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Speed Limits on Roads (Devolved Powers)

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2015

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and the Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996, to make provision about the powers and duties of parish and town councils in relation to applying for speed limit orders; to provide for the conduct of local referendums to determine whether such applications should be made; and for connected purposes.

This Bill accomplishes two main objectives: first, it encourages safer environments for motorists and pedestrians; and secondly, it empowers local communities. The Bill will give town and parish councils the ability to hold a referendum to change their speed limits. This gives power to local people. Local people know best whether the limits on their roads are too fast or too slow, and they know it better than an officer of the council who might reside some miles away from the place. They live there, so they know the environment of the roads and the motorists and pedestrians who use them.

I have been an hon. Member of this House for only six months, yet in that time I have had a coherent message communicated to me from constituents, parish councils and schools that the roads in their communities are becoming dangerous. I shall name some examples. In a small village called Stratton, near Bude, we have a primary school situated on a very nasty junction that sees very large lorries, tractors and cars speeding past. When I visited the site, I met parents and children who showed me how they cross the road via a tiny traffic island. As both sides of the road are busy, the traffic must pass within inches of the pavement. It is clearly evident that this road is too dangerous for children to use to get to school. People have resorted to driving as an option, and that is clearly not sustainable in the long term.

Not far from that road is a small village called Werrington, where recently a car crashed into the local school’s boundary wall because of excessive speed. Locals and schools have campaigned for a 20 mph speed limit to ensure the safety of children, pedestrians, and fellow motorists. I have received several handwritten letters from the children at Werrington school asking for something to be done to make the road safer. In St Teath, another village in my constituency, we see speeding cars passing schools and homes near very narrow pavements where people walk. These cannot be widened, and it would cost far too much for the road to be redesigned, but a lower speed limit could help. In nearby St Kew Highway, members of the parish council met me to talk about cars speeding up the A39, where they reach excessive speeds of over 60 mph, which is far too fast for some local people.

Those are just four examples of communities in north Cornwall that have specific issues, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members in this Chamber will have very similar issues in their areas. This Bill gives them the power to do something about it.

I have looked at some statistics on this matter, and they are truly amazing. According to data published in 2012 by the House of Commons Library, there were nearly 196,000 reported casualties on roads in Great Britain, including 1,754 fatalities and 23,000 serious casualties. On 30 mph roads, there were 582 fatal accidents; on 20 mph roads, there were nine. Two thirds of accidents happened in a 30 mph limit zone, whereas only 1.5% were on 20 mph roads. This is quite staggering, and it illustrates why people in some areas want to campaign for a lower speed limit.

The implementation of a 20 mph limit is particularly vital outside schools, which often face hurdles when they ask for speed-lowering or traffic-calming measures. I do not see as many school crossing patrols as I used to; they are undoubtedly in decline. I have parents in my constituency who rely on a mere crossing island to aid their passage to school. I went to a primary school to meet concerned parents who face the daily challenge of getting their children to school safely. If parents in my constituency want the limit on the road outside their school lowered because they fear for their children’s safety, their voices must be heard.

Of course, referendums are not cheap, and they do need planning, so I do not propose that they be held spontaneously at any time. If there is a will among the people for a speed limit to be lowered from 30 mph to 20 mph, then their voices must be heard, and it is at the ballot box that they can make them heard. Referendums should be held in line with other local elections, national elections, by-elections, police and crime commissioner elections, and town and parish council elections. This will save the taxpayer considerable cost. The desire for a referendum would also need to be present. Town and parish councils should be able to judge whether they feel that an issue on a road needs addressing.

The purpose of the Bill is to alter speed limits, not just to lower them. If a town or village wants to a raise a speed limit, it will have the option to do that as well, if local people want to vote for it. If representation is strong from within the community, and no strategy is being put forward by the local authority to address the issue, then a vote should be put to the people. If the community votes yes, then the local authority must begin work to implement the speed limit. To avoid the holding of referendums on one road after another, councils could list a number of roads in their area at the same time, or put forward a proposal for a whole area, such as a town centre. That would apply a blanket change, rather than some roads changing and some not.

In these times of increasing car journeys, I truly believe it is vital that we keep people safe. There is huge housing growth in some areas, and as houses are built, more parents and children are walking to school, there are more public transport movements and more heavy goods vehicles—the list goes on. This Government are passionate about giving more power to the people. We have seen the devolution packages agreed thus far, such as the devolution of business rates, the recent and historic Cornish devolution deal, and giving people the power to reject wind turbine applications.

I believe that the Bill will indirectly get more people interested in politics and create more understanding of the political process. If a majority want the speed limit changed, let them stand and put their names to doing so. They can then say that, by putting an X in the box, they changed their local community. Ultimately, I believe the Bill will empower people and help to address the issues that directly affect them on the roads.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Scott Mann, Steve Double, Heidi Allen, Caroline Nokes, Rebecca Pow, Derek Thomas, Alex Chalk and Maggie Throup present the Bill.

Scott Mann accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 February 2016, and to be printed (Bill 98).