Are the Mill Road Depot plans turning into another Cambridge disaster?

There’s real concern that the new plans for the Mill Road Depot are losing sight of the vision and ideas that were so well captured in the SPD.

Just compare the images below.

  • “Integration with existing communities” was important. But now, from the North end, access is no longer a generous green entry from Ainsworth St, with a view through the site. Instead, it’s a tucked away footpath with a view onto tall buildings. From the South end, the YMCA building sits on the previous position of paths, forcing pedestrian access to the site onto the narrow road past the gatehouse.
  • Both rectangular open spaces are lost and fragmented. These parcels of usable green area looked really valuable since we lack them in Petersfield. Now, the YMCA building sits on one, reducing the trees in the south east corner to simple screening of its large accommodation block instead of public space. The northern other appears fragmented, more overlooked and swallowed up to provide larger houses.
  • Community facilities – at least any decent hall space – seems set to be owned by the YMCA and so would be legally owned for their charitable purposes – setting Petersfield up to lose them if the YMCA decide a different building would better serve their purposes, like the Methodist Church did and the County Council did… We’ve also lost the dedicated community building, of course – an acknowledgement in the SPD that the issue locally is the lack of community-focused, inclusive, welcoming space and not rented rooms – there are plenty of those already on Mill Road.
  • Parking is set at 0.65 cars per dwelling, plus visitors. This is the average of the 2011 census for Petersfield and Romsey we’re told. On a site that has to be accessed from Mill Road, and is so perfectly positioned for trains, bikes and buses, owned by the city council, why such a backward looking target? Besides, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign reckons the actual surrounding streets are more like 0.5 or under today.
  • The YMCA also blocks future visions to incorporate the former Mill Road Library into a viable community space, by sitting so close to it, well beyond the scale of the buildings intended for that area in the SPD. We’re losing the former “gatehouse green” and so damaging potential use of both of those buildings.

It was all going so well… we understand there is a rush to help secure government support for social housing, but can’t we do better?

You can still respond to the latest plans at


The Mill Road Depot Opportunity

There is going to be substantial community space on the Mill Road Depot site. Please go to the consultation on Thursday. We have had discussions with the city council and CIP.
PACT wants to see a true Community Centre. However, we keep seeing the role of a “community centre” reduced to rented space and deals and conditions. We do need better rented space – the borrowed spaces locally lack things like storage and access to open space and so we miss out. But that is only part of the story – Petersfield is isolated, surrounded by the railway and the city centre, inside the river; it’s under pressure constantly, at the geographic centre of Cambridge but a conservation area of housing; much of the housing stock is officially deprived – small, dense, old – as well as having economic “pockets of deprivation”; its population is incredibly diverse; and it’s now had a baby boom and the children are staying put, not moving out of the area as before. We need a Community Centre – with those capital letters. We need a common space that is everyone’s. We need the silly teenage youth clubs that I look back on with embarassment; we need the toddler groups open to anyone; we need robust rooms that can be freely used and can be a hub for this community.
We can’t gamble again on another organization providing this. We need a true Community Centre which can’t be lost due to another organization having different long term priorities – as keeps happening, because of the nature and position of Petersfield.
Please go to the Mill Road Depot consultation at 3-8pm on Thursday at Bharat Bhavan, the old Mill Road Library, and tell them so.
John, Chair, PACT.

AGM Tuesday 28th November

PACT’s AGM will be on Tuesday 28th November, at 7:30pm in the Alex Wood Hall on Norfolk Street (generously made available by our local councillors). Motions by email to chair at . Our main focus of discussion will be the Mill Road Depot area, particularly community provision on and around the site.

HistoryWorks, who you might have seen at our Party on the Piece, are running a ‘Singing History’ project over the next couple of weeks. It’s free to take part and sounds like a lot of interesting fun! Flyer: Railway Singers pdf flyer

Dear Singers & those who’ve not sung for ages! Come & join a ‘scratch’ choir!

Please do join us for a series of FREE railway-themed singing sessions!

To celebrate our voices and our community Helen Weinstein and the team sourcing the stories and songs at Historyworks, (Mario Satchwell and Tizzy Faller, Bethany Kirby and Jon Calver), invite everyone to help us mark the contribution of the Railways coming to Cambridge in 1845, a transformative historical moment which saw opportunities for travels, cultures, connections. Many of the songs are inspired by local history research and have details taken from the fantastic Mill Road History Society’s “Capturing Cambridge” reports.


Lyrics inspired by Cambridge’s past have been especially composed by the poet Michael Rosen and CBBC’s Horrible-Histories songwriter, Dave Cohen. The lyrics have been arranged for our ‘Railway Singers’ by the Music Director, Mario Satchwell, and by the Music Arranger for the project, Bethany Kirby.  Movement sessions will be led by Rebecca Powell with support from Angharad Walter, Performing Art Instructors at Cambridge Stagecoach.

SESSIONS ARE FREE! You are welcome to attend ONE or A FEW or ALL

There will be gospel and soul numbers, folk songs and much more! The Railway Singers will meet this Autumn and perform at the Mill Road Winter Fair from 11am to 12 noon on Saturday 2nd December, starting with a concert in St Philip’s Church and if weather permits parading four blocks to sing by the railway-inspired sculpture of the ‘Romsey R’ when it is unveiled by the artists, Harry Gray and Will Hill on the corner of Mill Road and Cavendish Road.


Thursday 21st September 7.30pm to 8.30pm at St Philip’s Church Centre, 185 Mill Road, CB1 3AN; and afterwards there will be a social from 8.30pm-9.30pm or so when we will walk around the corner to view the art studio of Harry Gray, the sculptor of the ‘Romsey R’ where Historyworks will provide free refreshments for the social, including beer from the local Calverley’s Brewery, apple juices from the Cambridge Organic Food Company, cakes from Fen Ditton, crisps from Corkers of Ely!


Please note most of the singing and movement sessions are on Thursday nights from 7.30pm to 9pm but there are a few Sunday afternoon sessions for recording soundscapes and songs, learning movements to accompany the gospel numbers, and these are programmed for 2pm to 4pm so that singers can easily bring along friends and family to join in!  All the dates and venues are printed overleaf on the flyer.  Celebratory Sing-Along will be Saturday December 2nd inside St Philip’s Church with a Rehearsal at 10am and Performance at 11am!

Professor Helen Weinstein

Director of Historyworks

twitter: @historyworkstv


Mill Road Depot Consultation

So the consultation yesterday was buzzing with local interest, protest and opinions. The Cambridge Investment Partnership has uploaded all their presentations to their website. You can provide feedback there too (at the bottom).

You can comment to us on our facebook page or privately to our trustees by email to

Thoughts and observations –

  • We heard it whispered that 1 car per dwelling underground parking might be proposed though the typical modern ratio is around 0.4 so not sure yet. This is clearly a fantastic area for public transport, walking and cycling, but at the same time we need to avoid overspill onto crowded residential streets nearby. it’s likely a residents’ parking scheme will be in force on all nearby streets before completion, though, and Depot residents would be unlikely to qualify (normal for new developments, I believe).  What is needed? What can Mill Road take?
  • The Argyle Street Housing Co-op were around and keen to see cooperative housing on site. This is one way to ensure that the site is not all sold to commuters, and can control car ownership.
  • There was protest outside for a full site of council housing. We’re hearing “40% affordable” officially and “50% social housing” less officially but openly from councillors. I’d also like to see any housing that is sold, to be sold in a way that allows people to buy it to live in it – i.e. not a huge up-front deposit two years in advance (which only works for investors).
  • The community building is looking a bit small and near the busy entrance. We’d rather see if up near Ainsworth St, on balance, with easier access from it to a large area of open space – that is key for some users and would enable it to host events. The only thing which might work against that is wider community use possibilities for the old library building (Bharat Bhavan) or gatehouse.
  • The odd wall of buildings facing Ainsworth St on Hooper St is there apparently on conservation officer advice, instead of a green space view from Ainsworth St. I know which I prefer – that seems a bad move that has nothing really to do with the history of the area.
  • Green, open space is looking a bit squeezed but still largely the same.
  • Building heights look similar to SPD.
  • The Ainsworth-Hooper-Depot Chisholm trail still has those two very tight turns for cyclists.
  • They’re seeking ideas for the gatehouse building.


Mill Road Depot – what we know

We went along to a pre-meeting with the development partnership which was interesting but they shared very little information. We hope to learn more on July 19th (3-8pm, Mill Rd Library, remember). My personal quick notes on what we seem to know so far…

  • Underground parking is apparently now considered viable after further study.
  • The plans have gone up to 230 homes from 167 in the SPD (planning outline) apparently largely due to the underground parking. (addendum: by my calculation, this raises density from 62 homes per hectare to 85 homes per hectare – which is similar to the very high density in the rest of Petersfield and not crazy for a town centre in isolation, but given the lack of green space and shortage of many types of facilities in the area, it needs watching).
  • The road access is as wanted locally – via Mill Road, because the narrow back streets can’t take any increase – but it sounds like parking and road access isn’t going to be discouraged as much as we might like to limit the use of Mill Road; they’re saying that with a good junction design (design in progress), Mill Road can take it. It’s hard to agree that Mill Road can take any increase, of course.
  • We heard nothing on community facilities, CWRC or other community provision (school, nursery, doctors, etc.) which are all under stress in the area. This is a huge red line for us – every major development in the area sends S.106 funding elsewhere in the city and we have shortages of everything. This can’t happen here.
    • Apparently the county council isn’t making any moves to increase school provision locally yet. It’s down to them.
  • The partnership have approached Hooper St garage lease holders – not clear if they’re asking to buy back leases or relocate them.
  • It’s a 50-50 partnership and appears to be closely tied to but we don’t know the terms. The website is
  • They’re aiming for a planning application in October
  • They emphasize it’s family, not student, housing.
  • The council’s 40% affordable aim is to be met but we don’t know how hard that commitment is legally (it’s routinely decreased during development on other sites, of course). From councillors, we hear the reality is intended to be more like 50% social housing. We haven’t heard more about cooperatives or other schemes (It matters to neighbours because cooperatives are the only scheme yet mentioned which can reliably limit car use). Nothing yet on other angles, like whether we can ensure more of he site goes to owner-occupiers, with the benefits to building community which would result.
  • The website shows no plans but the only sketch appears to show a reduction in “usable” green space in favour of trees (although moving some to the top, opening up the end of Ainsworth St, would be lovely).

Here’s the community facilities document we shared with the CIP:

A Community Centre for Petersfield – July2017

Norfolk St

Norfolk Street may be changing. There is a planning application to convert the Norfolk St Deli into a flat and another to change B’s Kitchen (previously our beloved Cook for You) into flats – though that one has been refused as too bad for the neighbours, for now.

Changing a shop in a “local centre” to a house requires exceptional reasons so objecting is powerful – what do you think? There are strong personal reasons for the owners, but we’re worried that this is a danger to the other shops in the area; Mill Road may be more famous locally, but Norfolk St has some great little shops and a lot of passing foot traffic at the weekend and on school runs.

The open application to convert the Norfolk St Deli is 17/1141/FUL.

The Petersfield

Just a quick update on The Petersfield.

Various neighbours of the new pub are very upset about issues with The Petersfield. We’re talking to them, to the owners/managers, to local councillors and others to try to help improve the situation as much as possible. Everyone – the City Pub Co. included – seems to want to get on, and we’re trying to our contacts to help. We’re not in a position to get legally involved, but we can advise anyone who would like to formally raise a complaint with Environmental Health etc. The licensing committee did not seem to recognise properly that the new pub has a significantly greater capacity and the use of the outside area is in much greater use. There may be a chance for a licensing review, but the best solutions might well be ones outside the scope of that process. So, we’re talking…