Campaign for 20 mph through Dorset villages gets a boost

The introduction of 20 mph speed limits through villages in Dorset is now more likely, after councillors rejected the recommended Dorset Council policy and said it would be rewritten to better reflect the views of rural communities.

This has been welcomed by campaigners, who say greater priority should be given to pedestrians and cyclists over vehicles. Many Dorset villages, including Langton Matravers near Swanage, have been pushing for many years to get a 20 mph limit along their main high street to make it safer for residents.

Speed sign in Langton Matravers high street

Speed calming measures have been introduced at Langton Matravers

The proposed policy was strongly criticised

At the Dorset Council place and resources overview committee on Thursday 21st April 2022 a policy on speed limits for roads within the Dorset Council area was presented by the highways team.

However, it was strongly criticised by both members of the public and councillors, for getting the balance too far in favour of drivers to the detriment of the needs of communities.

As a result, the Dorset Council Highways recommendations were thrown out and a working party is now going to be set up to review and rewrite the policy, making it easier for villages and rural towns to apply for 20 mph speed limits.

Many Purbeck villages have no pavement in places, with front doors and windows opening directly onto the highway, as well as schools right next to their main road.

Speed watch team in Langton Matravers

Langton Matravers now have a community speed watch team to monitor traffic near St George’s Primary School

“Does not address the demand for 20 mph limits in villages”

At the beginning of the meeting, the views of many members of the public were heard.

In a statement, chair of the Purbeck Transport Action Group, Nick Ward said:

“The Dorset Council guidance on 20 mph limits does not seem to have changed substantially from the previous version and still does not align with the Department for Transport guidance.

“It still makes it very difficult to get approval for any change and does not address the demand for 20 mph limits in villages at all.

“Given the inconsistency and unhelpfulness of the document, it is suggested that it should be withdrawn and redrafted.”

Market Square at Corfe Castle

Navigating East Street in Corfe Castle as a pedestrian can be difficult except at the designated crossings

Flaws in the proposed Dorset Council criteria

Corfe Castle parish councillor, Helen Sumbler pointed out there were flaws in the proposed Dorset Council criteria for getting a 20 mph speed limit area.

One of the proposed qualifying criteria was vehicle collisions with other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists. In her written submission she said:

“While details of collisions are obviously important, the incidence of such collisions will be affected by the number of people walking and cycling, which in turn will be affected by people feeling unsafe due to a higher speed limit.

“The second criteria requests information about reports of damage or near-miss collisions reported online. It is not possible to report road traffic collisions online, a visit to a police station is required, thus making reporting of collisions less accessible and thus less likely.

“The Dorset Police website does not refer to reporting near-miss collisions. Both of these issues prevent accurate data being available for damage or near-miss collisions.”

Langton Matravers parish councillor Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle
Dorset Council

Langton Matravers parish councillor Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle speaking in the debate

“A desire to place as many obstacles as possible in the path of a community”

Attending the meeting, Langton Matravers parish councillor Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle said:

“My overall impression of the paper is a desire to place as many obstacles as possible in the path of a community wishing to reduce speed in their area from 30 to 20 mph, whereas the general thrust elsewhere in the country, including our neighbours in BCP, is the opposite.

“Many shire boroughs have set 20 mph as the norm throughout their communities, an approach which reduces accidents and greatly enhances the quality of life, particularly in villages which are blighted by speed and volume of traffic.”

One of the most criticised points of the Dorset Council’s proposed policy was the criteria that A and B roads would only be able to qualify for a 20 mph limit in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle added:

“Department for Transport guidance makes no mention of A and B roads being unsuitable for 20 mph limits. Indeed, through villages it is on such roads where 20 is often badly needed to improve safety and quality of life. This should be reworded.”

Cyclist in Langton Matravers high street

A cyclist navigates Langton Matravers

“What previously seemed like a crazy idea, now seems like common sense”

Giles Watts from Dorset Climate Action Network, also attending the meeting in person, said:

“I think there comes a time in your life when you realise that the world has changed around you and I think this is one of those occasions.

“When I was young and I was driving my battered Ford Capri round the streets of Croydon I couldn’t imagine a time when I would be supporting a 20 mph limit but things have changed and what previously seemed like a crazy idea, now seems like common sense.

“What I have realised is that 20 mph is safer; it reduces fuel consumption, improves air quality and reduces noise pollution, all of which is good for the environment; but more than that 20 mph is better for cyclists and pedestrians.

“It goes some way towards creating better shared spaces for all road users and it reduces the allure of cars supporting behavioural changes towards public transport.”

Dorset Council

Giles Watts from Dorset Climate Action Network presenting his argument for more 20 mph zones

“Dorset Council is keen to increase the number of roads with 20 mph limits”

Head of highways for Dorset Council, Jack Wiltshire, defended his team’s report and the proposed criteria for introducing 20 mph speed limits in villages. He revealed that 20 mph limits had already been introduced in 31 places in the Dorset Council area and there were 17 expressions of interest.

Alongside this, £75,000 has been allocated over the next financial year to introduce new 20 mph areas. Presenting the policy document to councillors, Jack Wiltshire said:

“With regards to 20 mph limits in rural villages, Department for Transport guidance states that, ‘It may also be appropriate to consider 20mph limits or zones in built-up village streets which are primarily residential in nature, or where pedestrian and cyclist movements are high’.

“It then clarifies, ‘Such limits should not, however, be considered on roads with a strategic function or where the movement of motor vehicles is the primary function’.”

He concluded:

“Dorset Council is keen to increase the number of roads with 20 mph limits or zones that meet the guidance. The policy in this paper provides a clear system for creating new 20 mph limits that will help to prioritise where 20 mph limits will be delivered first.”

Washpond Lane

Washpond Lane in Swanage is designated as a 60 mph road, despite no pavements and a route for some children to get to St Mary’s RC Primary School

“We shouldn’t be using policy to ration services”

Councillors then had their chance to respond, with most of them having a comment to make. This included councillor Sherry Jepherson who made two points. Firstly she said:

“Our language (in this policy) feels to me that it’s about setting a series of impossible hurdles, there to block our communities from qualifying except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.”

Her second point alluded to the fact that the budget of £75,000 wouldn’t go far. She said:

“We shouldn’t be using policy to ration services. Policy should start with the need and services should address that need. Policy making should not be predicated on an assumption that there is not enough money.

“If I go to my doctor and he tells me I need a new knee replacement, that doesn’t mean I’m going to get a new knee next week. It means I qualify to go on the waiting list.”

She concluded that more work was required before this policy was acceptable.

Arne village

Narrow lanes in Arne have a speed limit of 60 mph and councillor Beryl Ezzard says she can’t get that reduced to 40 mph, let alone 20 mph

“Communities being severed by fast roads”

Councillor Pauline Batstone who represents Blackmoor Vale added:

“It struck me when reading these documents that they are about roads and highways and I’m interested in people.

“As I look at my rural villages (in her ward) – I have no towns, but I do have A and B roads dividing communities and my feeling is that inadequate weight has been given to the quality of life – in terms of communities being severed by fast roads. Those villages miss out in this policy. We do need to go back and review that.”

Councillor Beryl Ezzard
Dorset Council

Wareham ward councillor Beryl Ezzard makes her point

“We should not be favouring cars”

Councillor Beryl Ezzard, who represents Wareham ward, revealed that she used to be a driving instructor and so knew every road from Poole to Dorchester. She said:

“Even the road down to Arne is 60 mph and it’s very narrow with passing places, so we are fighting hard to get it down to 40 mph, let alone 20 mph…

“We should not be favouring cars, we shouldn’t be favouring a new motorway through our wonderful rural county of Dorset – that is rubbish! We should be pushing for lots more public transport, more cycle paths and walkways and making roads much more friendlier to vulnerable road users…

“It is so important to favour people to get out, walking and cycling, and not to get in their cars, buzzing around and frightening everyone else.”

Ray Bryan, Dorset Council's portfolio for Highways

Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for highways councillor Ray Bryan (on right) says he’s listening

“We are going to deliver!”

The chair of the committee, councillor Carole Jones, then allowed the Dorset Council’s portfolio holder for highways councillor Ray Bryan, to have the last word in the debate. He said:

“The thing that I am most impressed with is the fact that the public have taken the time and trouble to come to this meeting, send in their questions and statements and everything else. This has to be the guiding factor when we make our decisions. I am a great believer in debate…

“We’re listening, we’re going to react and we are going to deliver!”

As chair, councillor Carole Jones then proposed to set up a task and finish group to review Dorset Council’s 20 mph speed limit policy and to come up with some new policy wording. It was seconded and passed unanimously.

Speed watch team in Langton Matravers

Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle leads the Langton Matravers speed watch team

“We are now one step closer to achieving our aim!”

Speaking after the meeting Langton Matravers parish councillor Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle said:

“I’m most encouraged by the outcome and I felt during the meeting that there was a sea shift in attitude in favour of introducing new 20 mph limits.

“Dorset Council Highways has now got the message loud and clear – 20 mph limits are needed and wanted. Money will always be a problem but communities want this.

“I feel this is a significant boost to our campaign to introduce a 20 mph limit in Langton Matravers. Communities will still have to justify the need but we can do that – I feel very positive that we are now one step closer to achieving our aim!”

Watch the debate on YouTube

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