Cambridge – still protesting on multiple issues despite the Covid-19 lockdown

TL:DR – 18 months ago I wrote about Cambridge being a protesting city. What’s changed?

The above-mentioned blogpost is here.

Unlike last year, I can’t get out and about filming due to shielding. With Romsey Town next door being the latest place to record a spike (however small) in cases of CV19, I can’t take that chance. Not for other people anyway. Given recent years I’ve come round to reconciling that my best years are behind me – and that given what’s happening with the planet (‘heatwaves in the Arctic’ are not the sort of headlines that give you peaceful nights) I’m anything but optimistic for our collective future.

“So, who’s protested against what?”

Extinction Rebellion are back following recent court cases. I’ve not been able to stay in touch with what’s going on because of lockdown and my own health, so am out of the loop so to speak. As I fall into the “We’re doomed” category I don’t get to complain about those taking actions trying to do something about it. I’ve seen very little evidence from Whitehall and Westminster that they appreciate the scale of the challenge let alone the new international institutional systems that are needed to respond to it to mitigate as much as possible the worst of the impacts. Because as well as proper melting ice caps, the scoundrels in control of governments where there are big rain forests are still letting them burn out of control. In 2020. ***I thought Blue Peter got this one sorted with the Earth Summit in 1992!?!?!***

Mill Road split

The closure of Mill Road Bridge to motor traffic except buses has caused problems for a number of businesses, while at the same time in principle being welcomed by some sustainable transport campaigners, although the latter have issues with the means of delivery. Essentially it has put the Mill Road Traders Association in opposition to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.  Again I’ve not been out and about on Mill Road regularly enough to get a feel for it myself other than to say the temporary barriers to create wider pavements are highly unsatisfactory – making it impossible for people with mobility impairments to cross roads where the barriers are. At the moment it looks & feels like the barriers have been put up and left there rather than being part of an ongoing process that will transform the road one way or another.

Planning and building protests

The Easy Hotel proposed for and granted planning permission by the city council due to the broken planning system has let to legal proceedings being taken by residents of Newmarket Road. I don’t blame them – and the brand doesn’t make itself popular with those protesting on issues of tax avoidance. In the meantime on Hills Road, the plans for the site of the Flying Pig and surrounds have finally been tabled – as expected completely ignoring the views of the thousands that are rallying round to save the old pub that dates from the 1800s.

Above – spot the pub.

Not surprisingly, last year the Duke of Westminster’s property arm Grosvenor’s published a survey showing that 98% of the public did not trust developers. As I’ve said before, the system is broken and the present lot of ministers are of such low calibre they have no chance of overhauling it. Not with the pandemic, the climate emergency and the self-inflicted crisis of Brexit looming all at the same time.

Protests over exams

Cambridge University was deluged with correspondence from its former students following the outcry on the A-level exam results – forcing it to take action to avoid ending up with a much higher than normal intake of privately educated students. The mess still is not over for those students taking BTECs either, and those are disproportionately from working class backgrounds. Inevitably the mainstream media focussed on Oxbridge and Russell Group universities (those with medical schools).

More planning and environment protests

Up near Fen Ditton locals have been protesting about plans to move the sewage works from Milton to their part of the county but given the financial value of the site and the number of homes planned for the North East Cambridge site, along with the cash incentive from Whitehall to cover remediation and moving costs, it looks like it’s just a case of where to put the new water and waste treatment plant. Local concern is about vehicle journeys and industrial strength foul air pollution. The existing smell at Milton is utterly rancid.

On another piece of city infrastructure – this one being transport-related, residents in Romsey Town forced Network Rail to go through proper processes over their proposed trainwash on railway land that backs onto their gardens. It was a bit of a monster this one – *nine metres high* at one point of the proposed design, far higher than many of the buildings in either Romsey or Petersfield next door. It was a shame they had to raise so much money to pay for the legal advice to force Network Rail to climb down – the Cambridge News reporting that up to £10,000 was the cost for commissioning a formal legal opinion from a senior barrister specialising in that area of law.

Protests in support of the NHS

Let’s face it, the frontline and support staff have been brilliant in the face of ministerial incompetency and are still having sand kicked in their faces as ministers use emergency laws to hand lucrative contracts to their chums for non-delivery of goods and services. Hence why The Good Law Project has already tabled multiple legal papers against The Government on a number of contracts.

Protests against the loss of open space in North Cambridge

Over 1,000 people signed a petition on this one but to no avail as the development of a new community centre and 78 council flats was approved. A tough one to call on this because that part of Cambridge is lacking in publicly accessible large green spaces, and if anything is a victim of not great urban planning post-WW2. Those low density designed open estates with private gardens as standard were built in response to the social ills caused by slum developments in the Victorian era and before. What they didn’t and perhaps could not have known was that the population densities were too low to sustain some of the essential shops and services people need on their doorstep. Unfortunately what we’re seeing now is that developers are either putting in the bare minimum of community buildings, or simply not building or allocating space for them at all.

Anymore for any more?

Oh – there’s an occupation and new community centre at one of my old regular haunts – The Hopbine. The property owner inexplicably raised the rent of this otherwise buzzing local where I’d have a pub dinner every Monday before music rehearsals pre-lockdown. The operators not able to make ends meet decided to surrender the lease. No one else has taken it on. It sat there for ages until very recently when some activists familiar with occupations decided to turn it into a social centre with all the necessary CV-19 precautions in place.

Above – The Lockon at The Hopbine. As you can see I quite like the improvement.

Notice on the wall: Don’t try and evict the occupants without a court order.

For those of you interested, they host regular community lunches – see their FB page for details.







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