‘Default’ 20mph speed limit plan for East Sussex’s urban and village roads is voted down

Calls to introduce lower speed limits in towns and villages across East Sussex have been voted down by county councillors.

Friday, 30th July 2021, 12:39 pm

On Friday (July 24), East Sussex County Council debated a notice of motion from Liberal Democrat councillor Sarah Osborne calling for a 20mph ‘default speed limit’ on all urban and village roads within the county.

Opening the debate, Cllr Osborne argued introducing such speed limits would improve road safety, lead to environmental benefits and save public money.

She said: “It is really simple. Faster cars take longer to stop and do more damage when they hit someone. Higher speeds mean drivers have less time to identify and to react to what’s happening and it can turn near misses into crashes. 

20mph speed limit sign

“At 30mph the margin for error is minimal. A quick glance away and you will miss a child running out from behind a parked car. Hitting a child is an equivalent force to he or she falling backwards and head first from a third floor window. 

“If saving lives was not reason enough, there are health and environmental benefits too. Recognising these benefits, the primary care trust in Liverpool has part funded 20mph limits on their streets.”

Cllr Osborne put the cost of converting most of the county’s 30mph roads to 20mph at around £2.2m. This would be a one-off payment, she said, but would save around £10.1m of public money each year. 

This figure was disputed by the council’s Conservative leadership, however, with cabinet member for transport and environment Clare Dowling arguing the true cost would likely be far higher.

Cllr Dowling said: “Although the full cost of implementing a default 20mph speed limit across the county is unknown we have evidence from a report that suggests the costs wouldn’t be £2m, they would be nearer five and a half.

“As Cllr Godfrey Daniel said, if we had that sort of money we would be looking at competing costs and priorities, especially where we are with the financial position of this council.”

Concerns were also raised (mostly, but not exclusively, by Conservative councillors) around how effective such speed limits would be without enforcement and whether it would actually reduce accidents. 

Carl Maynard, Conservative lead member for adult social care and health, said: “Clearly, especially some of the newer members, seem to forget we’ve got a professional officer team for a reason.

“That road safety team will work with you as local members in making sure that road safety is taken very seriously and if we can pragmatically apply road safety schemes in the areas you represent that is something we would all applaud. 

“But that is something we do, not through political rhetoric, not through political point scoring but actually representing local residents.”

Despite this, the motion received significant support from both the council’s Lib Dem and Green Party groups, with the latter having put forward an amendment calling funding to allocated as and when it became available.

The Labour group also mostly supported the motion, with the notable exception of Cllr Godfrey Daniel who voted against the proposals after arguing the condition of the county’s roads and pavements were a greater concern. 

Ultimately, however, the motion was defeated in a majority vote. 

The decision was criticised by Cllr Osborne in a statement released after the meeting. She said: “I find the attitude of the Conservatives, both locally and nationally, incredible.

“The Conservative government recently signed the Stockholm Declaration with 130 other nations, agreeing on a default 20 mph limit wherever cyclists and pedestrians mix with motor vehicles.

“Yet when we suggest implementing this locally in East Sussex, where we have one of the highest killed and seriously injured statistics in the country, the best the Conservative councillors can do is to accuse us of petty politics and reject the proposal outright.”