People are asking me why I support the partial closure of Mill Road Bridge. There are two reasons. First and foremost, this is because it is a safety measure. Second because it is something that Romsey residents tell me they want. I will try to explain, but I have to make clear that this is my view and not necessarily Cambridge Labour Party’s. But first I will start with a quote from a resident who emailed me.
Romsey Labour canvass throughout the year, this normally amounts to knocking on people’s doors between September and May. We also hold monthly ‘meet your councillor’ sessions outside the Coop and deliver newsletters.
The biggest ‘ask’ from Romsey residents is to reduce traffic on Mill Rd; most people actually suggest something similar to the action county are taking right now. And remember Romsey experienced a bridge closure last year, so residents do have an insight into what they are asking for.
Continuing debate since last summer at a series of meeting with residents in Petersfield and Romsey, the final one attended by 184 residents and traders is noted online and also provided an indication that something has to be done about traffic on Mill Road.
As an elected councillor for Romsey, I am tested at election time. Last year I was re-elected and this suggests that people believe I will represent their views. Part of my platform was to improve safety on Mill Road by reducing traffic through a restriction on the bridge and to reduce pollution. It is interesting just how much pollution is currently reduced and to note pollution kills people, damages children’s health and helps to spread Covid-19.
Nonetheless, county did not close Mill Road Bridge to please the local population. They did it to protect people’s health.
Covid-19 is a killer and deaths from the pandemic are likely to exceed 50,000 people. Cambridge has lost around 80 residents, which in comparison with other areas is low. This I would suggest is because our population have been diligent. Most people were able to stay at home. When they did go out, they did so maintaining social distance. Shopping was largely done at supermarkets and/or using online deliveries. Some used organisations like Romsey Mutual Aid to get their shopping for them.
As lockdown eases and people start to go out, the scary potential is for local outbreaks to flare up and kill more people. County are therefore acting to reduce this risk and facilitate opening up the economy ‘safely’. In particular to facilitate social distancing in 90 locations across the city and county.
One of these locations is Mill Road. Before the virus, the pavements were always busy with pedestrians and the road was full of cars. This was part of the attraction of Mill Road, but now close proximity to others is seen as dangerous.
People have learnt how to stay safe and right now, despite government easing of lock down, people remain rightly wary of catching Covid-19. If people continue to shop big at the large supermarkets, this really will impact on our traders.
It is therefore necessary to widen pavements and improve social distancing to encourage people to return to Mill Rd. But pavements could not be widened with the amount of traffic that uses Mill Road and so it was necessary to reduce traffic. That is why traffic over the bridge has been restricted. It has not been done because Romsey asked for it. It’s not been done to hurt traders or commuters. It has been done to stop people spreading Covid-19.
We should recognise that it is not the bridge closure that is stopping pedestrians shopping on Mill Road; it is fear. Less traffic could affect some traders, but people who are in fear of visiting Mill Road will also reduce trade.
This closure took place as an emergency action. County did not ask our permission. The way this was done was not perfect and we will negotiate improvements, but this will take time.
As safety measures are recognised I hope the footfall will increase, particularly now it is possible to social distance. As walking and cycling increase so will trade. It will take time for this to happen, but with increased footfall traders should start to gain customers and hopefully people will use the large supermarkets less.
What is really going to affect Mill Rd and the local rental market is that around 10,000 Anglia Ruskin students are not returning. This is a situation that will only improve when we get to grips with Covid-19.
The very worst thing that can happen would be for Mill Rd to be seen as a site where people can catch Covid-19. Even a slight rumour could stop people visiting Mill Rd. If a Covid-19 outbreak were to actually happen around Mill Road (as in Leicester right now), then that really could Kill Mill Rd (and people too).
Cllr. Dave Baigent