Purbeck village set to be among first in Dorset to apply for 20 mph limit

Campaigners in Langton Matravers near Swanage are all geared up to permanently lower the speed through the centre of the village after a recommendation was passed to make it easier to set up 20 mph zones in Dorset.

At a meeting of Dorset Council’s place and resources committee on Thursday 6th October 2022, councillors supported a policy rewrite to favour 20 mph limits through villages, which were largely residential or where pedestrian and cyclist journeys were high.

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Langton Matravers campaigners want a permanent 20 mph limit for the whole village, not just at school drop off and pick up times

Ready to apply as soon as possible

Many Dorset villages like Langton Matravers have been campaigning for years to get the speed limit through narrow high streets lowered to 20 miles an hour, which they say will make it safer for residents.

An original policy from Dorset Council’s highway officers on lowering speed limits through villages was thrown out in April 2022 for giving too much priority to drivers in existing 30 mph speed zones.

The cost of changing the speed limit would be at least £5,000 per village to change the signs

Green light for villages to apply

Now the new policy will be considered by Dorset Council’s Cabinet and full council and if agreed, which is likely, it will give the green light to villages to apply.

Langton Matravers parish council has already prepared much of the evidence to meet the criteria for a successful application, having completed a door to door survey of the village, organised regular speed watch sessions through the main street and it says, received solid community support.

It’s poised to apply for a lower speed limit as soon as the policy is ratified by Dorset Council – which could be before Christmas 2022.

Speed watch team in Langton Matravers

Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle leads the Langton Matravers speed watch team

“I think I have won the argument”

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

“For the last two years I have been arguing the case for a 20 mph limit through the village and I think I have won the argument.

“Dorset Council’s first guidance was that Langton Matravers wasn’t eligible for a 20 mph limit because it was a strategic road.

“I conducted a house to house leaflet drop and got evidence that there was conclusive support for a lower speed limit and organised a speed watch team which now regularly goes out to check the speed of traffic through the village.

Speed watch team in Langton Matravers

Speed watch teams can make a big difference in drivers’ attitudes

“Word gets around pretty quickly”

Ian continued:

“Word gets around pretty quickly when a speed watch team is active that if you go too fast you will be reported, and we have seen a significant slowing down in the speed of traffic through Langton Matravers.

“It will be absolutely vital when it comes to proving that we meet the criteria to earn a 20 mph speed limit through the village.

“It has taken us a lot of work and so much effort has been put into this campaign by the community, and now as soon as we are able, we are ready to go.”

Speed sign in Langton Matravers high street

Speed indicator signs may be helpful in some villages

Still a strict criteria to meet

Despite the new policy making it easier for Purbeck’s rural villages to apply for lower speed limits, if ratified, there will still be a strict criteria to meet, which many people attending the meeting in Dorchester were unhappy about.

Under the new proposed policy, villages will have to prove there is community support for a lower speed limit, although a suggestion that they should show 60 percent support in a village survey did not get wide support.

‘Strategic’ roads may hamper lower limits

The policy still favours setting 20 mph limits in areas where the average speed is already low as compliance by drivers is more likely. This led to criticism from councillors and villagers that communities which have more speeding traffic are the least likely to get lower limits.

And on main roads which are still considered to be strategic – for lorries and business traffic or for high volumes of tourist traffic, where ‘the movement of motor vehicles is still the primary function’ – it may be much harder to get lower limits through villages.

Speed limit signs or traffic calming measures? The difference can be £50,000

Budget for speed limit reforms only £75,000

The proposed annual budget for the whole of the Dorset Council area for implementing 20 mph schemes will only be £75,000.

With the cost of lowering the speed in a single village being at least £5,000 – that means only 15 villages across the whole of Dorset could be tackled in a year.

If average speeds through the village were high enough to need calming measures like bumps or road narrowing in order to bring them down to 20 mph, the cost is expected to take almost the entire budget in one go.

“They would splash the cash if they could”

Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle added that in his opinion Dorset’s highways team seemed willing to do their very best to help communities, but they were constrained by the amount of money they could spend.

Ian said:

“I am sure that they would splash the cash to help if they could, but money is an issue and where do lower speed limits stand in the list of priorities?

“At least the way is open for parishes to help fund the process if they feel strongly enough about the issue, and perhaps if villages want a 20 mph limit and know it will cost them £5,000 to 10,000 to get it, then that is what they may decide to do.”

Could villages be given planters and signs to help motorists easily identify 20 mph zones?

Planters and signs to denote 20 mph villages

Speaking at the meeting, Corfe Castle parish councillor Helen Sumbler suggested that, as in France and other countries, Dorset could adopt a standard way to denote 20 mph villages, like using planters at the entrance.

Helen said:

“Clear signage and other roadside assets could be used to give all towns and villages within the area a distinctive character, look and feel, and so reinforce compliance with 20 mph speed limits.

“The entry signage to the area could also emphasise the many benefits of lower speed limits, such as safer cycling and walking, and less pollution which would be better for health and the environment.

“I am concerned that roads where mean speeds are more than 24 mph, where there is arguably a greater need to reduce speeds and risk to more vulnerable road users, an application for a 20 mph speed limit may not succeed.”

Village roads already have to cope with large vehicles

Extra cost for hauliers would have to be passed on

A Dorset Hauliers group told the committee that if 20 mph limits were placed through large numbers of county villages, it would undoubtedly mean the need for more lorries and more drivers because of increased journey times.

Chris Ashley, of the Road Haulage Association, said:

“Although HGVs are designed to be clean and efficient, when they have to go slowly in low gears, they burn more fuel and create more emissions below 30 mph.

“Any increase in driving hours lead to greater costs for hauliers – and the extra cost would have to be passed on to consumers.”

Many Purbeck villages have narrow – or no – pavements

Frightened to step out from their front doors

Speaking on behalf of the campaign group 20s Plenty for Dorset, Dilys Gartside said:

“In some places like Purbeck, people are frightened to step out from their front doors because of the speed of traffic through many local villages.

“Many villagers are concerned at the increasing volume and size of vehicles passing their homes, schools and shops, where narrow winding roads are used by horse riders, cyclists and pedestrians.

“With an intended budget of £75,000 a year to install 20 mph limits, the residents of many villages would not get to see the benefit of safer roads and cleaner air in their lifetime.”

The policy recommendation will now be considered by Dorset Council’s Cabinet at 10 am on Tuesday 1st November 2022.

Watch the council meeting making the decision

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