Objections were raised during a recent consultation about the impact on local businessesSophie Huskisson

Cambridge City Council has endorsed a scheme to make the anti-terrorism barrier on King’s Parade permanent.

The Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee considered a report proposing permanent measures on Monday (08/02).

Councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting the request to Cambridgeshire County Council for Traffic Regulation Orders for the existing controls to become permanent beyond July 2021 and for their effects to be fully assessed.

The £70,000 barrier first came into operation on 16th January 2020 following police counter-terrorism advice to the Cambridge City Council. The police recommended “that steps be taken to protect the many thousands of people who use King’s Parade throughout the year, especially during the summer months,” according to a press release last week (04/02).

Other councils in tourist hotspots, including central London, Canterbury, Windsor, York and Edinburgh, were also given police counter-terrorism advice and have consequently installed “similar vehicle access controls and barriers”.

The barrier is in operation during the day between 9:30am and 7pm. It was originally intended to be a temporary measure, its operation expiring in July 2021.

Councillors also voted unanimously in the meeting to “note the outcomes of public and stakeholder engagement and consultation, and behavioural monitoring” of the traffic control measures.

The King’s Parade barrier is made up of a three-metre-wide swing gate with pairs of ballasted security barges on either side. There is also a 1.2m gap on the King’s College side for cyclists.

Councillor Nicky Massey, Executive Councillor for Transport and Community Safety, told the committee there are plans for the barrier to be re-designed, and that the location of a potential replacement barrier is “not fixed,” according to Cambridgeshire Live.

“The temporary scheme has achieved its objective of keeping the area safe through 2020,” the Council noted in the press release. “Although everyday life and the number of visitors has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it has also delivered benefits to the area, [enabling] local businesses to provide more outside seating for customers and helped people to move around freely in a traffic-free space.”

An online consultation, which was undertaken between 11th December 2020 and 11th January 2021, received 499 responses from businesses and local residents, and found that just under half of respondents support continuing traffic controls on King’s Parade.

Negative impacts identified included the aesthetic appearance of the barrier, the difficulty for vehicles manoeuvring near the barrier and the limited amount of space for cyclists to ride through the barrier. Respondents also said that it has proved difficult for taxi drivers to pick up customers, and made the entrance to King’s Parade crowded.

While many respondents had no opinion about the barrier’s existing operational times, some felt that timings should be reduced rather than extended. They also said that vehicle deliveries should be made outside of these times or at nearby loading facilities.

Positive feedback came from respondents who felt that the barrier has made King’s Parade safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and tourists. Others reacted favourably to the reduction in traffic congestion.

Respondents also wanted any permanent scheme to “enhance the street’s historic character, and to improve the sense of place and support for local businesses,” the press release continues.

Current controversy over the barrier follows a petition to remove it by students and residents, which passed over 1000 signatures.

Many councillors in support of making the barrier permanent cite the current importance of these anti-terrorist measures after the national terrorism threat level in the UK was raised from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’ on 3rd November 2020. The threat level has since been lowered to ‘substantial’, which indicates that an attack is ‘likely’.

The East of England Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) considers King’s Parade an area of concern because it attracts over 8 million visitors annually and is a hub for tourists visiting the University.

This new threat level “underlines the importance of giving careful consideration to the police advice on the need for measures on King’s Parade to protect people,” Councillor Massey said in the press release.

“To ignore that advice would be irresponsible...we need to do all we can to protect people when they return”, Councillor Massey continued.

Meanwhile Nick Dean, Chief Constable at the Cambridge Constabulary, said in the press release that this threat “is a reminder that we all need to remain vigilant and take steps to keep ourselves and each other safe,”. “I have recommended that local councils seek to introduce motorised traffic controls on King’s Parade on a permanent basis, and fully support them in their proposals to bring forward a more sensitive replacement solution if one can be identified.”

“Over the past months we have seen how cities have utilised their public realm for outside dining and leisure activities,” Ian Sandison, Chief Executive of Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID) said.


Mountain View

Are we missing more insidious politics behind the King’s Parade anti-terror barrier?

He continued: “As we look towards the summer and, we hope, the steady return of initially domestic and then international visitors, the beautiful King’s Parade lends itself to be a flexible space where more outside dining spaces can be provided.

“When customers dwell longer this invariably benefits local businesses. Now, more than ever, we want to be using our public realm in a more flexible manner and the BID supports proposals for permanent control measures that allow businesses to maintain essential access.”

“It is unfortunate that the pandemic has restricted our evaluation of the full expected benefits of the scheme so far,” said Councillor Massey, “but given the police advice, it is important that we remain focused on ensuring the city centre is a safe place.”

Second-year historian Millie Yule told Varsity that she doesn’t mind the barrier due to the limited impact it has on her life. “It’s a bit ugly but then it also streamlines the swarm of bikes going down king’s parade so I’m less likely to be run over on my way to a 9am which is always a positive”, she added.

Meanwhile, second-year Modern and Medieval Languages (MML) student Lily Fox said: “Someone determined to cause irrevocable harm to themselves and those around them are not going to be deterred by a simple barrier.”