Minister visits Portsmouth to assess council’s low-speed initiative

VISIT Norman Baker MP
VISIT Norman Baker MP
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A GOVERNMENT minister has visited Portsmouth on a fact-finding mission about 20mph speed limit zones.

Norman Baker, Lib Dem transport minister, was taken on a tour of the city to view its ground-breaking initiative, the first of its kind in the UK.

And he has requested more information to help his department advise local authorities on their own street safety plans.

Mr Baker said: ‘I’m looking at ways to improve road safety and enhance town and city centres. I wanted to look at Portsmouth because the city’s done more than anywhere else to deliver those. The limits on residential streets seem to work well.’

Mr Baker was taken to streets in Milton, Southsea and Old Portsmouth by Portsmouth City Councillors, and its transport officers.

He stopped short of promising to recommend 20mph schemes to other councils, in line with official government localism policy, which says government should not hand policy down to councils.

But he asked for more information, to help other local authorities decide whether to implement their own schemes.

He said: ‘Local councils can come to the government for money for these schemes and I wanted to assess whether it will be money well spent. It seems average speeds have decreased here and there are safety benefits, but they have to be balanced against the effects on businesses and how people have responded.’

Portsmouth City Council introduced its 20mph zone, covering 94 per cent of the city’s residential roads, in May 2007.

It reports fewer accidents and reduced traffic speeds across the city.

But police refuse to enforce the limits, which the council says is the main concern of residents it has surveyed for opinions on the initiative.

Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There has been no opposition made by people within the city since the scheme came in.’

And the council’s leader for economic regeneration Cllr Mike Hancock added: ‘The justification is the qualitative results.

‘One strength for us was it came in everywhere at once, so people knew they couldn’t use ignorance as an excuse.’