Wirral Council will not be pausing its rollout of 20mph limits across the borough.
A motion had been put forward by the local authority’s Conservative group calling for a review of the policy for residential areas and a pause on the rollout of limits except around schools.
This was decisively rejected by the three other parties on the council who argued the public had been asking for the council to tackle road safety concerns and it was too early for a review.
The council is rolling out the first phase of new limits on 1,700 roads across Wirral and has just finished a consultation on the second phase. This is expected to come to a council committee in December.
It is doing this as part of a wider strategy to get the number of people killed and seriously injured on Wirral roads down to zero, but those against the policy believe it is anti-car and motorists should be able to judge the appropriate speed.
The rollout had been unanimously supported by all political parties when moving ahead with the first phase, despite concerns being raised at the time about a lack of engagement with a public feedback exercise.
The policy also faced a noisy protest from approximately 40 members of a motorcycle action group who drove from New Brighton to Birkenhead and revved their engines outside the town hall while the meeting took place.
The council was challenged on why it didn’t consult directly with the group about the limits by members of the group. Elaine Velho, one member of the group, questioned the evidence behind the rollout and said the council “will not listen to the residents they are elected to serve.”
Cllr Jeff Green, leader of the Conservatives said, “I believe speed can be a serious factor when it comes to accidents and incidents and injuries,” but added, “Sometimes it can appear I’m sure this isn’t the intention that there is somehow a war on motorists.”
Cllr Green introducing the motion said, “This implementation in all honesty has taken a lot of people on the Wirral by surprise,” and called for an “after project review to make sure that we learn the lessons and that what we intend to do has actually been achieved.”
However Liberal Democrat councillor Allan Brame pointed to statistics showing five people were killed on Wirral’s roads in 2022, 98 were seriously injured and 337 people suffered slight injuries.
He said, “I would say if there is a war, it’s a very uneven affair. On one side you have got vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists pitted against motorists encased in two tonnes of metal. It’s not much of a contest.”
Cllr Brame said, “The time for reviewing it is when it has been implemented, not before it takes place,” adding, “What can’t be reviewed is the death of that child, the death of that mum or dad.”
Criticising the policy, Cllr Tony Cox also said, “I talk about these insidious moves of members in this council who are hellbent on getting people out of their cars.”
He argued journey times would increase and taxi drivers would see reduced income from “dawdling around Wirral at three in the morning at 20mph” calling it “absolutely pointless.”
While he said “this policy was ill-conceived from the outset and should be paused,” Cllr Cox supported “balanced approach” of 20mph zones outside schools, care homes and at road traffic accidents hotspots.
West Kirby councillor Simon Mountney said he sometimes needed to increase his speed to avoid being tailgated, adding, “Please please consider what you are doing because you are endangering people on the Wirral for the sake of just looking at one or two roads that need to be changed.”
The Conservatives also called it a “blanket policy” comparing it to the rollout of similar speed limits in Wales. However other parties said Wirral was different as Wales’ rollout was default whereas the council’s rollout isn’t and it was false to call it a blanket policy.
During the meeting, Labour councillor Steve Foulkes revealed he was hit by a van as a child, adding, “I was lucky. I survived. Had he been going a bit faster, who knows what would have happened?”
Wirral’s council leader Paul Stuart also said the Conservatives were “playing politics with road safety,” adding: “It’s a new low by even the Tory Party’s standards.” He pointed to Conservative MPs who previously supported 20mph.
Other potential benefits of the scheme were pointed to by councillors. Cllr Ann Ainsworth quoted statistics from the 20 is Plenty campaign suggesting house prices can rise by 20% with lower speed limits. Cllr Stuart Kelly also said, “People are happy to have safe 20mph limits outside their houses but less happy on commute routes.”
Multiple councillors also said they had put the rollout of 20mph on their leaflets including in campaign messaging ahead of the May local elections. Green Cllr Judith Grier said they had done multiple surveys of 20mph in Bebington over the year with 73% wanting the limits and only 2% saying no.
Image: Ed Barnes