Brighton and Hove City Council has now published the results of its consultation into the implementation of Phase 2 of the citywide 20mph scheme. It’s a fascinating document, that raises some important issues about the politics of the debate. It’s not an especially easy read – the numbers are not presented in a straightforward way and the report could have done with some rigorous proof-reading – but in summary:
- 13,000 people responded, across the eight areas into which the Phase 2 zone was divided;
- A small majority of people across the city supported a 20mph limit in their street;
- A substantial minority supported the principle of the 20mph limit in their area;
- In general, where a choice was given between 20mph and 30mph on larger roads, respondents opted for 30mph.
On the basis of the responses, officers have devised a scheme that, they argue, meets the concerns of a substantial majority of the respondents in each of the areas.
The conclusions I draw from the results are not especially comforting for either side in the debate. There is an air of messy compromise about the paper – inevitable perhaps – but some of the conclusions are seriously perverse.
First, despite all the negative coverage and political criticism the scheme has received, the concept of 20mph remains popular. That popularity is, predictably enough, inversely proportional to the level of car ownership in that part of the city (making a rough comparison with the ward numbers). On a decent level of response, it is very clear that the views of people across the city are very much more divided than the well-funded corporate campaigners of Unchain the Motorist might suggest; the difference between public and business views is notable.
Second, the difference between the support for 20mph in respondents’ own street and their area is striking. It’s almost like a sort of reverse NIMBY-ism; a belief that higher speed is acceptable in somebody else’s street.
Finally, this was a consultation, not a plebiscite; but the officers’ response has been effectively turn it into one, with recommendations based on local response numbers leading to some distinctly perverse transport policy decisions. Up until now, the debate has focussed around whether it was appropriate to extend a scheme best suited to residential roads right across the city, and whether such an approach was enforceable. But look at the proposal, and it is clear that huge numbers of quiet residential roads in the Patcham, Withdean and Hove Park areas will retain their 30mph limits, on the basis that that is what residents want (interestingly enough, the less affluent inner areas fare less well – a perhaps unconscious reflection on who has driven the debate on parking and speed in the city?)
Moreover, some (although not all) of these roads are precisely the kinds of street where a limit would be self-enforcing, because of their configuration and length. So streets like Copse Hill (where I used to live) and Bramble Rise in Westdene – narrow, twisting and steep – keep their 30mph limit, while roads in Patcham like Ladies Mile Road and Braybon Avenue – wider, straighter – will be reduced to 20mph. I’m not suggesting for a moment that that these roads should stay at 30mph (they shouldn’t in my view, and Braybon Avenue is a lethal high-speed rat-run doubling as a walk-to-school route for Patcham High Patcham Junior, Dorothy Stringer and Varndean schools) but that in transport policy and road safety terms this is an utterly perverse decision. It’s as if the administration is so cowed by the perceived opposition to 20mph that it has lost the courage to present a cohesive policy (although it was nice to see the taxi trade’s weak line that 20mph limits increase emissions sharply dismissed).
It’s not the final word of course. There will be a further chance to comment when the orders are made. But this is a strangely incoherent proposal which suggests an administration that has lost the courage of its convictions on a policy that ought to be Green home territory. The public response – remember, not a plebiscite but a consultation on a policy that had already been made with cross-party support – should have give an more confident administration the will to press its case. It’s a paper that, in its oblique way, says far more about the state of politics across the city than about the policy under discussion.