Does democracy travel at 20mph?

By - Friday 13th January, 2017

Michael Swadling asks why a vote is good enough for some parts of Croydon but not others

When you Google the word democracy, the answer comes back as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of democracy includes the definition of “the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges”. This leads to a question – why is Croydon Council looking to have a two-tier democracy in the borough?

On 12th December, Croydon Council’s cabinet agreed a paper entitled ‘Croydon Area-Wide 20mph Speed Limits (Revised Engagement Procedure)’. This paper outlined the council’s plans to implement an area-wide 20mph maximum speed limit scheme across the remaining areas of Croydon, covering areas 3, 4 and 5 which are the council wards of Broad Green, Coulsdon East, Coulsdon West, Croham, Fairfield, Fieldway, Heathfield, Kenley, New Addington, Norbury, Purley, Sanderstead, Selsdon & Ballards, Shirley, Waddon and West Thornton.

The borough has been divided into 5 areas to roll out the Croydon Labour manifesto commitment to 20mph speed limits on residential roads. In 2015 and early 2016 areas 1 (North Croydon) and 2 (North-East Croydon) went through a community engagement process (opinion survey). Although responses were low, these opinion surveys gave residents in the affected areas a chance to vote. In area 1, a total of 2,320 people responded to the survey, with 52.5% (1,218) in favor of 20mph limit. For area 2 the result was narrower with 50.5% (1,600) people responding in favor. Following these votes, the 20mph speed limits were introduced in the north and rollout is expected to be completed in the north east area by March 2017.

Residents of the as-yet-unaffected areas will only have the opportunity to take part in a statutory consultation, not an actual vote

These areas are home to over 80,000 people, so the response rate was hardly overwhelming, but democracy doesn’t stop when poll numbers are low. The people had a chance to respond to the opinion surveys, and they responded in favour of the 20mph speed limits. Whatever your personal view on the speed limits, believers in democracy would therefore agree that they should be implemented.

The council paper of the 12th December however has taken a rather worrying turn. The proposal agreed was “the [c]ouncil proceeds directly with a statutory consultation without a prior ‘opinion seeking survey’”. This means the residents of areas 3, 4 and 5 (the wards listed above) will only have the opportunity to take part in a statutory consultation, not an actual vote.

Anyone who has taken part in a statutory consultation will know what a waste of time these so often are. For example the Local Plan consultation has shown these to be largely a rubber stamp exercise with feedback often ignored and even seeing campaign groups vilified by council leaders. The consultation is scheduled to run from 18th January 2017 until 15th February 2017.

The road safety considerations versus the productivity impacts are reasonable points to debate

The change of plan to move away from a community engagement process prompts two questions:

  • Why are council officers, people paid by us to serve us, recommending taking away our right to a democratic process?
  • Why does the Labour council not consider the people of Coulsdon, Kenley, New Addington, Shirley, Waddon and other areas worthy of having the same democratic rights as the people of Thornton Heath and Addiscombe?

Of course, the council give their reasons for denying you your say. They resort to the refuge of many a scoundrel and all elites by suggesting “it is clear that there was confusion over the two stage decision making process”. This does lead one to wonder if I can avoid paying council tax by explaining the whole process was too confusing for me. The main reason however appears to be a concern that they will not win the vote, therefore they have simply chosen to avoid having one.

The road safety considerations versus the productivity impacts of a 20mph speed limit are reasonable points to debate. So let’s have that debate. Let the people affected debate and exercise their democratic vote to choose the speed limit that is right for their roads.

I hope that now we are in a new year, the cabinet can reflect and not choose a two-tier franchise for Croydon. The council could simply show their commitment to democracy by giving the people of the other three areas the right to vote – and then honouring the outcomes of those votes.

Michael Swadling

Michael Swadling

Michael works in the IT Industry for and has lived in Croydon all of his life. He has been a governor in local schools for over twelve years. During the referendum he was the Croydon Area Manager for Vote Leave, Now promoting Classical Liberalism and Freedom. Visit Croydon Constitutionalist for events and articles on Classical Liberalism in our area Former UKIP candidate for Croydon North and Croydon Council.

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  • Austen

    Keep roads dangerous for those not cocooned in a crumple zone, wearing a seat belt and protected by an airbag – they get what they deserve.

    • Michael Swadling

      Austen – I really don’t think keeping a lot of sides roads at 30mph is that dangerous. Equally outside schools and shopping centers 30mph may be too high. My point is lets discuss and debate and not impose…

      • Austen

        “I really don’t think keeping a lot of sides roads at 30mph is that dangerous”

        2 people died at the same spot in Coulsdon where, according to the coroner, the vehicles that hit them were not travelling above 30mph.

        • Michael Swadling

          And that would be the argument to change the speed at that and similar spots not change the speed everywhere.

          • Austen

            Unfortunately your approach means people have to die or be seriously injured before action is taken.

          • Michael Swadling

            Not at all that is why I said “similar spots”. The logical conclusion of your comment is all roads (motorways, main throughways, country lanes) become 20mph. I suspect you are not suggesting that, therefore we have to decide where best to deploy 20mph speed limits.

            The point of the article of course is to suggest where we deploy these if best decided by the democratic process as it was in the North of Croydon, not differing processes across the borough.

          • Austen

            It all boils down to wanting a vote on keeping roads dangerous, regardless of other people facing intimidation, danger, injury and death, simply because some drivers refuse to slow down.

          • Michael Swadling

            Or you could say it boils down to how to set speed limits so people take the most note of them and drive slower at key hot spots. I frankly am worried with blanket 20mph speed limits drivers will ignore them everywhere.

          • Austen

            You can assuage your concerns by pressing the council and the police to work together to ensure dangerous drivers are dealt with and those who do respect the speed limits aren’t intimidated, injured or killed by them.

  • Tess Bryan

    I think the “blanket” 20 mph on all “residential roads” is ridiculous. Surely this should be broken down into roads or smaller areas and judged on merit? For example, I drove down Pampisford Road this morning at 20 mph to judge, and found it ridiculously slow. There is already an area outside the 2 schools which is 20 mph at key times of day, which I think is far more sensible. A 20 mph at all hours will just clog up the roads during rush hour, and cause more pollution and aggravation. However, I live in a proper residential area in Waddon, and believe that most of the roads surriounding where I live COULD benefit with a restriction. There is also the strain on the police force who I assume will be enforcing this? Or maybe it’s all a money making exercise and they’re hoping to earn a fortune in penalty notices. Who knows.

    • Austen

      Hi Tess,

      Interesting points.

      “There is already an area outside the 2 schools which is 20 mph at key times of day, which I think is far more sensible”. Having part-time localised 20mph limits means that people – particularly kids and older people – face danger, injury and death elsewhere at other times of the day; 80% of child casualties are on non school trips.

      “A 20 mph at all hours will just clog up the roads during rush hour, and cause more pollution and aggravation.” 20mph limits massively cut toxic diesel emissions. You’d be lucky to be able to drive above 20mph along some of the main roads, e.g. the A23 from Thornton Heath Pond to Norbury during the morning or evening rush hours (note the plural). What’s causing that road to be clogged up and the pollution and aggravation that results isn’t a 20mph speed limit but more people driving cars than the road and its junctions can cope with. And so long as other roads have 30mph speed limits that aren’t enforced, and main roads don’t have safe space for cycling, people’s choice of transport is limited.

      You live in Waddon, where there are already areas with 24/7 20mph limits. If the opposition win, these could be taken out. Is that what you want?

      I think “the strain on the police force” is down to them clearing up after dangerous drivers who crash their vehicles into other people, their cars and their homes. After deaths on the unofficial Imperial Way racetrack, the council took legal action and physical measures to prevent a recurrence. We need that rigorous approach to be rolled out across the borough.

      As for making a fortune from penalty notices, any speeding fines that are levied end up in Her Majesty’s Treasury’s consolidated fund. We don’t begrudge fines for other forms of anti-social and criminal behaviour, so why should this be any different?