Shire Counties and 20mph Limits

Many of the shire counties have been behind the urban authorities in implementing 20mph limits. This blog explores some of the statements made by councils in explaining their reluctance to implement and how most of them use a false interpretation of current government guidance.

Well the advocates of 20’s Plenty are certainly winning the arguments in our unitary and urban authorities. Already the majority of the largest 40 urban authorities have adopted a Total 20 policy. And also 75% of Inner London boroughs. That’s excellent progress and bodes well for us all working on our objective of a national implementation of 20mph as the default limit for all built-up and village roads.

I am aware of the sometimes uphill struggle of so many of our rural (and often not so rural) campaigns in some shire counties. Some county councils seek to “manage expectations” by adopting policies that are not consistent with DfT guidance in an attempt to dampen down the legitimate aspirations of communities for lower speeds. That isn’t to say all shire counties. Indeed Lancashire has already implemented Total 20 and also Bath & North East Somerset is progressing in its roll-out. Also other places with rural parts or outlying villages are implementing Total 20 in villages. Sefton and Warrington are examples. But it is clear that places like Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Kent, East Sussex, Surrey, North Yorks, to name a few, seem ideologically opposed to 20mph limits in their communities.

What is wrong in these places is not the detail on whether a road should have a 20mph limit, but a basic denial of the underpinning logic behind their approach to setting speed limits as per their statutory duty. Often this takes the form of such comments as below. Note that all para numbers relate to the DfT Guidance on Setting Local Speed Limits 01/2013:-

“You can’t have a 20mph limit on an A or B road” – UNTRUE

See para 84 :-

84.Based on this positive effect on road safety, and a generally favourable reception from local residents, traffic authorities are able to use their power to introduce 20mph speed limits or zones on:

Major streets where there are – or could be - significant numbers of journeys on foot, and/or where pedal cycle movements are an important consideration, and this outweighs the disadvantage of longer journey times for motorised traffic.

This is in addition to Residential streets in cities, towns and villages, particularly where the streets are being used by people on foot and on bicycles, there is community support and the characteristics of the street are suitable.

20mph limits have been set on many A roads and “major” roads. These include London, Edinburgh, Thirsk, Belfast, Portsmouth,etc.

“You can’t have a 20mph limit if the current average speed is above 24mph” – UNTRUE

Whilst guidance in para 95 does refer to “If the mean speed is already at or below 24 mph on a road, introducing a 20 mph speed limit through signing alone is likely to lead to general compliance with the new speed limit.”, this does not preclude the setting of a 20mph road if average before speeds are above 24mph. In fact para 96 makes specific reference to 20mph roads in Portsmouth where the previous speed was above 24mph. Para 97 also refers to roads with pre-speeds above 24mph and states “Traffic authorities are already free to use additional measures in 20 mph limits to achieve compliance, such as some traffic calming measures and vehicle activated signs, or safety cameras.”

“You can’t have a 20mph limit if the local police don’t support it” – UNTRUE

There is no requirement for the police to agree any locally set speed limit. We have a long held tradition in this country that :-

  • Elected representatives of the people set laws.
  • A professional police force enforces those laws.
  • An independent judiciary sentences offenders.

Any attempt by the police to undermine this or for elected representatives to veto their setting of limits based on police funding or preferences would be counter to this important principle.

Note that Para 85 makes specific reference to the enforcement of 20mph limits stating :-

“To achieve compliance there should be no expectation on the police to provide additional enforcement beyond their routine activity, unless this has been explicitly agreed.”

Many police forces including Lancashire, Merseyside, Thames Valley, Avon & Somerset, Cheshire, Cambridge, Metropolitan and City of London are conducting enforcement of 20mph limits. There are also NDORS20 training courses available for some offenders which enables 20mph limits to be enforced in the same way as 30mph limits.

“We can’t reduce the speed limit because there haven’t been enough casualties on this road” – UNTRUE

Para 30 states the factors to be considered when setting speed limits:-

30. The following will be important factors when considering what is an appropriate speed limit:

  • history of collisions, including frequency, severity, types and causes;
  • road geometry and engineering (width, sightlines, bends, junctions, accesses and safety barriers etc.);
  • road function (strategic, through traffic, local access etc.);
  • Composition of road users (including existing and potential levels of vulnerable road users);
  • existing traffic speeds; and
  • road environment, including level of road-side development and possible impacts on residents (e.g. severance, noise, or air quality).

While these factors need to be considered for all road types, they may be weighted differently in urban or rural areas. The impact on community and environmental outcomes should also be considered.

Hence a history of collisions is only one of the factors to be taken into account. Also note para 31 and 32 and in particular the sentences I have highlighted:-

31. Before introducing or changing a local speed limit, traffic authorities will wish to satisfy themselves that the expected benefits exceed the costs. Many of the costs and benefits do not have monetary values associated with them, but traffic authorities should include an assessment of the following factors:

  • collision and casualty savings;
  • conditions and facilities for vulnerable road users;
  • impacts on walking and cycling and other mode shift;
  • congestion and journey time reliability;
  • environmental, community and quality of life impact, such as emissions, severance of local communities, visual impact, noise and vibration;and
  • costs, including of engineering and other physical measures including signing, maintenance and cost of enforcement.

The speed limit appraisal toolkit, found at section 5, will help assess the full costs and benefits of any proposed schemes.

32. Different road users perceive risks and appropriate speeds differently, and drivers and riders of motor vehicles often do not have the same perception of the hazards of speed as do people on foot, on bicycles or on horseback. Fear of traffic can affect peoples’ quality of life and the needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account in order to further encourage these modes of travel and improve their safety. Speed management strategies should seek to protect local community life

“20mph limits are not enforceable” – UNTRUE

See “local police support above”. 20mph limits as long as the correct Traffic Regulation Order has been made, and the correct signage installed are as enforceable as any other speed limit. Note that when a TRO is made then the road is “de-restricted” which means that the national 30mph limit no longer applies by nature of its lighting. Hence the only limit that is enforceable is the 20mph limit as per the TRO.


Any such statements made by councillors or officers are evidence of an ignorance of the DfT guidelines and of an attempt to avoid the statutory responsibilities for setting the correct local speed limits.

Often the argument goes along the lines of speeds in community roads being so high that physical calming is required and we can’t afford that therefore SPEEDS MUST STAY HIGH!

This is a conflation of the requirement to set the correct speed limit and the method used to obtain compliance. The guidance on setting speed limits in no way compromises the duty to set the correct limit because of any issues with compliance. In fact the DfT guidance offers many ways to obtain compliance. These include signage, additional signage, engagement, education, marketing programs, enforcement, light touch engineering and physical calming. Many of these are not expensive and combined with community campaigns can be very influential in changing prevailing speeds.

We often see councils then offering communities small offerings of speed reduction such as just outside a school, or excluding the high street of a village.

There are underlying principles embedded in the DfT guidance. A few that can be used to challenge such a minimal approach to the problem of speed in villages are :-

  • Does this policy take into account what the road looks like to ALL road users rather than just drivers? See para 28 which relates to the correct speed limit for “outside schools, residential areas or villages and in shopping streets”.
  • Does the decision making process “fully take into account the needs of vulnerable road users”? Para 32 states that this “MUST be fully taken into account in order to further encourage these (walking and cycling) modes of travel and improve their safety. Speed management strategies should seek to protect local community life.
  • Does the decision making take due consideration of the statutory requirements of the Equalities Act where a refusal to set an appropriate limit would indirectly discriminate against people with protected characteristics? These would include disabled (physical, hearing or visual), elderly, women (statistically it is women who are the majority of those walking or cycling with children to school).

If the answer to any of these questions is NO then your council is in not making a reasonable decision or following DfT guidance regarding the setting of speed limits.

And it is on these principles and values which the council should be challenged. And as this stems from a central county council bias against lower community speeds then the more county campaigns can join together in that challenge the better. That way councillors across the county can realise that this is not just a few irate campaigners in one village but a universal aspiration to make all their villages a better place to be.

Most importantly, campaigners should be very wary of councils who offer half-hearted initiatives such as temporary or advisory limits outside schools. The problems villages usually have are endemic speeding rather than any particular isolated stretch of road. And of course children walking or cycling to school need protection over their whole journey rather than just outside the school.

And all of this fits in with our national campaigning for 20mph limits to become the default for lit roads across the country. We will be continuing to make this case and the case for villages to be automatically included in such a default. Local councils will require to make considered exceptions for any roads which will remain with a speed limit above 20mph.

So, can I say to all of those struggling with a shire county council that seems to be locked in the 20th century, “take heart”. Things are changing. Your support and campaigning is building across the country and establishing 20’s Plenty as a key initiative to make all our communities a better place to be. And every one of you who campaigns, regardless of the responsiveness of your local council, is playing an important part in that change.

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  • Martin Dines
    commented 2017-07-11 09:52:09 +0100
    Excellent article ! Changing Rural Council attitudes is painfully slow unfortunately!
  • Jane Davies
    commented 2015-12-31 08:52:29 +0000
    Love this article – spot on and so very useful!