[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered road safety around schools.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for granting time for this debate. I am pleased that we have the opportunity to discuss an issue of national and international significance, which has had a profound effect in my constituency.
Bobby Colleran was a bright, fun and loving boy. He was good at football. He loved playing cowboys and Indians, and he loved his Xbox. As his mum put it, he was, “Cheeky but charming.” He was,
“his own person and didn’t care what anyone thought.”
He loved his family and friends, and would not allow anyone to be upset or alone when he was around.
Bobby loved his nan and his grandad Richie—“Grandy,” he called him. He loved his mum, Joanne, and his dad, David. He was the “Most loving little boy.” Bobby was the middle child and he loved it that way. He had his big brother, Harry, and his younger “twinnies”, Frankie and Georgie. When his younger brothers started school, Bobby would stand by the nursery railing every day at playtime, to check that they were okay and to talk to them. He had a big, caring heart.
On 24 October 2014, while Bobby was returning home from Blackmoor Park Infant School with his mum, he was knocked down and he died. He was six years old. The incident, when it happened, sent shockwaves around my constituency of West Derby, and around Liverpool as a whole. The coroner said:
“When a six year old dies in these circumstances, it affects the whole city.”
As the local community mourned, questions were asked about how this could have happened outside a school. In the aftermath of Bobby’s death, the Bobby Colleran Trust was created. The trust works hard to encourage and promote better road safety awareness for children and parents, and throughout the education system, to help prevent future tragedies. We are here because we need to ensure that roads around schools are safe for children and parents, because we want to see changes in the law that will make the areas around schools less dangerous, and because we owe it to Bobby and his family to make it clear that an incident of this nature should never happen again.
The Bobby Colleran Trust is leading the way in encouraging local authorities and the Government to make our roads safer. I am pleased to say that it has had a lot of success in the city of Liverpool. People across Liverpool applaud and endorse its efforts to make roads near schools safer. One way it is doing that is by encouraging schools to introduce Bobby zones. If you drive around Liverpool, Mr Evans, you will see huge banners outside schools with the straightforward slogan, “Slow Down for Bobby”, next to a picture of his face. In fact, every primary school in Liverpool now has a Bobby zone banner, which is a testament to the Colleran family’s ceaseless work for Bobby’s legacy.
I also want to put on the record my thanks to Radio City in Liverpool, which has supported the Colleran family and the Bobby Colleran Trust since its creation. I am pleased that Adam from Radio City is here today, along with the Colleran family. They have used the medium of radio to raise awareness of Bobby zones and the “Wear Blue for Bobby” campaign.
Bobby zones are designed to slow down the traffic around schools and prevent the unnecessary build-up of vehicles. The maximum speed limit in a Bobby zone is 20 miles per hour. No dropping-off or picking-up is allowed in the Bobby zone, even when the traffic appears to be at a standstill. Drivers should not park on the pavement in any manner within these zones, as that can force pedestrians into the road, which can act as a further distraction to other road users. Drivers should not park in locations that could block the walkway for children and parents. Drivers should be extra vigilant in these zones, and aware that the surrounding area is full of children and their families.
I know that there is an appetite for such measures right across the country. In the past 24 hours, just on social media, I have had responses from parents, campaigners and others from right across our country. In July, for example, there was a furious row at a meeting of Manchester City Council, where discussions were held about which schools in Manchester should get new safety crossings. Earlier this year, two children were knocked down outside Crossacres Primary School in Wythenshawe, Manchester. According to the council’s road safety sub-committee, there were 48 serious incidents outside Manchester schools from 2014 to 2016. A legally enforced Bobby zone outside those schools may have prevented some of those incidents from happening in the first place.
Bobby zones have probably already saved lives in Liverpool. In a cruel twist of fate, earlier this year, on what would have been Bobby’s 10th birthday, another pupil from Bobby’s school, Blackmoor Park, was knocked over in nearly exactly the same spot as Bobby. Paramedic Gary Earps, who had just picked up his daughters from the school, saw the incident and rushed over to help. Fortunately, the pupil suffered only a broken leg, but it could have been a great deal worse. In an interview with Radio City, Gary said that he believed that the Bobby zone had saved that child’s life. He said:
“If what happened…is a prime example, then a life’s been saved because of this. You’re not going to eradicate incidents, but what you can do is put measures in place to minimise injury or death ultimately… I think every school in the country should have these zones where the speed limit is low.”
Bobby zones are now in effect outside every primary school in Liverpool, but that alone is not enough. Like Gary, I would like to see a Bobby zone outside every school across our country. The small changes that drivers and other road users can make will have a lasting impact on the safety and security of roads around schools. Does the Minister agree that every school should have a Bobby zone? If so, what action will the Government take to make that a reality?
The Bobby Colleran Trust did not stop at Bobby zones. It has developed very helpful education tools for schools to use to help educate their pupils about road safety. One such programme is the “Superbob!” books, developed and written by local author Jude Lennon. Superbob is, as we might imagine, a bit of a superhero. His most important job is not to fight crime or take on the bad guys, but to help people cross the road safely. The aim of the book is to create an interactive, fun, educational resource that can be used in primary school assemblies. It has been taken up not only in Liverpool but across the north-west of England. Since the book was launched, Jude Lennon has visited hundreds of schools and spoken to nearly 60,000 children about staying safe on the roads. Indeed, the book was such a huge success that it spawned a sequel, and earlier this year “Superbob S.T.O.P: Superbob Tells Off Parents” was released.
The trust has also given out around 15,000 high-visibility jackets for pupils, which make students more visible when they go to and from school, particularly in winter, and therefore easier for road users to spot. In April, the trust established a children’s bereavement counselling service in conjunction with Aquarius counselling. The service provides support to grieving children and young people between the ages of five and 19 living across Merseyside, in Liverpool, Huyton, Knowsley and Sefton. The counselling team provides therapy in creative ways, for example through artwork, music, role play, storytelling and dance. The trust has done so much good work in Bobby’s name that in some ways it is hard to put into words. The passion with which the Colleran family have pushed the issue speaks to their heartfelt desire to ensure that no child is knocked down or killed outside school ever again, and I want that to become a reality, too.
I have been a long-standing supporter of improving road safety and, in particular, recognising those who respond in the immediate aftermath. In my previous tenure as the Member for Enfield, Southgate, a similarly tragic incident led to my becoming chair of the Livia awards. The Livia Award for Professionalism and Service to Justice is an annual award given to the Metropolitan police officer in the traffic operational command unit judged to have provided the most meritorious service. It arose from an exceptional circumstance: the untimely, tragic and avoidable death of Livia Galli-Atkinson, who was killed in Enfield on her way to ballet on 12 January 1998. I have proudly chaired the Livia award panel for almost 20 years. I pay tribute to Livia’s parents, Guilietta and George. Like Joanne and David Colleran, they are dedicated campaigners for road safety.
In 2003, when I was an education Minister, I was pleased to speak at the first Safe Routes to School conference in Leicester, which had been organised by the charity Sustrans. The Safe Routes to School programme was set up by the previous Labour Government to support infrastructure developments around school catchment areas and clusters to make it easier and safer for pupils to walk or cycle to school. Surveys show that one of the main barriers for parents allowing their children to walk or cycle is concern for their safety along the way. The fund was set up to mitigate such concerns by building cycle paths and walkways, laying down road markings and introducing clearer signage to help get pupils to school safely. The Scottish Government still run a similar scheme. Will the Minister update the House on the status of safe routes to school now in England?
Every month, almost 200 children receive life-threatening injuries or tragically lose their life while crossing a road in our country. Evidence shows that 11 and 12-year-olds are the most at-risk group when it comes to road safety. An 11-year-old pedestrian is three times more likely to be killed or seriously injured during the school run than a 10-year-old. That age group accounts for almost one third of all child pedestrian deaths. The statistic is striking, and I understand that the main explanation is that 11 is the age at which many children get their first mobile phone. Nearly a quarter of 11 and 12-year-olds say that they have been distracted when crossing a road because of a mobile phone or MP3 player.
I am told that the term for such people is “smombie”, which we think means a smartphone zombie. So-called smombies put themselves at risk by not paying attention to the road, but it also puts drivers under more pressure and risks unnecessary incidents. In fact, in some states of the United States and in Abu Dhabi, it is illegal to cross the road while using a mobile phone. I am really pleased to hear that First News will be running a big campaign on this specific issue during Road Safety Awareness Week in November to try to educate children about the dangers of not paying full attention when crossing the road.
It is vital that children and young people have road safety education and skills from the youngest possible age so that they can continue to put those into practice in their teens and then in adulthood. That is one of the reasons why the Superbob books are so important; they teach children a lifelong lesson—the often neglected lesson—of how to cross a road safely. What are the Government doing to ensure that all students are given high-quality road safety education in schools across the country?
Since 2010, the Government have increasingly sought to devolve transport powers to local government and to city regions. Of course, that brings with it some benefits as it allows local areas to adapt their roads and transport to local needs and priorities. However, safety around school is an issue of national significance, so I urge the Government to develop and update their national framework in conjunction with schools, the police and local authorities to ensure that best practice is enforced throughout the country.
In 2010, when the current Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Secretary of State for Transport, he told the Transport Committee,
“We have not ruled out”
a new national road safety framework. Indeed, the coalition Government released the framework in 2011, but it lacked specific recommendations on how to deal with road safety around schools. Do the Government have any plans to update the road safety framework? If so, will they consider the specific set of issues of safety around schools, including my suggestion that Bobby zones be taken up as a national priority?
Unfortunately, last year we saw in this country a small increase in the number of deaths on the road after a long period in which in most years the figures declined. In 1990 more than 5,000 people were killed on the roads. The figure for 2017 was 1,792. That fall is hugely welcome and is in part down to the extraordinary campaigning of organisations such as RoadPeace and Brake, and of course the Bobby Colleran Trust. However, 1,792 deaths is still 1,792 deaths too many. We have some of the safest roads in the world, but that does not mean we can be complacent. We must instil best practice, ensuring that roads around our schools are safe for children and families, and listen to groups that have been working on the issue, such as the Bobby Colleran Trust, which are out in the community making changes to people’s lives and wellbeing.
I would like to take this opportunity to invite the Minister to meet me and the Colleran family in Liverpool. I know that he met them briefly at the beginning of the debate this afternoon, and I thank him for that, but if he has the chance to come to Liverpool he will see the schools with their Bobby zone banners and gain an appreciation of the city-wide impact that Bobby’s death had, and the city-wide effect of the campaigning efforts of his family and the trust. I wish, of course, that we were here debating the issue in less tragic circumstances, but we have an opportunity to learn the lessons from the death of Bobby Colleran and to do everything in our power to ensure that no other child is hurt or dies on our roads. In many ways, Bobby has left a wonderful legacy: 60,000 children are better educated about road safety, there are Bobby zones in every primary school in Liverpool, and now there is a special bereavement service for young people and children across the north-west of England. Let us keep Bobby’s legacy going by making sure that every school in the country has a Bobby zone, and by keeping pupils and their families as safe as we can.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr Evans. I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for initiating it and for the way he spoke. He set out some appalling reasons why this matter is important, and why it is important for the Government to take more action—to assess what they can do to improve road safety around schools and give a lead to local authorities. The local authority aspect of the matter is what I want to talk about.
It would be wrong of me not to mention my heartfelt sympathy for the family of Bobby Colleran, who are seated behind me, in the Public Gallery. Any parent will be aware of how horrifying it is to think about one of their children no longer being with them. It is unimaginable, and I can only pay tribute to the Colleran family for the way they put their energies and focus into making things better for other parents, and for their dignity. They are lucky to have the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby as their MP, campaigning on their behalf.
I was moved to attend the debate because I serve a rural constituency of 200 square miles with many small primary schools. Naturally, they are on roads, and as those roads have got busier, the safety situation has got worse. For example, Punnetts Town Community Primary School, a few miles from where I live, is on a busy road, on the left-hand side as one drives through. On the right-hand side are the car park, sports facilities and other amenities the children go to, such as forest school. To get from drop-off, or to use the amenities during the day, which is good for their health and fitness, the children have to cross a busy road. There is no crossing, and there are no lights. There is nothing; the children just have to cross when it is safe to do so on a busy, straight road. It is not safe to do that.
My frustration, and the point on which I look to the Government to lead local authorities to do more, is about the fact that, while there is a 30 mph zone, which of course tends to be flouted, and a flashing sign indicating a speed limit of 30 mph as drivers come in, we are told by East Sussex County Council that it will cost £120,000 to deliver a puffin crossing. I have put some research together, and I could do that work a lot cheaper. The difficulty is that local authorities, perhaps with their procurement on a smaller, localised basis, cannot buy equipment at as good a cost as they could if all local authorities acted together to cram the prices down. There is also a tendency to say, “It will cost this amount,” and to decide that, therefore, it is a question of spending money the council does not have or doing nothing. Many of the costs in the project I have outlined would relate to moving some signage. The parents would be happy with the signage as it is, if they could get the puffin crossing. We tend to go to the platinum standard, whereas the parents would find the gold standard absolutely adequate.
Another difficulty is that there is no longer a lollipop lady, because she decided it was not safe enough. My idea was to monetise 10 years’ worth of lollipop salaries and put them towards the cost of the puffin crossing. Then we would not need the lollipop lady. However, that type of thinking does not seem to work in local authorities. I recognise that the Government do not control the issue, which is devolved to local authorities—we want local authorities to keep making those decisions—but there must be a better way to lead or advise them on procurement. To some extent, there should also be a model in which they are told, “You have to provide this.” It should not be enough to say, “It is too expensive and we can’t afford it, so there will be nothing.” I therefore pay tribute to one of the parents, Alice Conyers-Silverthorn, and the councillors, who have together rallied to try to make the change happen.
I want to champion those who go into schools to teach safety awareness, such as by helping with artwork to be displayed by the road, as happened in the village of Five Ashes. Susan King, a resident of Cross in Hand, goes into a school to give awards to pupils for their work. She also tries to encourage parents not to bring their children by car in the first place. I am afraid that parents’ parking often increases the dangers to their own children or, more often, their children’s fellow pupils.
The ideas behind the Bobby zone are superb, because they effectively ring-fence an area that is safe. However, that will not work in isolation, because the issue of where to park then arises. So I want every primary school in the country to have a walking bus. It should be a statutory requirement. Walking is good for health, and it would mean a school would have one central point where everyone would be dropped off and where it would be safer. Cars would then not congregate around the school gates. That should be built in.
I should like more children to walk and cycle. Doing that is a bit of a double-edged sword at the moment. It is not safe to walk and cycle, so everyone drives cars, but that is what leads to its not being safe in the first place. On 10 October, it is Walk to School Day, when all pupils are encouraged to walk to school. I do not know about when you were growing up, Mr Evans, but there was a cycle ride and a walk for me. I walked to school four times a day, because I went home for lunch. Understandably, parents are now more concerned about safety, but I would tell parents in my constituency to let their children go a little more—let them walk. If the Government can make changes that make walking safer, parents, in return, could let things go. When we consider such things as type 2 diabetes, there is more need than ever to get children walking and cycling, to be fit and well.
My final point is about police enforcement. I have written to the chief constable of Sussex police. When I knock on doors in villages, speeding tends to be the issue people raise more than anything, including Brexit. It is all a question of how they can keep their community and environment safe. Part of the issue is of course engineering, but another part is enforcement. A welcome 250 extra police officers are now coming to East Sussex, and I should like them to be allocated for at least part of their time to road enforcement, stopping those who speed, making examples of them and thus lessening the chance of its happening again.
The Minister takes great care and attention with this matter. He met a group of my constituents who came to talk about speeding on the A21, which is one of the busiest trunk roads and has a primary school on it. That is our only school with a 20 mph zone; but another one, Vinehall School, further down, does not have one. I should like more roads to be routed away from schools. If that means more housing to build the roads, it would fix two issues.
I am a member of the Transport Committee, and it is about to consider local roads. What I have heard in the debate about the Colleran family, and what they have been through, will inspire me to try to broaden the subject to include road safety around schools.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding this afternoon, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. As he said, every road casualty is a tragedy, and the death of Bobby Colleran is no different. I join my hon. Friend in commending the campaign to remember Bobby, and I love the idea of Bobby zones. It is very personal and it makes the point.
When I was a Minister with responsibility for road safety, I had the privilege of meeting several families who were affected by a family member being killed and who channelled their grief and bereavement into campaigning for the safety of others and for road safety in general. Bobby’s is a powerful story, and we want to ensure that it is transmitted across the political spectrum. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the suggestion about Bobby zones and the progress that might be made.
I hope the Minister will also respond to the points of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) about school crossings, parking near schools, school travel plans and 20 mph zones. I know the hon. Gentleman talked about 30 mph zones, but, certainly in London, the big campaign is for schools to have 20 mph zones. Most of them are there, but enforcement is key.
I raised the issue of deaths of schoolchildren in an international context earlier this year, on 29 March and 24 April. The United Nations and the World Health Organisation estimate that about 500 children leave for school every day and do not return home. That is one reason why the sustainable development goals contain targets to cut the numbers killed and seriously injured on the world’s roads. At the moment, more than 1 million people die on the world’s roads every year, and 20 million are seriously injured.
In the UK, we are lucky, because we have one of the best road safety records in the world. In a variety of ways, we also help many countries that are more challenged. The charity Fire Aid, which I chair, delivers equipment and training from fire brigades and the fire sector across the country. It also trains fire brigades in developing countries, in particular, in post-crash response. In many countries across the world, apart from delivering that equipment and those techniques, it delivers the THINK! campaign’s road safety education programmes to get the message out in schools, as the Minister knows.
As has been mentioned, however, the domestic statistics do not make comfortable reading. A paper from the Department for Transport shows that, on average in 2013, which is when the last available data in the World Health Organisation’s global status report comes from, one child aged nought to 15 was killed and 37 were seriously injured every week in the UK. It also shows that most were killed or injured on their way home from school.
This year, the Department for Transport published a capacity review for the UK. It says:
“The removal of the ring-fenced Road Safety Grant and the substantial reductions in local highway investments and in traffic policing levels, experienced since 2010, have had visible impact on the level and quality of activity. Most local authorities are struggling to carry out and prioritise effective road safety activity in a time of budget cuts and growing demand in other areas, such as social care, without the impetus provided in the past from national measurable objectives”—
I will come back to that later. It goes on to say:
“Britain’s safety record for pedestrians and cyclists does not compare well to the leading road safety performers internationally.”
The latest Department for Transport figures for 2016 on child deaths and injuries show a jump compared with other figures, as has been mentioned. The number of child deaths in reported road traffic accidents in 2016 was 69, which is 15 more than the 54 child deaths that occurred in 2015. The 2016 figures are the highest since 2009. The Department for Transport’s factsheet on child casualties says:
“Children under the age of 16 are one of the most vulnerable road users”,
which I think we can all understand, adding that
“child pedestrians are not experienced and well educated about using the road…78%...involved in accidents failed to look properly”,
“38%...were careless, reckless or in a hurry.”
This is very much about education. Some 72% of the accidents that kill or seriously injure children on a school day happen between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock or between 3 o’clock and 7 o’clock—clearly during the school run. That is despite the fact that the proportion of trips where children walk to school has fallen from 47% in 1997 to 42% in 2013.
To come back to my original point about measurability, in 2010, the coalition Government decided to break with the 30-year consensus on having targets to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. That decision was badly received by the whole road safety industry. The targets had been introduced by the Administration of Mrs Thatcher—later Baroness Thatcher—in 1986, when I think the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) was the Minister with responsibility for road safety.
The coalition Government decided that they did not want to risk being accused of failure if the targets were not met, but the targets were never about providing an opportunity for party political point scoring. They were about creating an atmosphere for all involved and demonstrating the ambition that we wanted to do better and to have safer roads.
Perversely, the coalition Government, and now this one, have happily signed up to European Union targets and to the UN’s sustainable development goals, which also have targets. We are joining in on international targets, but we will not set a target in the United Kingdom. If the Government want to demonstrate some determination in this area, they need to announce that they will go back to killed or seriously injured—KSI—targets, which were started by a Conservative Government more than 30 years ago and which should be in position today.
All hon. Members hold the Minister in high regard, have great respect for him and do not doubt the integrity he brings to his position. We all wish him well, but we need a Department for Transport policy that reflects his personal commit. I look forward to his response to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby about Bobby zones, and to other hon. Members’ exhortations about doing better for schools kids. I also look forward to the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner).
I am more than pleased to support the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who put the case so succinctly. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman): the constituents of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby are lucky to have such a conscientious and hard-working constituency MP. This debate is an example of the hard work that he does, so I say well done to him. I also thank the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Bexhill and Battle for their contributions.
I commend the family of Bobby Colleran and extend my sympathies to them. This debate is taking place because of the tragedy that took place. It brings it back to us all. I well remember the death in a collision of a six-year-old child down the street from one of my local schools—the Model Primary School in Newtownards—not more than two years ago. Whatever the reasons for that, a family was bereaved. I still consciously think of that family, and particularly the parents, as they continue to grieve. They are very much in my thoughts and prayers.
At most of our schools, we have warning lights in place and a sign advising people to reduce their speed, but I am an advocate for a 20 mph speed limit during school time on any road that has a school. The Minister cannot respond to my questions about Northern Ireland, but I echo the comments and the contributions that have been made, because it is the same issue wherever it may be—it does not change because it happens to be on the mainland and not in Northern Ireland, or in Scotland or Wales—and what we need to do is the same.
Two weeks ago, in my major town of Newtownards, Transport NI, which was previously known as the Roads Service, put in a new pedestrian crossing across from the local secondary school. That was the result of the hard work of the elected representatives, including local councillors, Members of the Legislative Assembly and me as the Member of Parliament. It was necessary, because the school has more than 1,000 pupils. The car park is alongside the school, but many pupils cross the road to get to the school, so that crossing is good news.
I am of a generation—Mr Evans, there might be at least one other person not too far from me who is of the same generation or thereabouts—that well remembers the green cross code, which was the methodology of encouraging and educating our young people on the way to cross a road. I suppose that big man in that green and white suit with a green cross on his chest was the guy who put it in our minds, and it was effective. However, times change and moves on, and the reality has changed. There has been a build-up of schools and housing around schools, and the increased number of children involved means that we have to change how we do things.
It is coincidental that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby has secured the debate this week. I think it was yesterday that the announcement was made in Northern Ireland that the Schools (Part-Time 20mph Speed Limit) Order (Northern Ireland) 2018 will come into operation on 18 September for certain schools, including one in my constituency. Carrickmannon Primary School, which I and others have been lobbying on behalf of for the last couple of years, is currently adjacent to a national speed limit area, Carrickmannon Road in Ballygowan. The effect of the order is that the national speed limit, which is applicable to eight lengths of roads, will be reduced to 20 mph, when a 20 mph limit is indicated by means of a variable-message traffic sign.
There will be a number of these zones in Northern Ireland. As I say, there will be one in my constituency, and I will be very pleased to see it in place, because we have campaigned long and hard for it. Carrickmannon Primary School is a rural school, and I go back to the examples the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle gave earlier of rural schools. Indeed, Carrickmannon Primary School is right out in the middle of the countryside. The road has a couple of corners on either side of the school, it is bumpy, and there are large businesses, including a quarry, close by. The traffic going up and down that road, including large vehicles, is quite exceptionally heavy, and someone who does not know about the school will not know they are coming upon it until they come round a corner and over a hump.
Those are the realities, so how do we respond to them? To be fair, Transport NI, which was formerly the Roads Service, has responded in a way that shows it agrees that the 20 mph speed limit is absolutely critical and crucial; we welcome that, and I want to put that on the record as well. Many people lobbied for that 20 mph zone near Carrickmannon, including the principal of the school, the parent-teacher association and local representatives. Again, it is a victory for community, and for pupil and teacher power. That is good news.
I met school teachers and officials from the then Roads Service back in October 2016—very close to two years ago—and it is great to see the 20 mph zone coming into place. However, such zones should not simply be for this school and the other rural schools on the Northern Ireland list, but should be established throughout the Province and indeed across the UK as a whole.
I have also lobbied for some time on behalf of Grey Abbey Primary School, which is also in my constituency. Again, there are flashing lights up on either side of the road, but the school is on a corner, so it is in a difficult place. However, it seems logical to have the 20 mph speed limit for a corner that is actually right-angled; I cannot understand why there is not one there already, but there we are. Kirkistown Primary School is another local school that comes to mind. There is a straight bit of road beside it, but a 20 mph speed limit there would still be critical and crucial.
I know that such zones are in operation near many schools across England. The UK’s first 20 mph zones were introduced in England in 1991, in Sheffield, Kingston upon Thames and Norwich. Increasing the safety of road users and pedestrians has been the primary driver of 20 mph zones in the UK. It is now estimated that there are 2,150 such zones in operation in England, which again is an indication of the commitment by successive Governments to address this issue. However, what we may need to do now—it is perhaps why we are having this debate—is to try to up the ante and prioritise the issue, to see whether we can move closer to reducing the number of deaths around schools and finally stop them.
Case study evidence indicates that 96% of 20 mph zones take the form of vertical traffic calming/deflection measures, such as road humps. Only 1% of zones utilise horizontal measures, such as chicanes; 3% contain a mix of vertical and horizontal measures. Some 10% of 20 mph are speed limit-controlled areas using signing only. The UK Department for Transport recommends the use of signed-only 20 mph zones in places where speeds are already low.
We cannot ignore the statistics, even though they may be hard to listen to. The majority of pedestrian casualties occur in built-up areas; 29 of the 34 child pedestrians and 302 of the 413 adult pedestrians who were killed in 2016 died on built-up roads. Pedal cyclists are also vulnerable in built-up areas, with more than half of the cyclist deaths in 2016, at 58 out of 102, and most cyclist casualties in that year, at almost 17,000 out of nearly 18,500, occurring on built-up roads.
In total in 2016, 789 people were killed, almost 16,000 people were seriously injured and 113,055 people were slightly injured in reported road collisions on built-up roads in Great Britain. A large proportion of those accidents occurred on residential roads, with 90 deaths on B roads in built-up areas and 309 deaths on other minor roads in built-up areas. In Northern Ireland alone, we have had some 2,600 collisions close to schools, which signals—if I can use that terminology—a need for change, and although I welcome the change that has happened thus far, I believe that we need to do more.
The facts are clear. I think the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle referred to a 30 mph zone. If someone is driving at 40 mph and they hit a child, they will probably kill them; at 30 mph, the child has an 80% chance of survival; and at 20 mph, the child is likely to survive being hit, with only minor injuries. Those statistics show quite clearly why we need to have 20 mph zones outside all schools; having them would be simple and would save lives. If anyone wants the facts and the statistics, those are the key ones; I think they prove the case that a 20 mph speed limit around schools has made a difference.
I do not make this comment for the Minister to respond to, but our current budget at home, channelled through Transport NI, does not allow us to undertake all of the prioritising that is needed for the creation of 20 mph zones. Nevertheless, I believe that the eight such zones that will be created in Northern Ireland, including the one in my constituency, are a step on the road towards trying to change things, and will hopefully initiate the drive from within to make change happen.
I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who said in his introduction that there must be additional ring-fencing of the funding that is given centrally, and I ask for that to be considered in the upcoming Budget discussions. Also, as a result of this debate, I will go back to Transport NI, not only to congratulate it on the Carrickmannon school zone but to remind it that there are other such zones to be done —I will do that while thanking officials.
It is not difficult to see that we can and should do more, at every school, in every town, in every village and for every child—now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this crucial debate. He has long been a prominent campaigner for better road safety, not only as a Member of Parliament but, as we have heard, when he was a Minister in the Department for Education, where he did a great deal of work to improve road safety around schools, and we thank him for that.
I pay tribute to the family of Bobby Colleran and to the important work that the Bobby Colleran Trust does. I know that the introduction of Bobby zones outside schools in Liverpool has been successful. The roll-out of such zones nationally is something that the Government should seriously consider. I am very keen to meet people from the trust to hear more about the great work it does.
Over the past two decades the UK has earned a reputation for having roads that are among the safest in the world. Sadly, over the past eight years progress has stalled and even begun to reverse. The latest statistics show that road deaths are at a five-year high and that serious, life-changing injuries are up by 9%. The latest data from the Department for Transport shows that child pedestrian fatalities rose by 36% in 2016, and they were up slightly the following year. The introduction of maximum 20 mph speed limit zones around schools would help reduce the number of such incidents dramatically. All the evidence shows that areas that have implemented the 20 mph limit have seen a reduction in casualties. My own city of Hull has introduced a number of 20 mph zones to address the issue. Over a six-year period, we have seen a staggering 74% drop in child pedestrian casualties.
The 20 mph zones would not just have benefits for road safety; importantly, they would improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and encourage more physical activity, such as walking and cycling, by contributing towards a safer environment. In the Labour party’s 2017 manifesto, we said that a future Labour Government
“will reset the UK’s road safety vision and ambitiously strive for a transport network with zero deaths, reintroducing road-safety targets, setting out bold measures that will continuously improve safety standards.”
Will the Minister say why the Government scrapped the road safety targets introduced by previous Governments?
The Government talk about road safety being a top priority, but they have failed to reduce the number of people seriously injured or killed on our roads. The evidence points to the reduction targets working successfully to promote safer roads. Enforcement is a vital part of keeping our roads safe, yet the number of traffic police officers has been slashed due to huge cuts to police forces. It is not a time to be party political—the debate is far more important than that—but the evidence shows that when police officer numbers are slashed, casualty numbers near schools tend to go up. According to a Department for Transport statistical table, the number of serious road injuries increased by 7% in the year to September 2017. Do the Government not recognise the link? It is time for them to reverse the cuts they have imposed during their time in office, which have undoubtedly led to the decline in road safety we have seen in recent years. I look forward to hearing what the Government are doing.
Although we have one of the safest road networks around, we should never be complacent, and the Government should be doing much more to make our roads even safer. The roll-out of Bobby zones nationally would go a long way towards reducing deaths and serious injury. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s remarks on the important points raised during today’s debate.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate on road safety around schools. I very much share his concern about the issue. It is a sobering fact that children are killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents every year near schools. The hon. Gentleman will have heard many stories, and he referred to a couple in his speech in a moving and heart-rending way. He will have heard such stories in his previous role as shadow Secretary of State for Education and in other positions in and around government.
I also pay tribute to Mr and Mrs Colleran for the work they have done. It was lovely to meet them briefly earlier, and I look forward to a further conversation. I absolutely pay tribute to them, because obviously Bobby Colleran was a marvellous, marvellous boy. They have vindicated his memory by the great actions and energy they have shown in promoting Bobby zones and the other measures that the hon. Gentleman discussed. I have been through their website with some care, read the stories and seen the work, and I pay tribute to them. It is a remarkable achievement.
I and my officials are only too keenly aware of road traffic fatalities and injuries and the need to protect the most vulnerable road users. As Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Gentleman will know that by internationally measured standards the UK has an excellent road safety record and a long history of success in encouraging safe behaviour from all road users. This country should be proud of the fact that the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads dropped by 61% from 1990 to 2016. There has also been a recent drop in the total number of children between nought and 17 years old who are killed or seriously or slightly injured on Britain’s roads, from 23,383 in 2014 to 21,661 in 2016. In the hon. Gentleman’s area of Liverpool, there has been a drop from 236 in 2014 to 232 in 2016. However, we are striving to make our roads even safer still and before turning to the specific questions that have been raised by Members, I will talk about the range of measures and initiatives we are taking to try to address these issues. I am extremely grateful for all their contributions.
I will start by talking about the THINK! campaign, which is very close to many Members’ hearts. We want to build road safety knowledge. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spoke about education and its centrality, and he is absolutely right. We want to build deep road safety knowledge and skills at reading roads and pavements among younger generations, forming good habits that last a lifetime. The THINK! team has recently completed a two-and-a-half-year project to produce new educational resources for three to 16-year-olds. They are entirely free and are available to any school, any other educational institution or non-educational institution or any individual that would like to use them, whether in the home or in teaching.
The team engaged parents, teachers, youth leaders and road safety professionals in the development of those resources, which include films, songs and games—different modes of education and play—to encourage as many young people as possible to understand the importance of using the road safely. Those resources are, in a way, the modern equivalent of the green cross code that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned. We launched the resources at a London school in April, and the campaign has received very positive support online and from the national and regional press.
We are also taking other important measures. One that has been much in the headlines recently is our cycling and walking investment strategy and the safety review that has come out of that. We as a Government are committed to increasing cycling and walking and to making our roads safer for vulnerable users, including pedestrians and especially children. We will only achieve that ambition if children feel safe when they walk and cycle to and from school, for the very reasons picked out in the debate today, because that is a point of vulnerability.
In September 2017, I announced a cycling and walking safety review, launching a call for evidence that closed in June. It was astonishingly successful in eliciting a public response. We have had something like 13,000 responses, covering a wide range of issues, from infrastructure to road user education, and with hundreds of suggestions. I have already made various interim announcements this year that reflect the input and expertise shown through that consultation process. They include measures to improve standards for infrastructure; measures to incorporate better guidance on close passing of vulnerable road users—bicyclists or horse riders, for example—into The Highway Code; and £1 million to fund pathfinder projects to upgrade the national cycle network. We will be making further announcements in that area soon.
Much of the focus of the review, as one might imagine, is on protecting cyclists, walkers and other vulnerable road users. However, cyclists themselves must play their part in creating safer roads. In rare but tragic cases, the dangerous or careless actions of a cyclist have led to death or serious injury. I am afraid we had one involving an e-bike recently in London, as colleagues will have seen. We are consulting on plans to create new offences—legal expertise has identified a gap in the law in England in that area—in order to bring penalties potentially for causing death or injury by dangerous cycling into line with those for driving. We expect drivers to be held to account if they carelessly or dangerously cause death or injury, and the same will potentially be true for cyclists if the consultation plays out that way. The consultation is open until 5 November.
The question of education and its link to road safety receives particular attention in Government through Bikeability, the Government’s national cycle training programme designed to give children the skills and confidence to cycle safely and competently on today’s roads. Bikeability has substantial funding—£50 million to cover cycle training from 2016 to 2020. That includes a £5 million investment in Bikeability Plus, which introduces four-year-olds to balance training, teaches pupils how to fix and maintain their bikes, and encourages families and children who do not currently cycle to do so.
Local authorities have bid into the Department for the training places that they wish their schools to deliver across levels 1 to 3 and Bikeability Plus. As of May 2017, more than 2.1 million places have been delivered across the country since Bikeability started in 2007, and we have secured an additional £1 million to support it during 2018-19. Bikeability is about learning not only how to ride a bike, but how to keep oneself safe on the road, and how to read roads. It therefore makes an important contribution to understanding of general road safety.
Another scheme to mention is the Walk to School project. The emphasis rightly placed by colleagues on walking buses is very welcome. During the coming year, the Government will invest a further £620,000 in the Walk to School project, which has been highly successful. It is delivered by a charity called Living Streets and aims to increase the number of children walking to school. It will support the delivery of the Government’s target to increase the percentage of children aged five to 10 who usually walk to school to 55% by 2025. It builds on previous funding that targeted all kinds of schools that were not covered by the access fund “Walk To” consortium, to ensure maximum geographic reach. I have asked my officials to input all aspects of today’s debate—such as walking to school, and understanding walking buses as a way of safely co-ordinating road use—to our cycling and walking safety review. We want to take all the learning today, including Bobby zones, to which I will refer in a moment, and walking buses, and add it to the process of reflection and consultation.
Another important area in which we are taking measures is pavement parking. Parking on the pavement can, of course, cause serious problems for child pedestrians, and not just those in wheelchairs or with visual impairments. A child’s-eye view of the world is a much lower one. It is harder to see where one is, and if the pavement is being blocked it is harder to negotiate for a young person who may have very limited experience. It is also bad for parents with prams or pushchairs.
Within London, as Members will know, there is a statutory ban on pavement parking. Outside London, local authorities have powers to prohibit pavement parking by making traffic regulation orders—TROs—under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. They may also use bollards to protect pavements physically. We have heard a lot of concern from interested groups, the general public, those with disabilities and the elderly about the incidence of pavement parking outside London. We are currently gathering evidence to try to understand the effectiveness of current legislation. That includes considering alternative methods for tackling inappropriate pavement parking. The review is in progress, and I expect it to draw some conclusions by the end of the year. It is an internal review, and if it concludes that there is a case for change, the next stage will be to proceed to consultation sometime next year.
Pavement parking is a big issue nationally, as the Minister says, and certainly in my constituency. I encourage him to seriously consider extending the London ban to other parts of the country, including Liverpool.
It is interesting the hon. Gentleman should say that. As a former London MP, he will be extremely familiar with this matter. Of course, the London experience is part of the data that officials are being asked to consider as they frame future proposals.
On parking around schools, under section 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide appropriate traffic management schemes for local roads. They are free to make decisions about the streets under their care, provided they take account of the relevant legislation. Local authorities can put in place “school keep clear” markings that are legally enforceable when used in conjunction with an upright road sign and a traffic regulation order. Local authorities with civil parking enforcement powers can enforce those restrictions by issuing penalty charge notices to any vehicles found parked in contravention of them. Although there are certain restrictions on the use of CCTV by local authorities for parking enforcement, the Department has ensured that CCTV can continue to be used to enforce parking outside schools to protect children.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby raised the question of whether every school should have a Bobby zone. Bobby zones are something I was unfamiliar with until now, so it is hard for me to comment directly on that. What I can say is that all schools can have them under existing law. Local authorities have all the legal powers required to create Bobby zones, and Liverpool is a great example of that. It has those powers, and has applied them to create a cluster of local regulation, which has created that protective effect. That possibility is in play already.
I thank the Minister for mentioning kerbside parking—I should have done so, as it is hugely important. He talks about local authorities having the powers. In my constituency I have two of the 15 local authorities that do not have the powers because they have not brought in civil parking enforcement. Is there something that the Government could do to try to incentivise the handing over of the power from the police, who of course do not have the resources, to local authorities, so I will have the same rights in my constituency that other authorities do around the country?
This is, of course, a matter for local authorities, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. Some authorities have those powers, and some do not. Colleagues across the House have expressed concerns about that, and we are looking at it. To the extent that traffic regulation orders in relation to pavement parking may require some kind of reform, there may be scope to extend such reform to cover the kinds of aspects he describes.
One of the key issues that many colleagues across the House have discussed is 20 mph speed limits. It is important for the House to be aware that over the last few years we have introduced several new measures that can help local authorities to improve safety near schools. Local authorities have the power to introduce all-day 20 mph speed limits, and to introduce speed limits that apply only at certain times of day. Schools that are located on through roads, for example, where there may be conflicting desires on the part of local government, can have 20 mph zones imposed for periods of time, precisely to protect children at the beginning and end of the school day. Those limits can be indicated with variable message signs. Alternatively, authorities can now introduce an advisory part-time 20 mph limit using traffic signs with flashing school warning lights. They were prescribed in 2016 and can be a more cost-effective solution, as well as reducing sign clutter.
Some offences—this point has been acknowledged in the debate—are better tackled by training than punishment. Colleagues will be aware that earlier this year we commissioned some evaluation of the effectiveness of speed awareness training as an alternative to fines and penalty points for low-level speeding offences. That evaluation was broadly positive, and the national speed awareness course is now offered, as colleagues will know, by most police forces in England and Wales. We are also improving training for new drivers outside local roads by allowing learners to go on motorways with an approved driving instructor. Those are all part of trying to get safer drivers. We have new materials in progress to develop and improve learners’ awareness of hazards in different weather and lighting conditions.
On crossings, the new parallel crossing has been developed to enable pedestrians and cyclists to cross where a signal-controlled crossing is not justified. The now-ubiquitous pedestrian countdown units can be used to give extra information, allowing children to understand how much time they have left to cross the road. That is being supplemented by the Department with updated guidance. Chapter 6 of the “Traffic Signs Manual” will bring together and update existing advice on designing traffic signals and provide new guidance, which should be helpful.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) raised the issue of the costs that local authorities often attach to the kind of measures that the Minister is outlining. That was precisely our experience in Liverpool after Bobby died. It was quite a battle to persuade the authority to spend the money, and the amounts seemed surprisingly high. Is there anything the Department can do to take a lead in terms of procurement and guidance to local authorities to reduce the costs of the measures?
It is a very important issue. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in a previous incarnation, I led a vigorous and successful cross-party group to try to reduce costs in private finance initiatives. Believe me, I understand how expensive public procurement can be. As he will have seen, the Department has taken some steps to try to provide lower cost alternatives. If there is a reform of traffic regulation orders, that may well enable the reduction of costs. Local authorities have existing powers to band together to share procurement powers if they wish, but it is right to say that there are some parts of the country, particularly under framework contracts, where one could be seriously worried about some of the costs that local authorities find themselves operating under. One would like to see the democratic process operating in order to encourage them to take the low-cost but effective solutions wherever possible.
Before I come on to the questions that have been raised, I would just mention one more thing—mobile phones. We have taken a tougher stance on drivers who use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel. The penalty doubled to six points and a £200 fine last year, which means that drivers face having their licence revoked if they are caught using a mobile phone while driving.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) raised the issue of procurement costs. He is absolutely right; I have responded to that, and to the point he raised about walking buses.
My great friend, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, has been a superlative campaigner for international road safety and the genius of the fire service internationally, as many colleagues will know. He focused on national targets. As he says, the country is bound to international targets. We have taken the view that national targets do not necessarily play a role in improving safety. It is a contested matter. There are countries that have national targets with very good safety records, but it is very hard to point to a process of causation. We have taken the approach of trying to balance a wide range of interventions. Although the general trend remains broadly downwards, it is true that it has levelled out, and that is certainly something we are taking seriously. The Department is doing a lot of work on the areas of causation for that. Part of the current work on the two-year road safety strategy is looking specifically at older and more vulnerable users, young people, rural users and motorcyclists—they are four of the most at-risk categories. Work in the cycling and walking safety review very much targets a portion of those groups.
The hon. Member for Strangford was absolutely right to emphasise the impact of speed and the speed differential. The case for 20 mph speed limits rests heavily not just on the evidence of the more civilised approach that they bring to urban traffic—or that they are likely to bring if combined with the appropriate traffic calming measures and the like—but also on that of the initial impact of 30 mph versus 20 mph causing greater injury or greater risk of death. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise that point.
I have discussed the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) about national road safety targets. I understand why he raises the point. It is important to say that our road safety record remains the second best of any country in the EU and the fourth best in Europe. The concern about its levelling off is not restricted to the UK. There are similar concerns in many other countries with good safety records around Europe, and that is why it raises some difficult questions.
I have a couple of other points to touch on in response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. I have talked a little bit about the question of whether schools should have Bobby zones. I pay tribute to the work of Highways England and the police in educating young people in schools, and other charitable organisations such as Brake and RoadPeace have been mentioned. They have all had very important impacts.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of smombies. Our two-year road safety action plan is looking into that issue as part of the young persons’ component. Whether that is responsible for some of the increased injuries that we have seen in city environments is an interesting and open question. I should mention that Bikeability has entered a very interesting pioneering arrangement with Halfords, so they can leverage off each other in terms of spreading the word about road safety to potential users.
As I mentioned, I have asked officials to take the details from this debate, including the very interesting conversation we have had about Bobby zones, as input to the cycling and walking safety review. If there is evidence from Liverpool on the beneficial effect that Bobby zones have—it may be anecdotal at this stage rather than fully evidential—we will be very interested to see it.
The Government are taking an active and wide-ranging approach to tackling road safety in general and around schools. We will continue to support and work closely with all parties in making our roads safer for everyone that uses them.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive, thoughtful and reflective response. In particular, I am grateful for his comment that he will treat what I said during the debate as an input into the safety review. I will ensure that additional information is available from the Bobby Colleran Trust, Liverpool City Council and Merseyside police to assist in those efforts.
I thank colleagues from all parties who participated in the debate. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) for undertaking to raise some of these issues in the Transport Committee, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who was the road safety Minister and is tireless in raising the international dimension. The sustainable development goals are so important in tackling poverty and inequality around the world. Road safety is one of the major killers in many of the poorest countries. I pay tribute to Fire Aid, which is an absolutely brilliant organisation. On the issue of targets, the UK submits itself to the UN for a voluntary national review next year as part of the sustainable development goals, and I encourage the Department for Transport to consider making road safety a priority for its submission as part of the wider voluntary national review.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for reminding us that, although the focus of this debate has been on England, there are many similar challenges in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I, too, remember the green cross code and learning about safety on our roads in that way when I was a child. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) for agreeing to meet the Bobby Colleran Trust, and for all that he said today.
We have had a very positive debate. It is one of the strengths of Westminster Hall that we get these opportunities to demonstrate cross-party concern on behalf of our constituents. I am very pleased that the family has been here to hear the debate. I know that they will be encouraged by what has been said, but the test is what we do after the debate. We must ensure that we learn, and we have a real opportunity, with the review that the Minister described, to have Bobby zones not only in Liverpool but right across the country.
On behalf of all parliamentarians and those who work in Parliament and in the processes of government, I pass on our deepest condolences to the family. I commend the fact that, through you and your work, Bobby has a living legacy that is saving lives.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered road safety around schools.