Mill Road: what happens next?

It’s nearly a year since experimental restrictions were introduced on Mill Road. On 24 June 2020 motor vehicles (except buses) were prohibited from crossing Mill Road bridge and temporary road narrowings were introduced along the street. The aim was to free up more space for people to keep a safe distance from others during the Covid-19 pandemic and to increase the safety of those living, working and shopping in the area, or travelling through on foot, by cycle or using a mobility aid. As the time approaches to make a decision on how to take these measures forward – to remove them or make them permanent with or without amendments – we summarise the latest news and how you can support making Mill Road a safe space to breathe in future.

Who makes the decision on Mill Road and when will that happen?

The changes to Mill Road were made by Cambridgeshire County Council (the highways authority) as part of an ‘Experimental Traffic Regulation Order’ which is in place for a maximum of 18 months. The trial was subject to a public consultation during the first six months of the scheme, with an online survey during the last six weeks. This closed on 24 December 2020.

On 18 February, the council announced that owing to a large number of duplicate entries to the online survey, it was not possible to analyse all the data in time for the March meeting of the Highways and Transport Committee. The decision was re-timetabled for the June meeting, after the elections. With a new administration in place, the Chair and Vice Chair of the committee have changed and they have decided to postpone the decision further – to the July committee meeting – to allow more time for them to consider the issue. Highways Chair Peter McDonald said: “Along with Cllr [Gerri] Bird, we need time to understand all the information we’ve received, including the consultation responses, and review all the evidence which has been compiled, speak to partners and officers working on the project which will take some time.”

What factors will influence the decision?

The response to the public consultation and survey are important, but the issue is not a referendum; other evidence will play a part in the decision. Throughout the trial, data have been gathered on traffic and air quality. Evidence on aspects such as impact on the reliability of the bus service will also be taken into account. Councillors will need to consider how the scheme fits in with national and local policies, including the Local Plan and the Local Transport Plan.

Nationally, the government would like to see half of urban journeys walked or cycled by 2030 and its Gear Change policy sets out an ambitious plan for increasing levels of cycling. This week, it again made clear that the funding for cycling schemes (including the emergency active travel fund which paid for the Mill Road trial) is dependent on their ambition: measures must involve protected cycle lanes or point closures to through-traffic which will help ensure they meet their goals. The Department for Transport wants all schemes to be “given sufficient time to bed in” and may recoup funding in cases where they are prematurely removed.

What is Camcycle’s position on the issue?

Camcycle has always been in support of the experimental bus gate as it supports our vision for Mill Road as a thriving community street which prioritises walking, cycling and public transport. We believe the scheme has significantly improved public safety in line with its original aims: by facilitating social distancing and minimising the risk motor traffic poses for users of sustainable transport modes, thereby encouraging more people to walk and cycle. We have noticed more families cycling along the street and air quality seems to be noticeably improved.

However, since the scheme was installed in June 2020, we have called for improvements to address concerns raised locally and by our members. These include an accessible replacement for the plastic buildouts and better overall access for those with disabilities, along with more support for traders’ needs such as delivery bays and short-stay parking for shoppers. We have sought engagement with, and ideas from, the local community throughout the trial – leafleting residents on several occasions and, in December 2020, urging local people to share their ideas for ‘Mill Road 2021’, as the street recovers from the pandemic. On our YouTube channel you can see videos of the some of the people we have interviewed about the scheme.

Does Camcycle share the views of Mill Road For People?

A new, non-partisan group called Mill Road For People has recently published some proposals for the street. It is independent of Camcycle, though members are not restricted from being involved. Camcycle is an organisation run democratically with member involvement and discussion has begun on the recently-published policies from Mill Road For People. Many of the ideas align with those we have put forward in recent years, but there are some key areas for discussion, including:

  • The proposal to consult on permitting (some or all) taxis over the bridge. This is not a proposal that is in line with Camcycle’s current policy, and members may have wide-ranging views on this.
  • The proposal to allow registered traders’ vehicles to be allowed to cross the bridge – this is not our current policy but could help address issues with deliveries.
  • The proposal to introduce a registration scheme for blue badge holders. The county council put forward their position on this last year and made clear that blue badges are issued to people, not vehicles – many blue badge holders are transported by family or carers in a variety of vehicles. Therefore the practicalities of a scheme like this could be difficult. However, Camcycle would like to see improvements to disabled access and believes it is important to include disabled communities in the conversation so that an appropriate solution can be found.

It’s great to see the discussion developing around the Mill Road of the future with ideas such as an electric shuttle bus, improved pedestrian crossings, promotion of local businesses and community-led street art being put forward. We see that comments on the Mill Road For People website also include suggestions for a local mobility scooter loan scheme, a regular farmers’ market and bunting or flags along the length of the road.

How can I get involved with the campaign for a better Mill Road?

Contribute to Camcycle’s discussion on Mill Road in our members’ forum on Cyclescape or share your views with us by email or on any of our social media channels.

Email your local county councillor (find them here) and the Chair (Peter McDonald) and Vice-Chair (Gerri Bird) to share your experiences of the trial and your ideas for improvements.

Cycle, walk and shop on Mill Road – show the community your support and talk to local people and traders about your experiences.