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Session 1998-99
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Road Traffic Regulation Act 1999

Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 21 April 1999

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Draft Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (Amendment) Order 1999

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (Amendment) Order 1999.

This is the first time, Mr. Atkinson, that I have had the privilege of serving on a Committee under your chairmanship.

The draft order will permit local authorities to authorise 20 mph speed limits on their own roads. The current law requires the consent of the Secretary of State to be obtained for any limit below 30 mph—the national urban speed limit.

The concept of 20 mph zones was formulated in the late 1980s, and the first were introduced in 1991. As the majority of injury accidents—especially those involving pedestrians, cyclists and children—occur on urban roads, it was surmised that simply putting up signs would not succeed in slowing the traffic down. Other measures, including road humps, were devised to slow down the traffic physically. The Transport Research Laboratory was commissioned to monitor the first 200 20 mph zones. The results, in road safety terms, were impressive.

The TRL report was placed in the Library at the time of its publication in 1996. It concluded, on comparison of accidents and speeds before and after the introduction of zones, that injury accidents were reduced by about 60 per cent., child injury accidents by 67 per cent., pedestrian accidents by 63 per cent. and pedal cyclist accidents by 29 per cent.There is therefore no doubt that the 20 mph zone has been highly successful in slowing traffic where necessary and in reducing accident casualties.

The zones have been in place for up to eight years, and local highway authorities have eight years of experience in their development and placement. We therefore feel that they should now be allowed to introduce such zones without reference to the Secretary of State. The draft order will achieve that.

The order has two aims. First, it will provide local highway authorities with the flexibility and freedom to introduce 20 mph speed limits where they think fit. Secondly, it will retain the successful qualities of the existing 20 mph zone concept by making minor adjustments to existing regulations to provide a system in which authorities may introduce either signed 20 mph zones or 20 mph zones with the necessary traffic calming features.

Those changes will permit self-enforcing, traffic-calmed 20 mph zones, or 20 mph speed limits with repeater signs. The key point is that local traffic authorities will be able to choose. The proposal to allow local authorities such flexibility and discretion received overwhelming support when the Department held a formal consultation last year.

Councils must consult the police and all emergency services about speed limit changes and traffic calming. In addition, the proposals must be consistent with the agreed plans under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, according to which speed is a local concern that forms part of the required crime and disorder audit.

The change matches our general approach to funding local authority transport strategies, which in future will be based on local transport plans. Money will no longer be earmarked for specific projects, and local authorities will be given the freedom to decide how to spend resources to meet their local integrated transport strategies.

I commend the order the Committee.

4.34 pm

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): May I begin by giving the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) for his non attendance. He has to be in the Chamber for the debate on road haulage, which he will wind up later today.

I thank the Minister for providing to all Committee Members prior to these proceedings a note setting out the main points of the order, which, as she said, is straightforward. We shall not oppose the order, but I would like to raise a few points.

One of the reasons why Conservative Members are pleased by the order, which is an eminently logical step following the success of the trials, is that we recognise—as a new Member, I certainly do—the importance of giving power back to local authorities and allowing them the freedom to decide. That is completely in keeping with how Conservative Members now see things.

The present procedures are rather onerous—I am sure the Minister is aware of that, as she is on the end of the process—because they involve constant approvals for schemes piecemeal. The temporary orders that have sometimes been granted can—at least in the opinion of the House of Commons Library—sometimes be legally unsound. Temporary solutions must, of course, be revisited by local government, which takes time, money and energy.

The Minister gave some interesting statistics about improved safety for vulnerable road users—children waiting to cross the road, cyclists and others—to show that they would benefit from a 20 mph speed limit. The pedestrian fatality figures given to me by the Library show a significant distinction between the 20 mph and 30 mph speed limits. The statistics are sobering. At 20 mph, only 5 per cent. of accidents are fatal for pedestrians; at 30 mph, the figure goes up to 45 per cent.; and at 40 mph, 85 per cent. of pedestrians are fatally injured. We are not talking about an arbitrary change in the speed limit, but one that will make a significant difference.

Will the Minister look closely at the effectiveness of the 20 mph speed limit? She said that a speed limit sign is often not enough. Those who drive know that to be true. She said that speed limits must be accompanied by other measures such as humps, pinch points and rumble strips. A plethora of measures have been tried to calm traffic, but the experience of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians is that the speed-calming measures chosen are not always appropriate.

The order will give local authorities more power to decide where 20 mph speed limits should apply and what engineering measures should be used to make them effective. I wonder whether an appeal process might be provided. Local residents and the agencies that the Minister cited—particularly the emergency services—often find that speed-retarding mechanisms are in the wrong place or of the wrong sort and they should be able to appeal to get them changed. For instance, the speed humps installed in the road where I live were put at the wrong end of a no-entry road, so the traffic goes over the hump not when it enters the road but at the end. That was an oversight, but it rendered the humps less effective. Another example is that of mini-roundabouts; they are meant to slow traffic, but cars are driven straight over them as if they were not there. Although I support the order, I would welcome an appeal mechanism to give local residents a say.

Events in my constituency pose another interesting question. Local communities often appeal for a slowing of traffic through the area in which they live because drivers often blatantly break the speed restrictions. It is difficult to stop that happening if there is nothing other than a 30 mph sign. The parish council of a village in my constituency, Hampton-in-Arden, has asked whether, if it can raise the money for the engineering measures required to enforce the speed restriction, any objection would be raised to its installing the engineering works. When an audit was taken of what sort of speed retarding measures the village would like, the residents were overwhelmingly in favour of cameras.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, that is the most expensive option. The West Midlands police informed me that a speed camera costs between £14,500 and £17,500, and—I find this difficult to understand—the pole and cabinet on which it must stand cost another £15,000 to £22,000. Undeterred, Hampton-in-Arden parish council was none the less willing to spend that sort of money. However, it has met resistance from the local authority and the police in taking matters into its own hands. I should be interested to hear the Minister's view. The waiting list for such engineering measures is between two and three years. Experience shows that it takes a fatality in a community before engineering measures to enforce the speed limit are introduced. No one likes to wait for an accident to happen. I should like the Minister to comment on those points if she is able to do so, but fundamentally, Opposition Members welcome the order.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Chairman: Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), I remind the Committee that we are debating speed limits, not speed cameras.

4.41 pm

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson. It is the first time that I have experienced your chairmanship, and I do not think that you will have any problems with me or, indeed, with any other member of the Committee.

I should like to give credit where it is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), whose early-day motion 310 called for 20 mph speed limits to be imposed outside schools without the need to seek approval from the Secretary of State. I must also congratulate the Government on listening and consulting and on designing a mechanism that allows local government some freedom.

Although I suspect that the Minister will not be able to produce a rabbit out of a hat, I hope that she might be able to have a word with others in the Government about enforcement. On several roads in my constituency, motorists break existing speed limits of 30 mph. The word from the police is that the paperwork connected with enforcement is such that they could spend all their time enforcing speed limits, and any other criminal activity would go unpunished. Therefore we need to examine the question of enforcement, which involves a Minister responsible for transport. Perhaps the Minister has already had discussions with the Home Secretary about how to reduce the amount of paperwork associated with enforcement actions used by the police in enforcing speed limits. It is all very well imposing speed limits, but if they are not enforced, they will be ignored and will have been a waste of everyone's time.

I congratulate the Government on listening and in particular on allowing local government such freedom, which is a welcome step. I hope that in years to come, when road traffic accident statistics become available, the Minister can take some credit for having introduced the order.

ron

4.44 pm

 
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