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Row over rollout and enforcement of 20mph limits in Lancashire

Posted on - 22nd October, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Campaigns, Preston City Centre, Preston Locations, Preston News
County Hall, Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive
County Hall in Preston

Councillors have clashed over a declaration that Lancashire will not be introducing “blanket” 20mph speed limits – with some claiming that they already exist, but are not enforced.

The row follows the controversial rollout of a policy in Wales last month which has seen a default 20mph top speed imposed on most routes in built-up areas with streetlights.   While there are some limited exceptions, the change – made by the Welsh Government – has been a source of heated political debate.

At a meeting of Lancashire County Council, Tory cabinet member for highways and transport Rupert Swarbrick was asked whether he and the authority supported existing 20mph limits in Lancashire and “extending these where required”.

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While County Cllr Swarbrick’s response – to a question from Labour’s Kim Snape – was initially a simple “yes”, he later clarified that that did not mean a Wales-type change was on the cards in the county.

“In terms of rolling out a programme, we won’t be adopting the Labour Wales style of blanket limits – not while the Conservatives are running Lancashire,” he said.

However, Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali accused the ruling party of having “short memories”, stating that former highways cabinet member Tim Ashton had previously “rolled out blanket 20mph zones across Lancashire”.  He added that the police had advised at the time that they would not be enforcing them.

Back in 2011, Lancashire County Council brought in 20mph limits – at a reported cost of £9m – on what it described as “main residential areas and outside schools”, but “not on major through-routes, so traffic can keep moving efficiently”. That, County Cllr Ashton told the meeting, was the key difference to the approach in Wales.

“Lancashire County Council did not implement blanket 20 mph zones, they were 20mph areas – [and] they were in residential areas only, not on commuter routes.  The final decision was given to the county councillor for each area if the road or street could have fallen into both camps.

“The police did not say to me that they would not enforce these speed limits,” County Cllr Ashton said.

However, deputy Labour group leader Lorraine Beavers said that in her area of Fleetwood, the limits were introduced across the board and it was only after “much fighting” that some roads were made exempt.

On the issue of enforcement, she added:  “Lancashire County Council spent £9m knowing that this could not be enforced because we didn’t have the technology or the legal right to impose 20 mph on the roads, because it hadn’t gone through Parliament.”

Liberal Democrat group leader David Howarth said he still had a copy of a letter from Lancashire Police stating that the force did not intend to enforce the lower limit.

Lancashire County Council’s website says that 20mph speed limits “can and will be enforced in the same way that any other speed limit is”.

It adds:  “We are working closely with the police, and enforcement will take place in the same way it does on any other road. However, as with other roads, the key aim is not to prosecute people but to encourage drivers to keep to the speed limits because they value the reasons for doing so.”

Back in 2020, Lancashire Police told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it “can and will prosecute” over 20mph breaches, “where engagement and education does not work”.

County Hall also says that it is clear to motorists which routes are 20mph, because signage has been erected on lampposts in all areas where it applies.

The authority added that the use of speed humps to support the limits would have cost “five times more per street” than just putting up signs.

“We also know this is not always a popular option with motorists who don’t like speed bumps damaging their cars,” the county council said.

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