Twenty limits here to stay

Photo Neil Cross'New Lancashire County Council chief Geoff Driver

Photo Neil Cross'New Lancashire County Council chief Geoff Driver

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LANCASHIRE County Council leader Geoff Driver has delivered a blunt message to Garstang residents who have been complaining about the way new 20mph speed limits have been introduced in the town – telling them ‘the limits are here to stay’.

During extraordinary scenes at Monday night’s Garstang Town Council meeting, County Coun Driver repeatedly clashed with angry residents over the issue.

Members of the public accused the county council of Big Brother tactics in the roll-out of the £9.2m project, which was labelled ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a waste of money’ by some.

But County Coun Driver said the limits were here to stay, and his cabinet colleague, County Coun Tim Ashton, who has responsibility for highways, said Garstang needed 20mph limits, given the number of elderly residents. He said: “It is known that older drivers cause lots of accidents, so perhaps you should slow down.”

County Coun Driver also turned on residents, after being accused of ‘smirking’ and ‘being disingenuous’.

He said: “After three years, I’m quite used to the fact that I know nothing, and you know everything.

“By and large, everyone seems to accept 20mph, so you can’t argue the cost as a waste – 20 is plenty.

“We live in a democracy, and after our four-year term if you don’t like what we’ve done, that’s up to you to decide.”

But he added: “Be careful what you wish for,” before claiming returning a Labour administration in County Hall would lead to a doubling in council tax.

Around 30 members of the public attended Monday’s meeting at the community centre. Most were there to question County Coun Driver over the new speed limits.

Residents claim routes, including Lancaster Road and Croston Road, fall outside the council’s guidelines, which restrict 20mph limits to residential estates and around schools.

Coun Tim Ashton urged people to accept the new safety measures, and said the county-wide programme, due to be finished in 2013, would be constantly under review. He said the scheme would be as much about “changing hearts and minds”, and re-education for drivers.

He added: “I realise there are some grey areas, and people’s ideas of commuter routes and the definition of residential streets may be different.

“But it is a small change to make a big difference. Family, friends and communities have been devastated by the loss of a child through road accidents.

“If I can save lives and reduce accidents in Lancashire, then we’ve done a good job.”

Questions were raised on the decision to leave areas around Bowgreave, near the Academy School, and the stretch from Dimples Lane to Church Street, at 30mph.

Resident Jack Rogers said: “I’m not saying it’s not right for the centre of Garstang, and around schools, but I can see drivers taking no notice. I’ve had so many emails now with county council, it’s like arguing with Big Brother.”

Representative of Garstang Labour Group Bob Denmark said there were anomalies in the detail adding: “Signs have been put up in the most ridiculous places.”

He labelled Coun Driver’s comments over increases in council tax “absolute nonsense” and “misleading”.

Earlier in the meeting. he asked Garstang’s County Coun Val Wilson, if she was asked to give advice on the detail of the plans.

She said: “Not on specific roads. It was an overview. I can’t remember the specifics.”

Councillors were also questioned about a perceived lack of communication and consultation over the project.

Town Councillor Sandra Perkins said: “We did object to a 20mph blanket zone – outside of schools fine – but we had nothing back.

“You don’t seem to listen, and it’s the lack of communication that gets people’s backs up. I had a neighbour ask me ‘did they do it during the night?’ it is the secrecy of it.”

Coun Ashton replied: “I can only apologise for people not being consulted properly.

“There are 200 parish councils in Lancashire, there is no way I can get round to every one – this is about the fifth I’ve been to.

“Prove to me there is not a high pedestrian and cyclist rate on these roads and I will look back at the advice given.

“We are constantly reviewing this scheme, that is why I am here – I’ve come here to listen.

“This is going to take a while, but we will work closely with the community to convince people it is the right thing to do.”

After the meeting, Mr Denmark added: “We are in favour of any measure to reduce the level of casualties on roads particularly children and elderly pedestrians.

“However, we think there has been an appalling lack of consultation with local people about where 20mph limits have been applied, and perhaps where they haven’t.’’