Row breaks out over new 20mph speed limits in Witney

  • ITV Meridian's Penny Silvester has been finding out what people think about the new 20mph speed limits

Witney is one of the first places in the country to introduce 20mph speed limits right across the town centre.

It is being done to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

But critics say Oxfordshire County Council is ignoring local people and many businesses that are opposed to the plan. Thames Valley Police say the 20mph limits will only be enforced 'where appropriate'.

The changes are part of Oxfordshire County Council's 20mph policy which will cost up to £8 million over the next three years.

The conservative MP for Witney and West Oxfordshire Robert Courts has hit out at the proposal.

He said "There is a case for targeted 20mph limits, for example near schools or anywhere that might be a danger, but what we gave here is a blanket approach."

  • Witney & West Oxfordshire MP Robert Courts says the 20mph plans haven't been thought through

Dozens of 30mph roads in Witney will have their speed limits lowered to 20mph and in some areas of the town, limits will be cut from 50mph to 40mph and from 40mph to 30mph.

More than half of the people who took part in a consultation about the proposals objected to the new limits. Of the 288 responses, only 93 supported the scheme.

But the county council said the changes will make Witney a safer, quieter, and less polluted, and will encourage more people to cycle and walk.

Thames Valley Police say they are 'supportive' of the plan, but say that compliance with 20mph limits is a challenging issue and officers will only enforce the revised limits where appropriate. They say

"If a speed limit is set too low and is ignored then this could result in the vulnerable road user being less safe. It can also cause a disproportionate number of drivers to criminalise themselves and could bring the system of speed limits into disrepute."Thames Valley Police have no policy to enforce based on arbitrary speed limits alone but will enforce based on threat of harm, risk and resourcing. 20mph limits are not excluded from this and will be enforced where appropriate.

"There should be no expectation that the police would be able to provide regular enforcement if a speed limit is set too low as this could result in an unreasonable additional demand on police resources and there are no additional resources available to support extra enforcement."

During the consultation process, the bus company Stagecoach called the new limits crude, largely un-evidenced and said they are likely to present more problems for the sustainability of bus services in Witney.

Following Oxfordshire County Council's decision to implement the changes, Rachel Geliamassi, Managing Director, Stagecoach West said: "Stagecoach West supports any schemes or safety led measures to keep our roads and passengers safe and we work closely with the council to make sure any proposed measures are effective and in the right place. 

“We welcome the opportunity to offer our insight and, where necessary, make suggestions on what could be considered practical to ensure customers continue to enjoy a smooth and reliable journey to their destination."  

  • Councillor Duncan Enright says the council is at the forefront of bringing about change.

Witney is the first and biggest project in this phase of their three year programme and Oxfordshire County Council is calling the changes a landmark moment for their 20mph speed limit policy.

Oxfordshire County Council says there is a clear link between the speed of traffic and the likelihood of accidents happening in which people are killed or injured.

It says speed limits will be cut in more than 70 other Oxfordshire towns and villages in the next financial year – followed by hundreds more in the next two years.

The cut to speed limits had the backing of West Oxfordshire District Council and Witney Town Council.

The changes are expected to be implemented and new signage installed later this year.