Cambridge Councillors Deprioritise Police Enforcement of 20MPH Limits

Friday, August 24th, 2012. 2:08am

Prominent 20 mph signage, and traffic slowing pinch point, in Saffron Walden

Prominent 20 mph signage, and traffic slowing pinch point, in Saffron Walden

Councillors at Cambridge’s West/Central Area Committee on the 23rd of August 2012 voted to drop enforcing the city centre’s 20mph speed limits as a police priority.

A vote was held, and only two councillors, Whitebread and Nesthinga, supported retaining 20mph enforcement as a local police priority.

The decision followed a recommendation from Cambridgeshire Police in relation to “Speed enforcement in support of the 20mph limit” which stated:

Discharge as a police priority until the Citywide consultation regarding extension of the 20mph limits has been concluded.

Council leader and executive councillor for policing Tim Bick (Liberal Democrat, Market) was keen to see it minuted that the police committed during the discussion to attend a meeting to decide on how to improve the signage of the 20mph limits on Newmarket Road and Maids Causeway. It appeared possible that Cllr Bick may have done a deal with the police, agreeing to drop the priority as they recommended, in return for their attendance at the meeting.

The committee was told the meeting to decide the nature and location of the improved signage is to be held in secret during the second week of September 2012. It will consider plans which city council officer Andrew Preston told the committee he has already prepared, but did not share, for the location of new signage.

A number of councillors and members of the public noted that while the meeting is only to discuss improved signage on Maids Causeway and Newmarket Road the impact of dropping the priority for enforcing the 20 mph limits has a much wider area of effect: across the city centre. This leaves the apparent rationale behind the decision made by Cllr Bick and his followers on shaky ground.

The police recommended dropping the 20mph enforcement priority as they said their attempt to carry out enforcement was not changing the culture; ie. it wasn’t changing people’s behaviour and reducing speeds. Member of the public Martin Lucas-Smith spoke to say that he hoped it was obvious to councillors that sixteen hours of enforcement wasn’t going to be enough to effect a culture change.

Martin Lucas-Smith urged councillors to consider the risk of harm which would potentially arise from the various matters which had been suggested for special attention as police priorities. He suggested councillors consider the potential harm a cyclist, labelled by the police and council as anti-social, cycling slowly the wrong way down one of the city centre’s one way streets compared with the harm a dangerously speeding driver could do to a cyclist. He said that while both the cyclist going the wrong way and the speeding driver needed to be tackled, police effort and priorities ought reflect the relative risks, and danger to others, resulting from by the actions and the potential danger to others was greater in the case of the speeding driver.

Police Chief Inspector Sloan, a more senior officer than the police usually send to area committee meetings, said that the police were committed to road safety, and pointed to the fact they had carried out enforcement, including issuing a ticket to someone driving at 24mph in the city. The Chief Inspector said: “while signage of the limits may well be legal there is a need to look at if it is impactful enough”.

Cllr Reiner said councillors had recognised the signage on Maids Causeway is not adequate and so had put money towards improvements.

Member of the public James Woodburn contrasted the attitudes of the police in Cambridge towards 20mph enforcement with those in “the other place” (Oxford). He read out a quote from a police superintendent in Oxford and requested police enforcement in Cambridge along the lines of that seen in Oxford and Portsmouth.

Cllr Nesthinga explained her vote in favour of the 20mph limit priority remaining saying she thought having her mobile phone stolen would be an inconvenience, but a much lesser inconvenience than being involved in a collision with a speeding motor vehicle.

Cllr Rosensteil spoke on a slightly tangential subject, justifying the 20 mph limit on Maid’s Causeway. He said the road was effectively an access road to the 20 mph limited streets in the city centre. This isn’t how I usually use it when driving, I use it to connect Mitcham’s Corner with the Elizabeth Way / Newmarket Road roundabout, I use it as a route for getting around the city; and it appears to me much traffic is doing the same, going between Maids Causeway and Victoria Avenue.

Cllr Hipkin spoke against the whole idea of democratically set police priorities; he said he saw them as impinging on the operational independence of the police. I disagree strongly with this, as setting priorities is a strategic matter, and is a world away from meddling with operational decisions. Cllr Hipkin also noted that unenforced laws are bad laws, I agree strongly with this, as particularly where law breaking is widespread this gives the police huge power, with the potential for abuse, as they can select some people to take action against even though their behaviour is in-line with the majority.

The police were asked what contact they had with bus and taxi companies in relation to speeding. Chief Inspector Sloan replied the police had identified a “specific training issue” with bus drivers.

Cllr Smith recalled the three “Es” she said the police had referred to when they last attended the West/Central Area committee. Environment, Education and Enforcement. Cllr Smith appeared to argue the latter point of enforcement was critical, but did not vote to retain the enforcement priority, she suggested focusing on enforcement when the new signage on Maids Causeway was put up.

Member of the public Mr Cearns said that he was concerned about the message being sent out by the police saying they were not prepared to enforce the 20 mph limits, and the message which would go out if councillors dropped the priority as the police requested.

Cllr Whitebread questioned the value of the priority setting process, and said she found making decisions difficult. Cllr Whitebread said she wanted more information to put the 16 hours spent on enforcement into context, such as the total time spent policing the West/Central area in the three/four month period.

Police Sgt Andrea Gilbert said that only when the police found themselves with spare time or spare officers did they “go for the priorites”.

County Councillor Whitebread said she hoped the new signage on Maids Causeway and Newmarket Road could be in place by the end of the year, but said she wasn’t confident because the County Council are involved.

Member of the public Hugh Kellet noted the strength of debate on social media relating to 20 mph enforcement, on both sides; he argued that the police’s position was not helpful.

Secret Meeting

The only people initially to be invited to the secret meeting to decide on the details of the new signs for Maids Causeway and Newmarket Road were to be residents of the affected streets, councillors, and the police. A representative of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign spoke to complain about the exclusive nature of the meeting and asked that the Cycling Campaign also be invited. The West Central Area Committee chair, Cllr Reiner stated this request would be “noted” though neither she, nor the committee as a whole, accepted it. Speaking to me after the West Central Area Committee Cllr Whitebread told me that residents Mr Lawton and Mr Kellet would probably attend along with ward councillors, she explained she didn’t want it to be a public meeting because if it was fifty people might attend and make it harder for a decision to be made. It appears the secret meeting will be a final decision making meeting, as the area committee was told no formal Traffic Regulation Order consultation is required for the new signs, and the area committee has already approved the funds, and delegated the details to officers. I think that decisions such as those relating to these signs ought be made by councillors, in public, for example at the area committee meeting. As it is the proposed secret meeting excludes, many people, like me who don’t live on the road but who regularly drive, cycle and walk along and across it.

Priorities Set

Councillors decided on priorities of “Anti-social cycling”, “Aggressive street life people on Fair Street”, and “Parking issues impacting fire engine access to streets”.

My views

If I had been a councillor setting the priorities I would have proposed, and voted for, a road safety priority, though not one focused on enforcement of the 20 mph limits.

I have expanded on my views on the subject of 20 mph enforcement in my article on the April 2012 West/Central Area Committee meeting where the police first raised their reluctance to enforce the 20 mph limit in Cambridge.

I want to see the roads of Cambridge made as safe as possible, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians. We need to do more to encourage cycling and walking around as the city expands, and safety is a key part of that. Councillors cannot just stick up 20 mph signs and expect the police, through enforcement, to reduce speeds and make the roads safer. I agree with the police that enforcement cannot be a primary means of reducing speeds, that’s not practically and economically sustainable, long term improvements to safety have to be achieved by changes to the road environment. 20mph limits and the associated signs can be part of, but in my view not the only elements, of such road environment changes.

Given the current quality of signage, and the road environment, at Maids Causeway I don’t think it is appropriate for a 20 mph limit. That the signage is poor is a view I don’t think anyone has publicly opposed.

In the case of Maids Causeway I think giving the road adjacent to the common a “park road” appearance and feel would help slow traffic, particularly in the area of the very busy crossing to Fair Street; and further up towards the Elizabeth Way roundabout features such as cobble strips, raised areas of road, coloured road surfaces etc. could be used to make clear the road is not a main through route and careful driving is required.

In respect of policing I would rather see PCs rather than PCSOs patrolling the city so that those patrolling have the powers required to take action against careless and dangerous drivers; I think the focus ought be more on the risk / danger caused rather than simply the speed alone in isolation.

If the person stopped by the police for doing 24 mph was driving in a safe manner, on a road which is poorly signed as 20 mph, and has been safely a 30mph limit for decades, I would feel sympathy for them; especially as the consequences may be extreme, the loss of freedom to get around, and potentially the loss of a livelihood if the action has led to the loss of a driving licence under the totting up of points system.

Reference Documents

6 comments/updates on “Cambridge Councillors Deprioritise Police Enforcement of 20MPH Limits

  1. cobweb

    A speed limit’s a speed limit and it says something about the police’s attitude when they only spend 16 hours reluctantly enforcing it. That it would have been helpful to have put 20mph signs up some time ago is perhaps not in dispute, but I do worry when councillors back track like this. They were pretty firm with the police last time. What’s changed?

    Decisions about signage should be made in public, preferably at an Area Committee meeting. I thought Lib Dems were all in favour of openness or have they cast that aside?

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Following criticism of the meeting to discuss the new signage on Maids Causeway being closed to the public Cllr Whitebread has promised via Twitter that she will place the time and location of the proposed meeting on her website at:

    She has also indicated she may be prepared to open the meeting up to more people, saying:

    if at that point anyone else wants to come they can let me know.

  3. Sarah Whitebread

    To be frank it hadn’t even occurred to me that it would be of general interest. Given that we agreed the funding at area committee, and did discuss then that it would be for new signs and roundels on the road, I didn’t really think there was an issue about the final part of the process, on the exact location of new signs etc, being between interested residents, councillors and council staff rather than extending an invitation to the wider public.

    That said, it has never been my intention to exclude anyone – I have mentioned the meeting at area committee and leafleted the street concerned, and have said to both Richard and the cycling campaign if they want to come along that’s fine.

    I’ll put the details up on the website when I know when the meeting will be (i still don’t). It would be good to know who is coming though so I can make sure we have a room of the appropriate size.

    Btw Richard, you have muddled up cycle campaign members in this article – it was Jim Chisholm that spoke about Oxford, not James Woodburn.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Whitebread has now published the details of the meeting at:

    27th September at 5.15pm in the Guildhall, Room 3.

    The notice contains the statement:

    Anyone is welcome to attend this meeting – if you would like to come, please let Sarah know via email ( so that we have an idea of numbers.

    It is not clear if pre-notification is compulsory.

    The meeting is clearly no-longer secret.

    If it is to take final decisions on the position of signs then I think it ought be a formal council meeting, with its date and time on the published council calendar. This would give the public a greater ability and freedom to attend and report on what goes on.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the West/Central Area Committee on the 28th of February 2013 councillors unanimously decided to put more 20 MPH signage on Maids Causeway / Newmarket Road.

    They did this without having had any input from the police or magistrates on if they would consider the new signage fair to enforce. (I confirmed councillors were unaware of their views via a public question).

    Cllr Whitebread said that she would be very unhappy with the police if they still refused to enforce the limit following the installation of the new signs but did not explain why she was voting in support of the new signage without having heard from the police first.

    If councilors want to reduce traffic speeds below 20 mph on the road, my view is that the road environment needs to be dramatically changed so the road becomes one drivers think 20mph is a reasonable speed for.

    Cllr Hipkin admitted not having read the papers; he didn’t even appear aware the item was on the agenda.

    Councillors praised the officers report despite it not mentioning the views of those opposing the 20 mph limit, and therefore opposing the spending of additional money signing it.

    One of the key decisions for councillors was to decide if to use red, or buff, colored road markings. I didn’t see them clearly make this decision.

    There was some discussion about there being something the department for transport won’t let them do. I think they’ve been denied permission to put a red rather than white circle on the on-road 20 signs.

  6. John Lawton

    Yes, it was the coloured carriageway markings that were originally suggested in the meeting you attended that were found not to be approved by central government.
    The red carriageway coating was the public favourite and will go through as the scheme has been approved.

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