: policyandregulation@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

Leading members of Mill Road Traders’ Association say that they doubt the sincerity of this ‘listening’, noting that the Minister of Transport who awarded the funds to the county for these ‘temporary measures’ Grant Shapps has forced his own constituency at Welwyn to reverse the restrictions on the high street saying that it benefitted no one.


See this comment, relating to one of our other posts about the one-way scheme and suspension of parking bays in Welwyn.

Mill Road Bridges Web Editor

The Mill Road Traders’ Association can be contacted for comments at millroadtraders@gmail.com.


Please note: Mill Road Bridges is happy to publish views from any section of Mill Road’s Community of Communities. And to host comments, replies and debate.

The publication of this post by Mill Road Bridges should not be considered an endorsement of the views of the Mill Road Traders’ Association nor of the objections to the Mill Road traffic-reduction measures and associated restrictions on the railway bridge. Neither should this statement be read as one of opposition to their views.

The press release, upon which this post is based, released under the name of Shapour Meftah, Chair, Mill Road Traders’ Association, continues with allegations of ‘collaboration’ and ‘bias’.

Mill Road Bridges does not wish to censor any viewpoint but declines to publish such allegations. Were the press release to be found on the Mill Road Traders’ Association website, we would link to that, for people to view and form their own opinion. The Traders’ website, however, does not appear to have been updated recently.

We take a similar attitude to comments on our website. We aspire to host polite debate on all matters concerning Mill Road.


See also:

Super Matt says Save St Matthew’s Piece!

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece have a new supporter – Super Matt the Super Squirrel in their campaign to protect their small Petersfield park.

Super Matt the Super Squirrel says, "Help! It's landing on the Piece! Your park needs you!"
Click on Super Matt to visit his Facebook page

Developers want to build a block of student flats that will crouch over the former Howard Mallett Centre like a spaceship landing.

Image of the proposed development.

The campaign’s new character Super Matt the Super Squirrel lives in one of the trees that will be destroyed if the developers get their way. He is warning neighbours in Petersfield about the threat.

And he’s urging them to sign up for the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece supporters’ email list. This will help co-ordinate community action when the developers put in their planning application.

“We want our beautiful trees, not a hulking block of flats,” says Janet Wright, of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

“Petersfield has less public open space than any other part of Cambridge, and very few trees. We can’t afford to lose any.”

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked on Facebook.


This post is open for (polite) comments.
But this is not an alternative way of contacting Friends of St Matthew’s Piece!


“These images are like a nightmare”

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece say, “The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings and shows no respects for the local community”

A proposed building that would tower over a Cambridge park is far more intrusive than developers’ illustrations show, say campaigners.

It would dominate the entire area around St Matthew’s Piece and throw neighbouring houses into deep shadow, new 3D images demonstrate.

“These images are like a nightmare,” says Janet Wright, a supporter of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece. “You can see this monstrosity crouching on top of the existing building, overshadowing ordinary little houses and filling the view from the Piece.”

Architectural projections skilfully woven into a newly released video [above] reveal the proposed student housing block, more than 19 metres tall, looming over St Matthew’s Piece. Local campaigners have likened the building, intended to house more than 100 students, to a ‘spaceship’ or ‘monster’.

“The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings and shows no respects for the local community,” says a local resident who has contributed key architectural skills to the production of this dramatic video. 

The video was made for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece by Mill Road TV. It marks the 122nd anniversary of the day the park was given to local residents “for ever”. Friends of St Matthew’s Piece celebrated the anniversary (23 June) with a socially distanced gathering, while calling on other local residents to join them in protecting the Piece.

Developers Federated Hermes have not yet put in a formal planning application, but have circulated their proposals to hundreds of local residents.

Press release from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece dated 6th July 2020

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted on Facebook, by email on Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com, followed on Twitter or Instagram.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development and Protect St Matthew’s Piece.


This post is open for (polite) comments.


Protect St Matthew’s Piece

Glenys and Dave from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece hold a celebratory banner

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece write:

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.

Janet Wright, FoSMP

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted on Facebook, by email on Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com, followed on Twitter or Instagram.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development and “These images are like a nightmare“.


Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece has had a massive response to their call for action against plans to build a block of student flats on the St Matthew’s Piece.

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

More than 100 objections flooded in to developers Federated Hermes, before the consultation closed on 18th May.

The FoSMP leaflet (PDF) urging residents to email the developers and copy in local councillors, is hosted by Petersfield Area Community Trust, which backs the Friends’ campaign:

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 councillor Mike Davey

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.

Friends supporter Valerie Neal.

St Matthew’s Piece April 2019, Google Maps

‘Stop development at St Matthew’s Piece and create a park’ says Cambridge PPF – report in the Cambridge Independent.

Read Cambridge Past Present & Future‘s response to the developers here (PDF).


Stay in touch with Friends of St Matthew’s Piece on Facebook follow on Twitter or Instagram, or email Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com.

You may also wish to contact your local Cambridge City Councillors:

If you would like to email Friends of St Matthew’s Piece with your three Petersfield councillors Cc-ed, use this link.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Protect St Matthew’s Piece and “These images are like a nightmare“.


You may also leave (polite) comments below this post.


Time for a Mill Road Plan?

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.

Mickey Flynn’s

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’?

Allan Brigham

Allan Brigham