Author: Robert Molteno, Secretary
Denny Gray (Chair, WEF); Susie Morrow (Campaigns Coordinator, WAndsworth Cycling Campaign; Co-Convenor, Wandsworth Living Streets group); Jonathan Callaway (Vice-Chair, Putney Society); Robert Molteno (Wandsworth Friends of the Earth)
Cllr Ravi Govindia, Cabinet Member for Transportation & Strategic Planning; officers Steve Kempster and Wale Adeyoyin.
Note: This note of our hour-long meeting does not try to summarise all the points we made; it tends to focus on Cllr Govindia’s responses.
The WEF deputation had prepared carefully for this meeting, including finalising an aide memoire containing our Proposal for a joint Councillor/Community Working Group to look into all aspects of the idea to reduce the standard speed limit on borough roads from 30 to 20mph. (See this document appended below).
Denny kicked off, introducing each of us, making clear that a range of organizations supported the 20mph speed limit, giving some idea of the range of benefits that flow from lower speed limits, and making clear we had come to this meeting with a definite proposal that we would leave with him. Jonathan stressed that the Council, in its existing 20mph roads and one or two zones, already acknowledged many of these benefits.
Cllr Govindia responded by making clear his personal caution as to the soundness of the idea. In particular:
- Since London is a large conurbation, is the experience of the smaller cities with 20mph really relevant to us? We responded by pointing out that Islington has just implemented 20mph last month; and Southwark is busy ‘infilling’ its 20mph streets by making the remainder 20mph too.
- What are the advantages of moving the speed limit down to 20mph, particularly when traffic is often only moving on average a little bit faster than that? Susie led our evidence-based response about how every 1mph reduction in traffic speed in urban areas cuts the number of crashes by 5%, and reduces their severity when they do occur.
Cllr Govindia made clear that as a politician he would have to sell the idea to the public. Would the public generally obey a lower speed limit? Would the police help enforce it? The Council would not like to engage in a legal change that was flouted on a large scale, or one that diverted traffic onto the small number of remaining 30mph roads. He also expressed worries as to whether TfL (Transport for London) would finance a borough-wide scheme (which was one of the issues we suggested the Working Group should find out). Also, until the Borough knows how much money it will get in central government grants in coming years, it is uncertain what its Dept of Technical Services will look like. He would not like to burden the Dept with servicing the Working Group we propose til it becomes clear what its resources will be. Nor did he feel it would be helpful to encourage anything that became simply a cosy, coffee-drinking group meeting every few weeks to discuss 20mph and eventually producing a report for which there then might be no money to implement its proposals in any case.
In response, we emphasised that we also have no wish to be involved in a ‘talking shop’. Rather, our aim is to encourage serious consideration of whether the status quo is delivering in terms of Wandsworth people’s quality of life, health, community safety, needed reductions in air and noise pollution, etc. Robert also pointed out the excellent value for money that a move to a 20mph speed limit as the default represents, in Portsmouth’s case costing an average of only £333 per street.
How we left matters with Cllr Govindia
- We left him with 3 documents: the aide memoire (see below); the original document Moving towards safe, attractive and sustainable streets in Wandsworth via a borough-wide 20mph speed limit (prepared for WEF by Susie Morrow and John Horrocks, April 2010); and Information for Local Authorities regarding the implications of 20mph speed limits (prepared by 20’s plenty for us).
- Cllr Govindia agreed to consider WEF’s request to set up a Working Group to investigate the applicability of 20mph to Wandsworth; he will get the advice of officers, and consult his Councillor colleagues. In view of what he felt are the complexity of the issues raised, and the Council’s present uncertainty as to its future financial position (due to the impending reduction in central government grants to local authorities), he will only be able to give us his view in 6 months – April 2010. Unhappy with this long time-line, we agreed we could send him a reminder in January 2011.
Assessment of the Meeting
Our general feeling was that we had a fair hearing. The tone was serious, courteous, and open to paying attention to the arguments on both sides of the question. But the Cabinet Member is rather strongly minded to leave the situation as it is, and reluctant to commit the Council even to the tiny expenditure of officer time that our suggested Working Group involves. We were particularly disappointed at the long time line he insisted on for even considering our idea.