Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Councillors row over 20mph speed limits branded ‘voluntary’

Councillors row over 20mph speed limits branded ‘voluntary’

THE introduction of a 20mph speed limit on roads across South Oxfordshire has been deemed pointless without enforcement.

Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, is running trials in a number of villages and towns, including Cuxham and Ewelme.

The council, which is run by a coalition of Liberal Democrat, Green and Labour councillors, says the emphasis is on changing drivers’ mindsets so that breaking the 20mph limit in a built-up area is seen as socially unacceptable.

But David Bartholomew, who represents Sonning Common division for the Conservatives, claims Thames Valley Police won’t enforce the limit.

He said: “The administration is spending £8 million on the cosmetic exercise of switching signs from 30mph to 20mph on 85 per cent of the county’s roads with a 30mph limit.

“I can understand that some residents will welcome a reduction in the speed limit through their village, but the 20mph limit is in effect voluntary as it will not be enforced by the police and the measure has continued to attract police criticism. The police stance still reflects that 20mph limits and zones should be self-enforcing.

“In the unlikely event of a speeding fine being issued, there is a high degree of probability it could be successfully legally challenged as the usual procedures will not have been followed.

“Everything hinges on drivers obeying the new limit as a matter of conscience. The reality will be that word will get out that the limit is a paper tiger with no teeth and it will be widely flouted. Diligent drivers who currently observe limits will continue to do so but speeders will continue to speed.

“Many might think the county would be better spending the £8million on more road repairs.

“Having said that, if parish councils wish to pursue the scheme, I will support them.”

Freddie van Mierlo, who represents Watlington division for the Liberal Democrats, accused Cllr Bartholomew of hypocrisy. He said: “He has branded 20mph signs a ‘cosmetic exercise’ despite campaigning in 2021 in support of 20mph zones.”

Leaflets were pushed through doors with his photo, saying. ‘We [the Conservatives] will invest in 20mph limits to make our communities safer’. It’s no wonder residents are confused by his position.

“However, more important than this hypocrisy is the dangerous and factually incorrect assertion by Cllr Bartholomew that they are ‘in effect voluntary’.

“The 20mph signs are as legally enforceable as any other speed limit.

“To go around telling parish councils that they are voluntary is both dangerous and misleading.

“What the police have said is that they won’t be putting additional resources behind enforcing 20mph zones beyond what they already do.

“Chief Constable John Campbell has previously stated that every effort would be made to enforce the new speed limits but that Thames Valley Police ‘cannot guarantee having a police officer on every 20mph limit’ — entirely reasonable and quite different from saying they are voluntary.

“Thames Valley Police have also said they would like 20mph areas to be ‘self-enforcing’. To this end, Oxfordshire County Council is already supporting and advising parish councils on what additional measures, such as village gates and speed cushions, can be put in place to reduce speeds.”

A county council spokesman said: “Although the council would be working alongside Thames Valley Police, there would be an emphasis on drivers adhering to the new limits through a change of mindset rather than enforcement.

“It is hoped that as 20mph areas become more common breaking the limit would become socially unacceptable for drivers.

“There is a clear link between the speed of traffic and the likelihood of accidents happening in which people are killed or injured. You are seven times more likely to survive if you are hit by a car driving at 20mph than if you are hit at 30mph.

“The authority is committed to working with key stakeholders, including bus, taxi and haulage companies as well as major businesses.”

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