Mill Road update from Camcycle trustee Martin Lucas-Smith

A Mill Road without through-traffic gets public backing and cross-party support

Mill Road, a street full of wonderful independent shops heavily used by local people, has long suffered from excessive levels of traffic. Council figures state that some 12,000 vehicles a day have been using the street.

Our view is that Mill Road should be a street where people want to come, rather than use as a conduit for traffic. In other words, a street which offers good access to the wonderful businesses.

As there is almost no legal parking along much of the street, it is as plain as day that the bulk of this traffic is merely passing through, providing no benefit at all to the area. There are some 20,000 people who live within easy walking distance of the area and form much of the custom.

At the same time, the area has extremely high levels of walking and cycling – some of whom of course shop at the shops – on a road which at only 6m wide is totally unsuited for high levels of traffic. Mill Road has long been in the top 10 collision sites across the whole of Cambridgeshire.

The result is a whole range of problems that people have complained about for years: road danger, collisions, narrow pavements, poor accessibility, delays to buses, a polluted atmosphere, pavement parking, lack of delivery space, no dedicated disabled parking bays, little cycle parking, little seating, and more.

Cambridge News, 1973

In general, it is an environment where even those of us who are staunch supporters of independent traders get in and out of the street as quickly as possible – rather than being somewhere we want to dwell and spend much more time and money.

These are not new problems. It is now 49 years since the Cambridge News published the first calls to restrict through-traffic. Surely five decades is long enough to draw a line under the sand and stop the problem. The City Councils’ own newsletter in 1982 similarly raised the point that ‘people want to know how through traffic is to be kept out of the area’.

 

Modal filter during the pandemic backed by the public

During the pandemic, the County Council followed clear national government guidance and implemented a bus gate modal filter (restriction to through-traffic) for the two reasons of facilitating physical distancing all the way along the road and encouraging more walking and cycling. A public consultation followed, asking whether to make it permanent.

We strongly backed a permanent bus gate but argued that a series of changes were needed. We argued for exemption for blue badge holders, on which there is not much debate. Throughout the year we also strongly argued that there must be a series of streetscape changes, so that the space freed up from queueing traffic could be used for better purposes, including disabled parking, seating, delivery bays and even short-stay shopper parking.

Analysis of the traffic-counter data showed that there was no sustained increase on surrounding roads like Coldham’s Lane during the period of the bus gate.

The consultation found clear public support: 2,152 out of the 3,647 responses – some 59% – supported continuation of the modal filter on either a permanent or trial basis with changes. Only 41% wanted to retain the through-traffic.

https://www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/millroad2021report (Question 10, final page)

Despite this public backing, councillors at the July 2021 Highways and Transport Committee voted 8-7 to bring back the traffic but also to undertake a more wide-ranging consultation. This saw a casting vote by the chair against her own side’s ruling coalition to vote with Conservative members. She expressed entirely legitimate concerns about the lack of a guarantee of blue badge exemption access.

The debate can be watched at
https://youtu.be/YpOjJCEostc?t=4503 .

Subsequent work by the County Council has now established that blue badge exemptions can be achieved, thanks to changes in the law that have since come into place. Long-awaited implementation of Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 means that councils now have powers that enable exemptions to civil enforcement schemes like a filter on Mill Road.

A second consultation also sees a public majority backing change

A second consultation took place in 2021, asking for a wider perspective on the future of Mill Road, including whether there should be a modal filter but also streetscape changes. This second consultation again saw widespread interest.

The three interest groups – ourselves, the Mill Road Traders’ Association (made up of 27 of the c. 170 businesses on Mill Road) and Mill Road For People (a local Petersfield/Romsey campaign group, independent of ourselves, of over 700 local residents and traders seeking improvements to Mill Road) – worked together to issue an open letter. In the letter we jointly set out our common desire for a well-run consultation that is inclusive, as well as asking for an opportunity for each group to present directly to the council their views. The council took these on board.

Slide from presentation given at the East Area Committee in March 2022

At the East Area Committee in March 2022, the three groups each gave a presentation, which we found a useful means to present our views properly without the distortions applied to these by the pro-congestion community.

The traders’ group also presented their views, which amounted to an argument that there was no pollution or congestion problem on Mill Road. This flies in the face of clear local data and personal experience reported over decades. They proposed some changes that could be made, which in our view would not be achievable without fundamentally removing the dominance of the space by through-traffic.

The three presentations (including ours) and the debate, can be watched on YouTube:
https://youtu.be/KkVHtq1k0KQ?t=805

This consultation again resulted in clear public support for change.

The majority of the 1,975 respondents supported:

  • restricting motor vehicles from crossing Mill Road bridge (72%);
  • possible allowances for buses, taxis and drivers with disabilities and/or mobility needs’ (70%);
  • improve the quality of place, i.e. streetscape changes (83%).

Some 57% of the respondents identified themselves as drivers using Mill Road, and 83% of the respondents indicated they lived, worked, or had a business in Petersfield or Romsey. These clear figures invalidate the incorrect claims made by the pro-congestion community that the survey was somehow dominated by the cycling campaign. A clear majority, coming from people who live locally and who drive on Mill Road, backs restricting through-traffic over the bridge.

The consultation report can be seen at:
https://www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/millroad2022report (Figures on page 12).

 

72% of survey respondents, the majority of whom live locally and who drive on Mill Road, back restricting through-traffic over the bridge.

Cross-party support for a TRO to restrict through-traffic

On 12 July 2022, the County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee met, and considered the results of the consultation.

They also heard public speakers from Mill Road For People, the Mill Road Traders’ Association, and ourselves, all of whom had applied to the County Council to speak to address the meeting in the public questions section.

In light of the clear support for a restriction on the bridge to through-traffic (72%), support for exempting buses, taxis and disabled users (70%), and streetscape changes (83%), there was unanimous support across the committee, from all political parties, to proceed to a Traffic Regulation Order which would implement a restriction and to develop public realm improvements.

Members from all the parties spoke and unanimously agreed that the process had been much improved and formed a good, solid basis to proceed to the TRO stage. As one of the Conservative members of the committee rightly stated, ‘What we now have in front of us is the results of a very comprehensive consultation, that very clearly gives us the views of the public and the residents’, and supported the proposal.

It was resolved to:

  1. note the review undertaken by the GCP of Mill Road;
  2. agree to consult on a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to reinstate the modal filter on Mill Road;
  3. Agree to consult on exemptions to the TRO, including disabled residents and taxis;
  4. Agree to work with the Combined Authority and GCP to develop a public realm improvement scheme along Mill Road;
  5. Agree to monitor and review traffic levels in surrounding streets should the modal filter on Mill Road be reintroduced; and
  6. Continue to work with GCP on the Network Hierarchy Review of the Cambridge road network.

We congratulate the committee on this outcome, which has been the culmination of many years of debate and multiple consultations.

The meeting can be watched on YouTube at:
https://youtu.be/GNRF9DP4X38?t=6047

What happens next?

Now that the Highways and Transport Committee has decided on the principle of the scheme, we await the advertising of the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). Although a TRO is technically a consultation, it is not a consultation in the sense of seeking views on the principle of a scheme (which is now decided) – it is merely the legal process advertising the proposed change. Councillors then determine the outcome.

We understand the TRO has been delayed, due to personnel shortages in the County Council transport department.

The working up of streetscape change proposals does not yet seem to have started. We are keen to work with the council on this. We would like to see council officers doing walkabouts with members of the Traders’ Association to determine the best locations for street furniture such as dedicated loading bays and disabled / shopper parking spots. We understand also that the independent Mill Road For People group has developed a layout map that could be taken forward as part of this.

We strongly want to see a coordinated approach to the changes. We believe the streetscape improvement plans must be developed quickly over the winter period, so that they can be brought in at the same time as the permanent bridge restriction.

We believe that all of the changes should come into place during the late spring or summer months, when the transition will be easiest. At the moment, traders are facing a difficult period with energy and other costs, and whilst we do not accept any suggestion that the bridge changes would cause an overall loss in trading, we do not believe it is right to ask them to deal with transport changes at the same time as trying to manage the current energy costs crisis.

A final word

The debate over Mill Road has been long and fractious, but it is clear from all the evidence that there is a long-overdue need for change as well as public support for such a change. It is time for those against the changes to recognise that this debate has concluded, and that all need to work together to implement as good a scheme as possible. We also deplore the ongoing misrepresentations that we are aiming to ‘ban’ cars from Mill Road – we have in fact proposed the addition of new parking and the reintroduction of the bus gate means that it will again be possible for blue badge holders to stop and park on Mill Road for short stays.

Making Mill Road easier to access, rather than drive through, will have clear medium-term benefits for residents, transport users, and traders alike. With the right streetscape changes, the street can really thrive as a fantastic place to spend time and money.