This column appeared in Monday’s Manchester Evening News:
Last year 174 people were killed or seriously injured on Manchester’s roads and there were nearly 2000 road casualties. These shocking statistics help explain why Manchester has the North West’s second highest rate of overall pedestrian casualties; and the UK has Europe’s highest proportion of pedestrian road deaths and lowest levels of children walking or cycling to school. Half of the people hit by a car at 30mph will die; in contrast 90% of those hit by a car at 20mph survive. In February I proposed a Lib Dem ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ Council Motion in favour of introducing 20mph on Manchester’s residential roads. I was delighted that is was unanimously supported by Councillors.
If this policy is introduced it means Manchester roads would be safer with far fewer needless road deaths and casualties and it would make our roads user-friendly for everyone. These proposals have been very warmly received because they not only make our roads safer but also encourage more people to walk and cycle thus reducing traffic noise, pollution and carbon emissions. In Lib Dem run Portsmouth (the UK’s first 20mph City) they have seen a 22% drop in road casualties and a healthier, cleaner and greener city.
Some people have been concerned that 20mph limits would delay journey times. However average speeds in Manchester are generally well below 20mph because of congestion and queues. In fact traffic flows more freely at 20mph than 30mph and reducing speed means quicker journeys. There have also been those that say you can’t enforce 20mph limits. Effective 20mph limits can be achieved with community ownership alongside establishment endorsement. Effective public information campaigns, and low cost entry and reminder signs have been proven to dramatically kill speed in many Cities and mean 20mph is self enforced.
Sadly despite unanimous support for 20mph limits the Labour Council have been putting bureaucracy and politics in the way of saving lives and getting more people walking and cycling. At first they came up with ridiculous suggestions of putting traffic calming on every road at a cost of £41million; thankfully they’ve now agreed that a £2.8 million scheme with an extensive consultation and education campaign and entry signs into 20mph areas and reminder 20mph signs every 500m would be more appropriate. However this figure is still way too high. 20′s Plenty For Us, the national campaign group for 20mph limits, estimates the cost of introducing the policy is £3 per head of population; about £1.5million for Manchester. It is so disappointing that the Council is not taking the lead on this issue and has confirmed nothing more will progress without a Government handout. Other Councils have got on with the job of saving lives rather than shifting the burden for Party Political reasons.
There are many ways the Council can look to pay for Twenty’s Plenty. Just in the last three years the Labour Council have written off over £1.7million of money owed to local taxpayers. This would have been more than enough to at least get the ball rolling. Over 8 million UK residents live in areas with blanket 20mph residential limits so Manchester City Council only needs to ask colleagues around the country for guidance. The Council should produce detailed financial and introduction plans so that we have a Twenty’s Plenty plan that is ‘shelf ready’ when money becomes available. Last year the Department for Transport could have offered help through their end of year budgets but because of Manchester Council bureaucracy we missed out!
Road safety is a local responsibility and it shouldn’t be left up to Government to pay for it. Manchester Liberal Democrats put forward an alternative budget that included some money for Twenty’s Plenty. Sadly this motion was voted down and the Labour budget included nothing for reducing the speed limit. In 2007 John Leech, the Lib Dem MP for Manchester Withington, introduced a Parliamentary bill to get the last Labour Government to reduce the default speed limit; sadly this was not supported. However thanks to changes the Liberal Democrats have made in Government it will be quicker, cheaper and simpler for Councils to introduce 20mph limits.
At the Liberal Democrats Conference in a couple of weeks the party will discuss making 20mph limits the default speed on UK residential roads. I fully support these proposals and hope they are successful so that we can start to change national attitudes towards speed. The Lib Dem proposals also deal with dawdling Councils like Manchester by calling for government to give appropriate financial support to Councils to ensure that upfront costs of conversion are no barrier to changing speed limits. I’m pleased that despite Labour’s obstructions the Liberal Democrats are taking the lead on this issue and helping to save lives and make our roads more useable for everyone