Cathy Keeler, Brake’s deputy chief executive, writes:
Communities are crying out for 20mph limits on dangerous roads in their communities and too many local authorities aren’t able to meet their demands. That was the message facing road safety minister Jim Fitzpatrick today, as I took five campaigning MPs to discuss the issue with him.
John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington and member of the Transport Select Committee; Jeff Ennis, MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough; Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North; Mark Hunter, MP for Cheadle; and Bob Russell, MP for Colchester, pushed the minister for answers on why their constituents are finding it so difficult to get 20mph limits in their communities.
Some of the issues raised in discussion included enforcement of 20mph limits; local authorities’ priorities; lowering the default urban limit; and the cost of introducing road safety measures.
John Leech said that in his view there is no difference with the problems of enforcing 20mph limits as there is with enforcing 30mph limits. The minister did not agree.
The minister said the Government was keen to see more 20mph zones where it is appropriate for local authorities to introduce them, but stated there would not be any additional funding for them. Prioritisation, he said, is a matter for local authorities. However, the Department for Transport has spoken to the 20 lowest-performing local authorities [on casualty statistics] and 15 of them have now agreed to set road safety as a local priority.
Jeff Ennis asked if the minister had had any discussions about where local authorities see 20mph limits in their list of priorities, while Ian Gibson said some councils, such as his local council in Norwich, would rather sort out 20 little road-mending schemes, or a big road-widening scheme, than spend money on 20mph zones. Schools in Ian’s constituency, which are crying out for road safety measures, are just getting told they are being put ‘on the list’.
The minister said the Department for Transport was aware of a problem with inequalities, which is why it had set an extra target for tackling inequalities after its original casualty reduction targets had been set.
Mark Hunter said that, speaking as the former leader of a council, surely the way round the problem would be to ensure that authorities set borough-wide criteria. His constituency, Stockport, is a leafy middle-class suburb, which has had a lot of success in getting 20mph limits (lines and signs) put outside schools in the area. However, it is now experiencing a problem with rat-running and there is a lot of support for a reduced limit in residential areas.
Cathy Keeler said that many of the concerned communities contacting Brake were being told by local councils that dangers on the roads they were concerned about were not high priority, given the funds they had available. Others, concerned that the speed limit on a particular road was set too high, were being told that there was not a problem because vehicles were not significantly exceeding the speed limit.
John Leech expressed concern at the high cost of contractors putting in road safety schemes, with junction tables often costing in excess of £50k. The minister said that liaising with contractors was a matter for local authorities.
Bob Russell said that some additional road safety measures could be very cheap, such as painting signs on the road surface.
Cathy Keeler said that economies of scale could be made in introducing a default 20mph limit in urban areas. This was one of the reasons that Portsmouth, which is introducing a 20mph limit across the city, had decided to do treat the city as a whole, rather than prioritising individual streets for treatment.
In Brake’s view, the issue is clear-cut. Evidence shows that where 20mph limits have been introduced in urban areas, casualty rates have fallen, meaning many lives have been saved. We urge the Government to cut the urban default speed limit from 30 to 20mph, and ensure that local authorities have the resources to introduce traffic-calming measures where they are desperately needed.