As a Borough Councillor in Colchester, I was proud, alongside Ward colleagues, to have overseen the first 20mph speed limit in Essex, in an area known as New Town, built in the closing decade of the 19th century. We were able to do this as part of the introduction of the first traffic calming scheme in the city, which we had campaigned for – happily, this coincided with the 1991 legislation for 20mph, so the two were combined. This scheme was such a success that I was pleased when another area of my Ward later had a combined traffic calming and 20mph speed limit introduced.
However, this was nearly 30 years ago and designs of new housing areas are, in some cases, very different to those of the second half of the 20th century and into the current century. 20mph limits are the obvious best choice for many new estate roads, and I support Brake, 20s Plenty and others who campaign for the default speed limit for urban/village roads (or ‘restricted roads’) to be set nationally as 20mph.
However, I also believe that when a new development has a design feature of shared pavements and roads and community areas (the “public realm”) then 20mph is too high and a 10mph limit would be more suitable – one important thing it would do would be to provide an immediate visual instruction to drivers to slow down. Unfortunately, at present, any speed limits below 30mph, other than 20mph limits or 20mph zones, require individual consent from the Secretary of State – a significant barrier to lower speeds which I feel should be removed.
This issue caught my attention when I saw a recent residential development, on a former factory site in Colchester, which has shared community, pedestrian and traffic space – but with a 20mph speed limit. In my view, it would have been much safer if it had been 10mph. The same applies to another recent residential development – a mixture of new-build and conversion of Victorian barracks buildings to residential – at the former Colchester Garrison.
With further brownfield developments taking place throughout the country, where more and more designs feature shared space, then I feel that, in the interests of safety, making it easier to introduce 10mph limits would be hugely beneficial. The distances involved on these journeys would be small and so a reduction from 20mph to 10mph would only add seconds, but could have a big impact on safety. We know that most drivers obey speed limits, so signs stating “10mph” would be an effective measure to get drivers travelling more slowly.
I agree that getting 20mph introduced as the default in urban areas is a must, building on the success of many local efforts supported by 20s Plenty, Brake and others, and I wholeheartedly support these campaigns. However, I also believe that in changing 20mph to the default, we should also seek to make other lower speeds easier to introduce, giving local authorities the flexibility to set the right speed for the right environment. The speed of motor traffic affects a community in so many ways and I believe it is time that the needs of the community came first.
Sir Bob Russell
Former MP for Colchester