Council urged to speed up plans to slow down traffic across Shropshire

Campaigners are urging a council considering introducing 20mph speed limits near some schools to think bigger and make the change in residential areas across Shropshire.

Councillors are next week due to scrutinise a £2.5 million Government funded scheme to slow down traffic outside many - but not all - schools in Shropshire, but a national expert in transport policies has slammed the approach.

"Introducing 20mph restrictions outside schools is worse than useless," said Professor John Whitelegg, who lives in Shrewsbury and has advised councils across the country.

"Children spend 15 per cent of their time at schools and 85 per cent of their time has nothing to do with schools. Introducing 20mph speed limits outside schools is saying to children 'we care about you 15 per cent of the time, but couldn't give a damn 85 per cent of the time."

Prof Whitelegg said it would be far simpler and possibly less costly to reduce 30mph limits to 20mph in all residential areas.

"It is the single most important move that any council could make for public health," said Prof Whitelegg. "Pollution from the roads in Shropshire beats obesity and smoking in its effects on human health. There is no argument about this - it's the main thing over and above anything."

He added that 20mph speed limits have been or are being introduced in Herefordshire and across Wales and many other councils. But he slammed Shropshire Council for putting its head in the sand.

"I have tried to explain all this to Shropshire Council several times but there seems to be a lack of ability to think about these things.

"Across the country it is not a political issue but in Shropshire they won't even sit down and talk about it. Since I moved to Shropshire in 2014 I have sent hundreds of emails, been to many meetings but nobody listens and nobody will talk about what they are doing in Herefordshire and Wales."

Green Shropshire councillor Julian Dean echoed that view.

He said: "Shropshire is behind the curve - I think it is increasingly out of date. I think they should be getting on with it, we've been pushing on this for years."

Councillor Dean is also pushing for a trial 20mph speed limit which has been agreed by the council for the Porthill area to get going. The scheme would last for 18 months – and the results would be used to decide whether to introduce similar measures in other areas of the county.

He thinks the council is dragging its feet on 20mph limits despite such moves being backed by "five or six" town councils in Shropshire.

"It just makes more sense to introduce 20mph across the board," he said. "It wouldn't cost more - but the council is wanting to spend £50million-plus on the North West Relief Road."

A spokesman for the council said the Copthorne and Porthill 20mph Speed Limit Zone pilot is going ahead "imminently" with concept designs currently being reviewed.

"Further information will be released once the programme of works has been agreed internally," he added.

Councillors at the Communities Overview Committee next Wednesday are set to run the rule over plans to spend up to more than £2.5 million of Government-supplied 20mph speed restrictions near schools.

Shropshire Council passed a motion to support the principle of a 20mph speed limit outside all schools in the county in December 2019 but the report was delayed because of Covid.

The council says it has carried out what it calls a "significant programme of data collection" at all state-funded maintained schools and academies that do not currently have a mandatory 20mph speed limit. They have used automatic traffic counters to collect data on traffic flow, traffic speeds and vehicle type over seven days, 24 hours a day.

They conclude that "no further speed reducing interventions" are needed at 107 out of 179 highway sites near schools.

Of the others 42 sites have met Department for Transport guidance for signed only 20mph speed restrictions and the remainder would require either a variable 20mph speed restriction or additional traffic calming.

Council officers in their report say they are having to consider how to tell schools and councillors that they won't be getting 20mph speed limits.

The report invited the committee to "consider the further development of an approach for communicating with schools and associated Shropshire Council local members where a mandatory 20mph speed restriction will not be introduced."

They add: "There is a reputation risk associated with perceived lack of progress and the limited ability of officers to provide updates to Shropshire Council members and school communities on progress in response to enquiries."

They add: "Where schools already have low vehicle speeds and the benefits of introducing a 20mph speed restriction are limited, perceived risk may result in some members, schools or local councils being disappointed with the outcomes of this work."

The report goes on to say that the council needs experts in place to make progress.

"The ability to spend the provisionally allocated capital funds is directly dependent on the identification staff resource to manage ongoing consultation and scheme delivery.

"There is not currently capacity within the directly employed Highways and Transport staff to cover this. Skills shortages in the industry have meant that identification of an appropriate individual has not yet been possible."

The council has already spent £84,564 on the work, with £34,737 of government funds used to part cover it.

But 100 per cent of the money will come from the Department for Transport "and is not augmented by Shropshire Council".

Some £500,000 has provisionally been allocated in the 2022/23 Integrated Transport capital programme to commence delivery of this programme of work. And more than £2.5million could be spent over six years on the programme, the report reads.

A council spokesman confirmed that the provisional programme for the introduction of 20mph speed restrictions outside schools will be reviewed following Communities Overview Committee and approval by the Assistant Director of Infrastructure.

They added: "Capital funds have been identified to commence work at the highest priority sites in 2022/23."

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