Mill Road, Cambridge

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Mill Road is a good example of the common problems for residents across the City.

With a modest effort by the Police, the familiar, chronic problems could be tackled:

Its shops are suffering with high costs - rent and rates. The last greengrocer, Covent Garden Centre, closed in November 1997 due to this. The closure of the Library in 1996 has caused a significant drop in trade for shops.


Mill Road traders were worried about the knock-on effects of the CCTV system in the City Centre: these invariably push trouble to the surrounding areas. The Safer Cambridge Steering Group planned to have a greater police presence in these areas for this reason.

After 6 months of CCTV, some traders reckoned they were right.

However there is still no sign of any regular beat policing. Police cars and vans do appear for specific incidents - or to get take-aways.

In 1999 the Council agreed to extend CCTV to Mill Road.

Mill Road Shops' Shutters

One of the consequences of the lack of policing is that shop windows are frequently broken by louts. This naturally makes shopkeepers' insurers press them to install shutters, which they'd happily do, except that it's a conservation area [goodness knows why - it's not exactly the most glamorous spot in the City - it's for real life]. The City Council was backed up by a Department of the Environment inspector (CEN 18-Jan-1996) in its refusal to let any more shopkeepers have shutters because it would spoil the area [and vandalised & closed shops wouldn't?] The central city conservation area was extended to Mill Road up to the railway bridge.

The Council's deputy director of planning, Steve Egerton, suggested shopkeepers put in smaller windows to present less of a target. The Director of Planning, Peter Studdert, said (CEN 29-Aug-1995) they were sympathetic to the shopkeepers' concerns about security but "if they took the trouble to talk to us and the Police before installing metal roller shutters, we could suggest alternative measures that would meet their needs but would not create such a hostile environment at night time. If all the shops in Mill Road were to install metal shutters, it would not prevent vandalism but encourage it, and the local residents would be the real losers." He did not say what these alternative measures might be.

Gavin Staples (Haverhill) points out (CEN 25-Jan-1996) that the City Council is ignoring its responsibilities and the rights of ordinary people to protect themselves. People are paying taxes yet not being protected and being prevented from providing their own. (There is a similar problem in Haverhill.)

Certainly the shopkeepers should consult but Mill Road is already a hostile environment at night (see above). Vandalism in the form of graffiti would appear on shutters but they would prevent the expensive damage and theft which is such a problem at the moment. Perhaps the shutters could have murals to forestall graffiti? (Not a good solution but perhaps the sort of thing to appeal to planners?) In any case there are shutter designs that should be acceptable to them.

Without shutters, shopkeepers won't be able to afford insurance and will inevitably move somewhere safer, so Mill Road will die as a thriving shopping area for the local community, further encouraging the vandals.

A planning application for modified (lattice metal instead of solid roller) shutters for Mike's Bikes was considered by the Planning Committee but turned down. Planners are suggesting internal grilles behind the glass or less obtrusive external grilles. The shop appealed and lost, submitted a second application which was rejected and appealed against that, unsuccessfully. The shop is now using an internal wide-mesh grille.
(CEN 19-Jul-1996, 23-May-1997)

Townsend's Cycles, further down Mill Road outside the conservation area, got retrospective planning permission for shutters, installed at the recommendation of their insurer - they've suffered three raids.
(CEN 23-Oct-1996)

Mill Road Shops' Signs

Not content with preventing shops having necessary security, City planners are now trying to clamp down on shop signs. Jon Harling of the Jug and Firkin was told to take down his modest illuminated sign, even though there are many larger and more obvious signs on other shops. It had been there for 16 years but planners refused to renew permission as it's now in a conservation area. A larger sign at the Nip In convenience store was changed in 1997 (from mainly yellow to mainly green) with no fuss.

As Ron and Betty Wilbraham say in a letter (CEN 5-Jul-1996), as this part of Mill Road is a conservation area, when will the residents get a correspondingly higher standard of street cleaning and removal of eyesores such as window boards on their Library?

Mill Road Library

The County Council has boarded up the windows of this Listed building since closing it at the end of March 1996. The reason given for closure was a lack of money, both for normal operations and for building maintenance. It was said that locals could easily get to the Central Library. Yet in mid-1997 when the 9-month closure of the Central Library for refurbishment was announced [subsequently abandoned], use of Mill Road was ruled out as it's away from the city centre (and is too small and has insufficient parking).
(CEN 15-Jul-1997)

The Mill Road Traders' Association is understandably furious at the apparent double standard re boarding up. John Burgess, environment officer for the City, asked the County Council to apply for a Listed building consent form, which they duly completed and it was accepted by the City's Planning subcommittee.
(CEN 19-Apr & 16-Sep)

The County Council offered to improve the boards by painting them black and making them a better fit.
(CEN 17-Jul-1996)

Meanwhile there was an intensive campaign by local people and Councillors, with support from The Cambridge Evening News, to reopen the building as a community resource. As of Nov-1997 it seemed likely to become the base for the Indian Cultural Association and as of Oct-1999 it might be coming into use soon.