Is case for new 20mph speed limit in Harrogate moving in favour of 20s Plenty campaigners?

Harrogate campaigners say their call for new 20mph speed limits in North Yorkshire has now won the support of more than 100 parishes in the county.

By Graham Chalmers
Thursday, 10th March 2022, 2:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2022, 2:32 pm
20s Plenty for North Yorkshire claims that 104 parishes in North Yorkshire have voted for a default 20mph speed limit, including 14 in the Harrogate district.
20s Plenty for North Yorkshire claims that 104 parishes in North Yorkshire have voted for a default 20mph speed limit, including 14 in the Harrogate district.

After setting up less than a year ago to put pressure on county councillors to introduce a new speed limit of 20mph on all residential streets in town and village centres - to improve safety and encourage non-vehicular forms of getting around - the 20s Plenty group for North Yorkshire says public opinion is very much turning its way.

It claims that 104 parishes in North Yorkshire have voted for a default 20mph speed limit, including 14 in the Harrogate district.

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Campaign supporter Malcolm Margolis, who is also a prominent voice in Harrogate District Cycle Action, said creating a situation where it would be safer for people to walk and cycle would bring benefits for drivers as well as residents.

The expected improvements, they claim, would include:

Fewer injuries, both from car users and pedestrians and cyclists;

Lower fuel use, lower CO2 emissions and lower driving costs such as repairs and motor insurance premiums;

Less traffic congestion which would, in turn, boost cycling and public transport;

Easier parking;

Cleaner air quality which benefits motorists as well as residential areas.

The question of reducing speed limits is already on North Yorkshire County Council’s radar. In January executive members discussed the contents of a detailed “Review of 20mph Speed Limit Policy” at some length.

But, despite unanimously supporting a revised 20mph speed limit policy for North Yorkshire which, in its own words, would “place a greater focus on active, sustainable travel, such as cycling and walking, and encouraging a sense of place,” it also dismissed calls for a 20mph default speed limit.

The 20s Plenty group for North Yorkshire argues the county council’s approach is more a case of words than action so far.

“We have heard similar stories around the county from people who have tried in vain for years to have lower speed limits set around their schools and homes”, said Mr Margolis. “The county council has a long history of refusing requests by communities for 20mph limits, including by a significant number of schools - or only supporting them after lengthy campaigns.”

In reply, the county council argues that a targeted approach is the better option as current accident statistics suggest that roads in built-up areas here are safe with casualty figures “extremely low”.

In addition, the blanket approach wanted by 20s Plenty for North Yorkshire could cost up to £12 million to introduce.

Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for access and transport, said: “I do not consider a default 20mph policy as necessary or believe it would represent value for money.

“There are a large number of 20mph limits in place on our roads already. Many of these are in front of schools.

“We do have road safety concerns in other areas, including casualties involving motor cyclists and cyclists, young and elderly drivers, and those who drive under the influence of drink and drugs.

“Our revised policy does emphasise that the county council will be bring forward additional proposals for 20mph limits where appropriate.

“The county council prefers to spend taxpayers’ money in these areas where we can make a difference.”

But 20s Plenty for North Yorkshire claims the potential costs of a new speed limit are far lower than suggested and the county council’s rhetoric on ‘targeted’ speed limits masks a set of hurdles making progress virtually impossible.

“We support cost-effective broad zones to normalise 20mph, not expensive physical infrastructure like chicanes to force drivers to slow down,” said Mr Margolis. “The council’s recently updated 20mph policy continues to make it extremely difficult for parish councils, schools and others to make successful requests for 20mph limits.

“It states that 20mph can help deliver the “ambition” of modal shift, and commits to “investigating” the need for 20mph limits but then insists on a long list of criteria - before any application will be supported - that can never be overcome.”

The debate deepens when it comes to policing any potential new 20mph speed limit in North Yorkshire.

Coun Don Mackenzie: "Current road accident statistics suggest that our roads in built-up areas are safe. Casualty figures are extremely low.

"I am concerned that widespread 20mph limits on roads where current average speeds are 25mph or above would be ignored, unless engineered methods of speed-calming were introduced."

But 20s Plenty campaigner Malcolm Margolis hit back, saying: "Two reasons councillors gave for rejecting default 20mph are lack of police enforcement and cost. Police enforcement is valuable but not essential to achieve much of the reduction in people killed and injured, as well as reduced pollution, which any slowing of average speeds is proven to bring because traffic flows more smoothly.

"In any case the police do not enforce 30mph either.

The 20s Plenty campaigners are now working with the not-for-profit Crowd Wisdom Project in Harrogate inviting local residents to take part in a survey on 20mph limits with a view to sharing the results with candidates in the run up to May’s elections for the new unitary authority in North Yorkshire.

Malcolm Margolis said: " Traditionally, road safety has tended to take the viewpoint of the motorist. The question has been how best to get the motorist to where they want to go safely, without too much inconvenience.

"But, when we take a society-wide view to include a duty of care to children, cyclists, the elderly, disabled and especially non drivers we must also consider their rights to be safe as they get around.

"North Yorkshire's policy fails to recognise the fact that many people are understandably put off walking and cycling because of driver behaviour."

Both Wales and Scotland are set to become default 20mph by 2025 and some English counties have voted for 20mph, including Oxfordshire.

The debate may have some distance to go before 20mph signs become anything like the norm in the Harrogate district but campaigners clearly believe time is on their side.

How support for 20mph is growing in North Yorkshire and elsewhere in the UK

20s Plenty for North Yorkshire is part of national not-for-profit organisation 20s Plenty which was formed in 2007 to campaign for 20 mph default speed limits in Britain to reduce road casualties and create nicer, safer communities.

Just one of 600 similar local groups, there have been successes in recent years across the UK.

Places such as Edinburgh, Bristol, Portsmouth and Oxford have all introduced 20mph default limits and reported reductions in road accidents since doing so.

In Edinburgh the city council says vehicle crashes fell by about a third after adopting 20mph in most of the city in 2016.

A total of 28 million people in the UK now live in areas which have adopted 20mph or have decided to do so in the near future, claims 20s Plenty for North Yorkshire.

That includes 20 urban authorities, not quite a national standard but a trend which is growing.

20s Plenty for North Yorkshire says 104 parishes in the county currently support its campaign for a 20mph default setting.

That figure, it says, includes the following 14 parishes in

Harrogate:

Whixley, Sharow, Staveley, Copgrove, Bishop Thornton,

Shaw Mills & Warsill, Tockwith, Wilstrop, Goldborough, Flaxby, Haverah Park with Beckwithshaw, Little Ouseburn, Kirby Hall and Thorpe Underwood.

The General Assembly of the United Nations endorses 20mph (or 30km/h) speed limits where people mix with motor vehicles, unless strong evidence exists that higher speeds are safe.

A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2009 commissioned by Transport for London in 2009 entitled 20 mph Zones and Road Safety in London concluded that, when speeds are reduced to 20mph through traffic calming, casualties fall by around two-fifths.