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Does Kent County Council have a statutory duty to implement 20mph limits?


Below is a recent message from the founder of 20's Plenty for Us, Rod King MBE, to dubunk some common justifications for councils not considering 20mph, especially in rural areas.  It suggests that Councils may not be fulfilling their obligation to ensure speed limits consider risks to all road users.


"Well we 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 for all built-up and village roads.

At the same time 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:



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.


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."