As other parties support 20mph rollout, Wirral Conservatives call for speed limit review

By Ed Barnes – Local Democracy Reporter with additional reporting by Birkenhead News.

Wirral’s rollout of 20mph faces a key test as its council’s Conservative group call for a review of the policy.

The council is in the process of rolling out 20mph limits on more than 1,700 roads across Wirral in the first of four phases of changing speed limits in residential areas. It has also finished a consultation on the second phase for nearly 1,000 roads with a decision on this expected in December.

Conservative leader Jeff Green has put forward a motion calling for a review of the policy, consider engaging again on the scheme’s first phase, and pause the second phase for now with the exception of roads outside schools. This will be debated by all councillors at a full council meeting on 9 October.

Cllr Green said he is not calling for a scrapping of Phase 1 but wants to see the council tighten up the language around residential areas calling it “almost blanket coverage,” and an after-project review to see if the policy has been effective.

According to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, a driver in a car travelling at 30mph is at least five times more likely to kill a pedestrian than at 20mph.

Wirral is not alone in reducing speed limits on urban roads, More than half of London’s roads are now 20mph  and, on Sunday 17 September Wales introduced a nationwide 20mph limit  in urban areas.

Additionally, Scotland has committed to making 20mph the norm across all councils by 2025 according to 20’s Plenty for Us .

Many European countries have set 30km/h (18.6mph) as the speed limit for urban areas. In 1992, the city of Graz, Austria, became the first European city to implement a citywide 18.6mph (30 km/h) limit, which remains in place to this day. In Munich 80% of the 2,300 kilometers of urban road network have a speed limit of 18.6mph (30 km/h) or less.

Other parties are expected to argue that it is too soon for a review as the rollout of the first phase is still taking place. According to Liberal Democrat councillor Allan Brame, the rollout is expected to be finished by the end of October.

The policy has previously received unanimous support from all political parties. Though concerns were raised by Conservatives over the small number of people who responded to an initial conversation, all parties moved forward with the first phase arguing it will save lives.

Cllr Green, explaining the motion, said: “There is widespread public concern and there was a general view in that it had appeared from nowhere.”

In calling for further consultation, he added, “It might be that people think it’s good so crack on. Is it going to achieve what we want it to achieve and are there other measures we could put in place that would have a bigger effect?”

“I am struggling to see what is so unreasonable about saying that. It just seems like a good way of doing public policy and I would think sometimes the consultation can appear like a hoop to go through. It feels like the council is on broadcast and not on receive.”

The motion is also calling for a review of how the council engages with the public. The consultation for the first phase in 2022 saw less than 1,000 people respond with most objecting. Cllr Green felt this showed the council “have got this wrong in a massive way” and questioned what it spent on marketing.

The council’s other three parties still appear to fully support the policy. Green councillor Pat Cleary said, “We get a lot of feedback from residents and they want safer streets. They want traffic to slow down and the dangers caused by current conditions, they are not conducive to people walking and cycling.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Allan Brame said, “We are all in favour of a review but once it has been in operation for a time and just see how successful it is. We are convinced it is going to increase road safety but we won’t know for some time. It needs to bed in.”

Labour councillor Liz Grey also said the policy had been publicised and gone through committees, workshops, full council votes, as well as endorsed by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and emergency services.

She said, “It was rolled out before the local elections and it wasn’t even raised during the local elections. People didn’t say they weren’t voting for you because of 20mph.”

The policy has been described as anti-car but Cllr Grey felt scaremongering was making people think this is “a war on motorists.” She said, “Most of us involved have got cars and drive. It’s about providing choice.

“We want people to feel they can get from A to B in a number of ways. Walking, scooting, cycling, or by car if they want to.”

Cllr Grey argued that by opening up options for people, “for those who have no choice but to drive, their driving experience will improve because there will be fewer people on the roads and there will be less congestion.”

She added, “It’s always had cross-party support and it’s disappointing the Conservatives have changed their minds on this. It would be nice if every party could prioritise saving lives over wanting a few votes and that is a shame.

She added, “If we pause it and don’t roll it out, there will be people dead next year. There will be people killed or seriously injured and people with life-changing injuries because we did not roll out 20mph limits.”

Despite the large number of roads included, Cllr Grey said the council is open to review, adding, “This is flexible, it’s not a blanket rollout. It’s not default. If you find this road shouldn’t be done, then we will adapt it accordingly.”

Gillian Homeri lives in Wirral but was hit by a car while walking on the pavement in Budapest nearly killing her. She’s spoken at council meetings in favour of the policy.

She said, “I wouldn’t say pause it because pausing is a very bad idea but totally review it and see how it’s going, give it a fair go and of course listen to residents. We have started it and it will save lives so why pause it?”

Alan Jones from New Brighton set up the petition against the roll out of 20mph limits in residential areas. While he had no idea how many people from the Wirral signed it, he believes it shows the strength of feeling locally on the issue.

He thinks it should be left up to drivers to find an appropriate speed depending on the conditions at the time. Mr Jones feels a better solution would be introducing variable speed limits where it’s reduced at peak times around schools when children are leaving but left at 30mph at other times.

He pointed to a new 20mph limit outside St Mary’s Catholic College in Wallasey arguing “it’s perfectly safe to do 30mph in the evening.”

Mr Jones thinks this would be more proportionate than the current policy, adding: “I have got no problem with them doing it where it’s necessary but where do you need 20mph 24 hours 365 days of the year?

“During those times outside the school I think it should be 20mph or less and people wouldn’t have a problem.”

Mr Jones said, “It doesn’t make sense because all you are doing is slowing down traffic at times when you don’t need to slow down. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand. It’s just an anti-car thing. They want everyone to go around on cargo bikes and eat tofu.”

However Cllr Liz Grey said variable speed limits would be “so confusing for people,” adding: “It is hard enough for people to get used to new speed limits. It’s not fair on drivers and it’s not safe so it has to be consistent.”

By Ed Barnes – Local Democracy Reporter with additional reporting by Birkenhead News.

Image: A 20mph roundel in Wallasey. Credit: Ed Barnes

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