Ann Byerley, Cheryl Smith, and Marti King, heard for the first time in January that their houses could be torn downIsobel Griffiths

Cambridge Housing Society (CHS), a local housing association, announced earlier this year that 18 residences just off of Mill Road were to be demolished, replaced by over 30 new houses and blocks of flats. Varsity spoke to three women who are campaigning to preserve the square many have lived in for decades.

Cheryl Smith, 60, Marti King, 73, and Ann Byerley, 67, have lived on Montreal Square, a cul-de-sac of 18 homes just off Mill Road owned by CHS, for 17, 40, and 43 years respectively.

It was in January that they first heard of CHS plans to demolish the current square. Residents were presented with little specific information about what the development would entail, as the housing society did not yet have any clear plans at that time.

A board meeting was due to be held in March to make the final decision about the future of the square. “We kicked up a stink”, says King, “so they cancelled it.” They now expect a decision on whether the existing houses will be demolished to come through in October.

Some residents of Montreal Square have lived there for decadesRosie Bradbury

A campaign led by locals, ‘Save Montreal Square’, began shortly after residents were made aware of the plans, and an online petition protesting the planned development has received over 1,400 signatures. The campaign received backing last week from Cambridge Defend Education (CDE), a Cambridge University student activist group, who shared the petition on Facebook.

They have held multiple demonstrations in the square, and pointedout that even on the “wettest day of the year”, over 70 people came.

Support has come from Unite, a British and Irish trade union that campaigns on many social issues, whom the women call a “lovely bunch”, and FeCRA (The Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations), as well as many local businesses.

“We’ve made a lot of friends” says King.

If the plans go through, residents will be rehomed and be given a £6,100 home loss payment from the government. When the new homes have been rebuilt, they will be able to move into one at the same rent as they were paying previously.

“They’ll have to force us out”

Smith, however, points out that the new homes will be much smaller than those that are currently there. King claims that “they’re ruining the place by overdevelopment. What they’re building is rubbish”, citing recent new builds that have required many repairs less than a decade after construction.

CHS told Varsity that they plan “to replace the current 18 houses with new homes of the right size for current residents to rent; plus as many low cost homes as possible and possibly some market sale homes”.

Residents have shown support for the preservation of the square Rosie Bradbury

Residents have also argued that the development would be harmful to the local environment. The square is home to 40 trees, all of which would likely be destroyed in the demolition. CHS, however, have said that a “generous amount of green space” will be created in the new square.

CHS has also claimed that the redevelopment is necessary, since “Montreal Square is the only CHS site in Cambridge suitable to build more new homes than exist there already.”

However, Smith points out that it is “black and white” that many of the homes will be sold for private ownership by CHS, and highlights that private homes nearby have sold for over £600,000.

“You know and I know they’re not going to put homeless people on this site, because there’s no money in it.”

CHS have said that the development will “possibly” include some market sale homes, “to help pay the costs of the redevelopment”.

“People say to me ‘you mustn’t get emotional’, but how can you not get emotional when you’re facing losing your home?”

However, they have assured the local community that “our aim is to increase the number of truly affordable homes at Montreal Square, not to make a profit.”

Cambridge is currently the most unequal place to live in the UK, according to the Gini coefficient, which measures equality based on wealth distribution. The number of rough sleepers in Cambridge doubled between July 2016 and July 2017, and many Cambridge residents found themselves forced to move away as house prices soared.

The women say that most of those residents who are against the development have refused to speak the CHS about any sort of rehousing. They describe the current situation as a “stalemate”.

A Choice to Look – an original Varsity documentaryVarsity

The residents have been told that they can contribute to the design of their new homes on Montreal Square. King, however, feels that, “If we engage in a conversation about a new design it means we’re listening to what they have to say”.

Byerley agrees with King:“they’ll have to force us out.” King adds, “I would chain myself to the trees outside if I had to.”

“People say to me ‘you mustn’t get emotional’, but how can you not get emotional when you’re facing losing your home? You’re going to fight for what you believe in.”

Byerley is the longest-standing resident. She and King have been friends for more than 40 years.


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“No one ever moves out, everyone’s been here for decades”, says King.

They point out that for some, the move could be devastating. “We’re all of a certain age”, says Smith, noting that many residents have had health issues in recent years which would make a move very difficult for them.

“[CHS have] pushed us at times to make us doubt our sanity”, King explains. “There’s been times when it’s got us down, but we won’t give up”, adds Smith.

Smith agrees: “they know we won’t cave in.”

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