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3 Jul 2002 : Column 124WH

Traffic Calming

12.59 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw): Time may have stopped here, but the debate about road humps is only just beginning to gather pace. I note from Hansard that in the past 10 years there has been virtually no debate on the issue in the House of Commons or the other place. Road humps have spread like a plague across the estates and mining villages of Britain, and I assure the Minister that residents throughout the country are increasingly up in arms about that.

I tabled a parliamentary question yesterday and was referred to the "Road Safety Compendium" on the internet and in the Library. I am extremely familiar with every document in that compendium in relation to road humps—I have a copy of each document and have read and analysed them all. One interesting factor is how little research has been done on the issue over the years, in this country or abroad.

I wish to make it clear that I do not oppose traffic calming or the reduction of speeds—far from it. I have campaigned vigorously in my constituency for the introduction of speed cameras on the A361, for example, where, sadly, a significant number of people have died in car crashes. One irony is that the county council that introduced road humps in my area and other parts of Nottinghamshire is the one that refuses to bring in speed cameras because it does not believe in their effectiveness or that the case for them has been proven. I hope that the Government will make it impossible for local authorities to opt out. When the local community and the police want speed cameras, they should have them on death roads such as the A631. However, that is not the purpose of this debate.

The compendium to which I referred makes great play throughout of the requirement for consultation on the effectiveness of any traffic-calming method. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on their home zones initiative, which takes the concept of consultation far further by involving the community in the design of road safety. It is noticeable that home zones are both popular and effective and I would welcome them in my area. Sadly, that is not what we have.

I did a poll of the residents of Manton village and 1,836 households responded. Of those, 97.7 per cent. were in favour of the removal of the road humps and 1.8 per cent. were against. Such majorities are unheard of these days, even in North Korea or Cuba. The view of the local people is clear and goes beyond the advice given to me by officials in the Department for Transport, who tell me that they would normally expect approximately a third of the population to be hostile to traffic calming. In my constituency, in essence, three thirds are opposed.

Road humps are not only a local problem. On 30 April, The Times reported on the front page that the social exclusion unit was going to introduce road humps specifically on council estates throughout Britain. Following that report, I invited the social exclusion unit to my constituency, and its members were in the Manton estate on Friday. They witnessed the problem. One hundred and twenty different sets of road humps were put into one mining village in 1995.

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I have analysed the statistics on accidents, which show only that statistics can be used in many ways. More than a quarter of accidents happened not in the village but on the main road, which does not surprise me. I especially like to see road safety on main roads. More than a quarter of the accidents happened on one main road, not inside the village, but the statistics were used as the rationale for introducing road humps.

Sleeping policemen were used. The Royal Automobile Club wrote to me this morning and it is interesting that it does not differentiate between sleeping policemen and cushion humps, but I shall for the purpose of this debate because there is a crucial difference. People in Manton do not demand sleeping policemen everywhere, but they are comfortable enough with them. On one road with sleeping policemen, the number of accidents reduced from seven to one. That is the most effective reduction on any street in the entire village.

I oppose speed cushions rather than other forms of road hump. They were developed in Germany and introduced in 1992. They were meant to assist the emergency services while reducing vehicle speeds. In other words, they are especially designed to allow emergency service vehicles to pass down main roads quickly. Transport advisory leaflets Nos. 498 and 198 specifically relate to the fact that such vehicles can straddle the humps.

Let me outline my objections, the first of which is discomfort. In mining villages such as Manton, which has been plagued by road humps, a disproportionate number of people have back complaints because people who have worked down the pit are more likely to have a back complaint. The irony in Manton is that the pensioner bungalows are at the top end of the estate, and pensioners who do not drive and must use the bus are those who are most vigorous in leading the campaign against speed humps, rather than motorists. The question of discomfort is not to be taken lightly, especially in mining villages and estates throughout the country.

I have raised my second objection with the county council. Why do these humps get stuck in mining villages and estates? I do not find them in private housing estates in my area, which are the wealthier estates. My objection is precisely to the attempt to dump more of them in working-class areas, which the social exclusion unit allegedly—according to The Times—attempted to pursue. That exacerbates local opposition.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Mann : May I make further progress?

My third objection relates to cars' ability to straddle speed humps. Not only emergency service vehicles straddle them; cars also do. Cars go to the centre of the road or drive around the humps. Bollards must be put on pavements and cyclists cannot get through. The plague on estates today is motor cycles. What do motor cycles do? They go through the middle of cushion humps or use them as take-off ramps. The key point is that the humps do not work.

The speed humps are not intended to be sited at pedestrian crossing points. However, their built-in design features mean that the most vulnerable

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pedestrians use them as crossing points because they often create a central reservation. Consequently, pensioners and young children use them as a halfway point when crossing the road. People not only go against the Government's advice to cross at the humps, but are attracted to crossing there. Indeed, the question whether pensioners could sue if they trip over the humps might be more important as they start to take action against the authorities that put the humps in.

All the guidance fails to incorporate the fact that there are fewer people with garages on these estates. Therefore, there is more on-street parking, but the guidance makes virtually no reference to that. Officials visit the Manton estate to make their reports on vehicle speed during the day when no cars are parked on the streets. They should see the streets in the evening when they are packed full of cars. Motorists cannot take the humps as they are meant to because of parked cars throughout the estate. That is a fundamental design flaw of the speed cushions. Owing to the guidelines, more speed cushions are required than other forms of traffic calming, such as chicanes or sleeping policemen.

I mentioned motor cycles because drivers of stolen vehicles are not keen to slow down for speed humps. Indeed, if such obstacles are in the way, they add to excitement, which has been a particular problem. The damage that the humps cause to cars is not high in terms of road safety considerations, but I tell hon. Members that many of the people who live on these estates cannot afford to repair broken exhausts, but they get two or three of them because they have to cross those humps. The speed at which they cross the humps does not alter the risk of their exhausts breaking. That is my contention—and that of many local people. Indeed, some people suggest that cars are more likely to be damaged if they go over them at slow speeds—for example, 10 mph. That is another design flaw. No research has been done on that, but it should be done.

My next objection is based on empirical evidence. It is more comfortable to drive over these cushion humps at a higher speed. I demonstrated that—although I did not drive faster than 30 mph, because I am an elected politician. I drove over the humps at 10, 15, 20 and 30 mph with people from the social exclusion unit. They may reach their own conclusions, but they, like me, were able to make comparisons, and it is more uncomfortable to drive over those humps at 15 than at 20 mph, and at 20 than at 30 mph: and yet they are meant to reduce speed. On Manton, there is no evidence that the speedsters slow down. It is the pensioners and other safer drivers who reduce their speed and get maximum discomfort, but they were going slowly in the first place.

I shall now discuss noise and emissions. Those are not major considerations, but the stop-go of traffic that is caused by the humps leads to people objecting to the noise, and to emissions, which is an important factor when we bear in mind the Kyoto emission targets. People ask, "Why should we have to put up with all this, when the wealthier private estates do not have any cushion humps?" Such factors reinforce local public opinion.

The humps were designed for the emergency services. In my area, those services—such as the ambulance service—submitted letters objecting to the scheme because it slows down emergency vehicles; it makes them travel at an average speed of about 15 mph. There

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are 17 road humps on the journey from the top of the estate to the bottom, where the pensioners are, and there are 17 of them on the journey back. That adds about eight and a half minutes to the journey time of emergency service vehicles. Some of my constituents are seriously affected by that—such as a woman with a broken back who has to go over those 17 road humps to get to hospital. In the light of such situations, it is hard for the authorities to win their case on this particular type of traffic-calming scheme.

Not only the ambulance service is hostile to that scheme. In Nottinghamshire, we have the absurdity that the wheel axis of the fire engines is too small for them to be able to straddle these road humps, so that, in our authority, the humps fail to do what they are designed to do. Therefore, the fire service is also delayed—and, consequently, it also objects. The police are hostile too, because of the effect of the humps on their response times.

Having driven the people from the social exclusion unit over 500 humps in a car, I thought I had better make sure that they fully appreciated the situation, so I took them on a bus. Therefore, they enjoyed the pleasures of travelling on the bus routes of Manton. It is not for me to speak on their behalf about whether they were convinced of my case, but they have a full picture of how uncomfortable it is to sit on the back seat of a Stagecoach Mini-hopper as it goes over the humps on that estate. Local people who have to use the buses because they do not have cars are particularly angry.

The people from the social exclusion unit also witnessed the beautiful irony that the buses could not pass along all the roads because cars park next to the road humps and use them as a safety protector, and because of the bollards that have been put up to stop people driving around them. Bus drivers have to knock on doors to ask the owners of cars to move them so that the buses can get through. That is not funny for someone who is driving an ambulance to an emergency.

The final indignity is the one that has got people going the most. There are 20 road humps on the journey from St. Paul's church to the cemetery in Worksop. I imagine that the person who is being carried in the hearse is no longer able to complain about that, but the families in the cortege also have to cross those humps. Some funeral directors are now refusing to allow their limousines to take people from Manton, because the vehicles suffer the same kind of damage that the ambulance and fire services have reported to me that their vehicles suffer. That makes the funeral directors the most hostile people to this scheme.

There are alternatives. I have proposed a 20 mph zone, I should like to see the use of sleeping policemen where necessary and I should be happy with chicanes, as used in Manchester and recommended in the United States by the emergency services. Crucially, I should like to see consultation on and expansion of the home zone concept, which is currently only an option for local authorities.

My recommendations are that 20 mph zones must be more easily available and that school governors should have the power to incorporate them into their school travel plans. That would be a major breakthrough.

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School travel plans are currently voluntary. Let us make them compulsory so that road safety is enforced on schools, not optional. It is often in schools on estates that school governors—some of whom might not be in place—have not had the time or the inclination to bring in school travel plans, unlike in more middle-class schools. Let us make those compulsory.

Let us have home zones as the recommended form of traffic calming. Let us have the powers of the emergency services strengthened in any consultation. Let us make funeral directors statutory consultees. Let us have the question of on-street parking re-examined and its impact reassessed in the departmental advice notes. That is a fundamental flaw in the current position. Finally, I suggest that the notorious and hated cushion hump be banned forthwith from every council estate and every mining village in Britain. That is what the people want, and if we have the people on our side, road safety will go forward.

1.16 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) rose—

Mr. Eric Illsley (in the Chair): Order. I can only call the hon. Gentleman if he has obtained the permission of the initiator of the debate.

Mr. Steen : Of course I have done that. It would be wrong of me to stand up without the normal courtesies. I am most grateful to you, Mr. Illsley, and to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I thought that he put his case brilliantly and I am delighted that he secured the debate. I support everything that he said, and have just one or two points to add.

My personal life is bedevilled by road humps, bumps, rumble strips, raised ribs in the road and signs in south Devon that say it is 300 yd before the 30 mph speed limit, then 200 yd before the 30 mph speed limit and then 100 yd before the 30 mph speed limit. Speed restrictions are increasingly encroaching into the countryside. There are mini-roundabouts, maxi-roundabouts, road widening schemes and road narrowing schemes. You name it, Devon has it.

There are different types of hump, different sizes, different shapes, different angles, different widths and different elevations. Some are as steep as Everest, some deceptively slow in their angle. Cars can keel over like a boat in a force 8 gale, and being in a maritime constituency, one constantly thinks one is in a boat rather than a car when one hits traffic bumps.

There is an enormous cost to the council tax payer. Each hump or bump costs about £1,000—money that could be spent on social services. Instead of having hot meals on wheels, elderly people now have deep-frozen meals sent to them on one day of the month, which they have to store and go on eating for the whole month, to save money. What is that money being spent on? Traffic humps at £1,000 a time. I am totally opposed to the traffic hump. It is destructive to the vehicle, noisy for people living nearby and of no consequence in stopping traffic. The situation is like that of King Canute. We cannot hold back the traffic by putting in traffic humps or bumps.

I shall briefly mention Totnes, the central town in my constituency. Quite simply, our planners in Devon have too much money and too much time. They spend their

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time devising new planning schemes to slow down or reverse the traffic. At the moment, the traffic goes up Fore street, as it has for about 300 years. Now there is a plan to turn the traffic and have it going down the street with rumble strips, and little flower-beds in the middle of the main road. The planners want there to be various places for cars to park. They want to reverse traffic flows and hold exhibitions to explain matters to everyone. Very simply, market towns do not need traffic bumps. They need a hopper bus that goes round and round the town every five minutes and a big field to park cars in. Instead, there is an attempt to spend more and more public money on slowing down the traffic.

As the Minister comes from Devon, he will know that in Devon the planners are doing everything that they can to slow down traffic so that one day they will create one huge jam 100 miles long of solid metal overheating in the sun.

I look forward to the Minister's response to what has been an excellent debate. I have much more to say, but I will say it to him in private. In the meantime, will he please relieve constituents of these menacing humps? If they were in a piece of science fiction, they would not stop growing.

1.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson) : I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), not only on securing the debate but on the forceful way in which he made his points. I must say that I would not like to get on the wrong side of him.

Mr. Steen : You are.

Mr. Jamieson : Well, hon. Members have not yet heard what I have to say. Anyway, my hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for his constituents and, as always, proved it today on behalf of Manton.

My hon. Friend tabled a question for yesterday's Question Time, but unfortunately it was not reached. If it had been, we might have been able to rehearse some arguments for today. He says that in his area road humps have spread like a plague, but I think the biggest plague on the roads is death. Each day an average of nine people die on the roads, and about 10 times as many are seriously injured.

The debate eventually turned into what was almost an attack on local authorities, which are responsible for introducing traffic-calming measures. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said that his authority was getting too much money. I made a note of that: I am sure that members of all parties in his local authority will be interested to learn of his view, and we shall certainly take account of it in the next spending round relating to local transport plans. My Plymouth constituents will be very pleased to receive some of the money that the hon. Gentleman thinks should not be spent in his area.

My hon. Friend said that road humps got stuck on housing estates. The fact is that it is on such estates that most accidents occur, especially those involving young children. Analysis of road casualty figures shows that the poorer and more disadvantaged people are—especially elderly people and children—the more likely they are to be killed or seriously injured on the roads.

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I do not know my hon. Friend's constituency very well, but I have some knowledge of it, and I believe that it contains some very poor areas. Middle-class children are involved in such accidents less often than poorer children, who are injured in collisions while travelling to and from school.

I accept that road humps are sometimes inconvenient. My hon. Friend, who made some good points, says that the local authority has not taken proper cognisance of local people's wishes.

John Mann : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson : Certainly.

John Mann : According to statistics, all child deaths in the area have occurred on major roads. The biggest irony is that on Retford road—the main road that runs alongside the Manton estate, the road on which the estate was built, the road to the pit—there is no traffic calming, but that is the road on which young people have died. There have been no child deaths on the estate. I have no objection to road-safety and traffic-calming measures on estates or main roads, but the main problem is the absence of local support—and that is partly because all the humps are dumped in the side streets rather than on the main roads.

Mr. Jamieson : My hon. Friend and I are in agreement: road-safety and traffic-calming measures should be introduced where there is a need for them. Where children and other vulnerable people are seen to be at risk, traffic-calming measures of whatever kind should be established. Speed safety cameras, for instance, should be installed in areas where there is excess speeding leading to casualties, rather than being put just anywhere on our roads. That too is a determined policy of this Government.

The experience of my hon. Friend is not shared across the country, although I am sure that it is the experience of people in his area. I can speak of my constituency and the many other areas that I have visited in my capacity as the Minister responsible for road safety. In my area, one of the worst roads through a council estate that was built in the post-war years, in the 1950s and 1960s, had a horrendous accident record. Again, mainly elderly people and youngsters were affected. Traffic-calming measures—humps and chicanes—have been installed on that road. If I proposed that they should be removed, there would be a riot in that area, because people know that there would be a return to the deaths and injuries of some eight or nine years ago, before the measures were put in place.

My hon. Friend also mentioned vehicle damage and discomfort. He said that claims had been made that road humps caused damage to vehicles and injury to vehicle occupants, especially professional drivers and the disabled. Complaints of that type have been made many times since road humps were first introduced, but no firm evidence has emerged. As a result, the Department has commissioned research by the Transport Research Laboratory into vehicle damage and the possible creation of physical problems. The project is due for completion in September 2003, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested in its outcome.

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Combating excessive and inappropriate speed is a complex issue that does not have just one solution. I believe that my hon. Friend and I agree about that. The Department undertook and published a fundamental review of speed policy two years ago. Its recommendations were accepted by the Government and incorporated into the road safety strategy. The speed review concluded that speed limits should be set at levels that are safe, suitable for the road function and at levels most likely to be respected by drivers. Motorists are less willing to comply with limits set at inappropriate levels. We are working on improving information and guidance to local authorities on setting local speed limits.

Obviously, we would like drivers voluntarily to stick to the speed limit. Unfortunately, experience shows that the majority are reluctant to do so unless there are proven traffic-calming measures in place that persuade them that a lower speed is appropriate.

Mr. Steen : Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Jamieson : No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman has had long enough, and I need time to respond.

We accept that traffic calming—road humps, speed cushions and speed tables—is not a panacea or the only answer to the problem. However, the clear evidence that we have from around the country, from people in local areas and on local councils, is that they are successful and effective safety measures for reducing vehicle speeds in some areas. Their effectiveness is more prevalent in the urban areas to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw referred. However, I accept his point that it is not just a matter of setting a speed limit. Local

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authorities can bring in 20 mph zones, which may be humped or subject to other measures. Such zones may be far more acceptable to the people who live in the area.

My hon. Friend mentioned home zones. I am sorry that he does not have one in his area. I had the pleasure of opening one in my constituency on Friday that, I must admit, involved certain changes to the road surface. It is now extremely difficult to drive at more than 10 mph in that area, and the zone has the total, absolute support of the whole of that community, because they do not want their road used as a rat run, nor do they want people coming from outside using their roads and putting them and their children at risk and in danger.

The Government have operated several pilot projects. We have put £30 million into the home zone scheme for this year. I suggest that my hon. Friend do some lobbying to get one in his area. The beauty of the home zone concept is that it is very much led by the community. In my area, the people of the community decided what they wanted. The number of flower-beds has increased, and the improvements to the area are substantial. I remind my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Totnes that the local authority must decide on road humps, although I accept my hon. Friend's point that they can be inappropriate. If they are inappropriate, he needs to beat a path to the door of the local council in that area and make those points very forcefully. The good news is that his local authority has had a very substantial increase in funds through the local transport plan. It has received about £15.3 million in the year 2001–02, which is an increase of 120 per cent. That will give Nottinghamshire county council the opportunity to use some of that money to create the sort of zones that people want and accept.

Mr. Eric Illsley (in the Chair): We now come to the next debate.

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