Call to reduce speed limits on rural roads

REDUCING speed limits on Suffolk's rural roads is unlikely to make them any safer, it was claimed last night.

Craig Robinson

REDUCING speed limits on Suffolk's rural roads is unlikely to make them any safer, it was claimed last night.

Countryside campaigners are today calling for a blanket speed limit of 50mph on rural roads - but the county's former transport chief warned it was not the answer.

And a leading charity said enforcing the new restrictions would be difficult.

The warnings come as the CPRE calls on the Government to rethink its new road safety strategy.

The group is today calling for:

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A reduction in the national speed limit for rural single-carriageway roads to 50 mph but allowing local authorities discretion to keep their safest roads at 60mph.

Powers to introduce 40mph zones on minor rural roads.

Reducing red tape to make introducing more 20mph zones on residential streets and quiet lanes easier and cheaper.

Guy McGregor, former Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for roads and transport, said blanket 50mph limits were not necessarily the answer.

“There is increasing concern about accidents outside of towns and in the countryside and I think that's something that's got to be thought through,” he said. “However, it all needs to be debated and discussed - the public should be encouraged to contribute.

“If you're bringing about a change in the overall speed limit then you need to have public support. People have to understand why it's happening and what the road safety experts are trying to do, that it's not just an arbitrary measure against motorists. Otherwise I'm not sure they will work.”

Mr McGregor, who also used to chair the regional transport group, said he would be in favour of less red tape to impose 20mph limits where local communities thought they were necessary but warned he would not back differential speed limits in rural areas because he did not want to see a proliferation of road signs in the countryside.

His comments were echoed by Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural charity group Suffolk Acre, who said blanket speed restrictions would be difficult to enforce.

“I'd be in favour of 20mph limits, particularly in residential areas,” he said. “However, I think it's essential to involve local people in that decision making.

“You can reduce the speed limits but I doubt we have the resources to enforce the restrictions right across the county.

“It's more important to educate people about different road users and encourage them to be more considerate with their behaviour.”

The Government has opted against a blanket 50mph limit on rural roads - instead preferring local authorities to reduce speed limits on just the most dangerous roads.

The CPRE has called the proposals “piecemeal” and has warned it could lead to speed signs every 300 yards that would deface the countryside.

Senior transport campaigner Ralph Smyth said: “All the evidence points to reducing speed limits as the most important single step. We need a common sense compromise between imposing a new blanket limit and a million new signs, which cash strapped local authorities are unlikely to introduce anytime soon.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said it was “incorrect” to claim there would be speed limit signs every 300 yards.

“Improving safety on rural roads is a key priority in our new road safety strategy,” she continued. “We are consulting widely on this approach and welcome any comments.”