Updated 14/10/06 - A5 SPEED LIMIT REDUCTION PROPOSALS
FACE TO FACE MEETING
WITH THE HIGHWAYS AGENCY
NOT the Final Report (see above) Meeting held 4.30 on 6th October at Optima Offices on the Amington Industrial Estate. Bet you didn’t know that Optima (who I think must be the Highways Agency contractor) occupied 3 very spacious units on this site. Lots of staff. But only responsible apparently for the A5 from Cannock (I think) to the M1 (That’s important - see later!)
Well - we finally had our face-to-face with the Highways Agency bods. I say “we” because I was lucky enough to have Paul Biggs, the Staffordshire Coordinator for the Association of British Drivers (ABD), agree to go with me. On the other side of the table was the Highways Agency’s Geoffrey Bevan - who had been dealing with our objections from his Birmingham offices - and Optima’s Karen Friend - the one who had all the figures - and did the vast majority of the talking.
It was Karen’s job to persuade us that all was hunky-dory with reducing these limits. We soon found out that it was far from the case. I had asked beforehand for various documents to be made available at this meeting. These were -
“1. Anything you have to show the 55 injuries by RTAs, used as justification for the lowering of speed limits over this section, did in fact have speeding above the limit as a contributory factor. Also whatever other contributory factors or details of these accidents you can supply (eg - times, dates, road conditions etc.). And any evidence you hold that reducing these speed limits may reduce those accident injury rates.”
What we were presented with were a bunch of balloons stuck on a map of the route marking each “injury”. On it were all sorts of “details” about it - supposedly details of weather conditions, road conditions, etc - but nothing which we could enumerate, analyse and make conclusions from. In fact I couldn’t even read it - too small and faint - although Ms Friend did spend quite some time trying to explain what the various parts of the balloon were. She apologised that it wasn’t in any form that we could actually make sense of. I thought it was a shame too!!
“2. Any speed measurement data you hold - plus times and dates of the measurements, and whether before or after various, and which, road engineering measures - on which Highways Dept. relies to justify speed limit reductions.”
Now the speed data was there. It filled volumes!! We would have needs days - if not weeks - to pour over the information that had been recorded. So again it was almost impossible to make out anything what we were really being shown. The when’s, where exactly’s, and why’s really were lost is the haze of figures. I expect that was the whole idea - to leave us confused and befuddled!
However - What did stand out clearly was that the 85% percentile (the figure which these people are supposed to work to) was at first too high for them to reduce the speed limits. So - just for the sake of reducing this 85th percentile - these people put in a whole load of new road engineering. Notice - NOT for reasons of safety - but for no other reason than to bring a perfectly safe speed down so they can reduce the speed limit!! Incredible!
The point here of course is that since doing that they have created a new road engineered environment and they really needed 3 - if not 5 - years worth of statistics to see whether these had reduced accident figures. Without that information they really shouldn’t be reducing the limits at all. Note also - we still don’t know what these original 55 accidents over 5 years were, minor, serious or fatal. I really do think that they had been serious or fatal we would have been made much more forcefully aware of them. But as it stood accident figures for this stretch of road were amongst the least worrying in the Midlands!! Both Paul and myself were not slow to point out that Government reports on the effect of artificially low speed limits show these can actually increase accidents.
However one thing that did shock me from the figures I saw was that the 85th Percentile. Even after their speed-limit gerrymandering activities - it was still 46mph - and even higher in the East bound direction. In fact if we went by the graphs they had drawn we could see that the 85th percentile on some days was indeed above the 50mph. I had previously been led to believe they had brought the 85th percentile down below 40mph - and thought that was suspiciously low at the time. But NO! Now they say that Government guidelines allow then to reduce limits to 40 even if the 85th percentile is as high as 47mph . I thought it was strange as since this all started I had often gone down that road and driving very reasonably I was still doing at least 45mph - and was wondering just how uncomfortable it would feel if the limit was reduced to 40 and how their figures had justified it. Now I understood! They didn’t have to get it below 40mph at all. In fact far from getting the limit to the 85th percentile they had more than likely reduced it to less than even an average speed along that road. This was clearly increasing dangers - whilst they were claiming to reduce danger. So when the accident figures go up after the limits are reduced - the words “I told you so” may well seem in bad taste!
“3. Evidence and details of submissions by other groups or individuals both for and against the proposals. Details of the consultation process with residents, the information they received and their full responses.”
FINALLY - found out that the only consultation was with a bunch of local “worthies” better known as Parish councillors. They of course all wanted to show their “safety conscious - we know speed kills” credentials -0 and without any knowledge at all of what makes a safe speed limit they all said “go ahead”. This was no groundswell of residents demanding action - as we had been led to believe up until now. This was the Highways Agency manipulating the result they wanted. It’s a “consultation” classic trick. Don’t ask the people - ask their “representatives” instead. It is a well known phenomenon in Government that such “representatives” rarely if ever accord with the ordinary people (present company excepted I trust? :-) - because these pillars of society are far too busy trying to be important, doing what is expected of them, and fitting in with the pc establishment.
“4. Any written evidence showing Police support for the proposals”.
THIS ONE’S INTERESTING! Over the years the Police have got increasingly worried about the persecution of the motorist and the effect it is having on Police - Public relations. All credit to Warwickshire Police then for sticking up for the motorist in this and pointing out some of the defects in the Highways scheme for the Warwickshire part - from their policing point of view. Their letter was passed off to us as “being in support” - but when we read it we realised it was no such thing! It did however say that IF the Highways Agency could address the issues involved then obviously the Police would support the scheme. Big IF!! Not going to happen!
For the speed limits further down the A5 (don’t forget we were only concentrating only on the M42 to Grendon stretch) the Leicester Police were a lot more blasé. Two lines of “no objection” letter. It through such lazy scrutiny that bad laws get passed so often.
ANYWAY - we were about an hour and a half into the meeting when I suggested a compromise. Not possible they said - not without going through the whole “consultation” process again! This is when they dropped the bombshell of the the whole stretch of the A5 - from Tamworth to the M1 - was an “all or nothing” scenario. I couldn’t believe it. I almost got angry here. I had objected quite properly to this one stretch as laid out in the Order set out by the Secretary of State. Now here they were telling me that really I should be arguing about every Order over the whole stretch of the A5. Quite absurd. But there you have it - these speed limit reduction around Tamworth to Dordon are going to go ahead - not because they are in themselves sensible - but because it would mean not being able to go ahead with any of the other proposals along the A5. This had descended into farce! What on earth had I been objecting to this one Order for when it wasn’t a “stand alone”? What was I even doing at this meeting? I felt we had been seriously misled.
The meeting ended not too long after. We again asked for all the documentary evidence in a form that we could use and understand - and they promised to give us this within the next week or two. Thanks a lot! Don’t forget I had been asking for this information from the very start. It all seems a little superfluous now that we had our last “bite” at the cherry as far as the consultation went. What were we supposed to do with the information when we finally got it? Oh well. Perhaps I could always use the accident figures to compare with the new figures 3 years down the line after the new limits had been imposed. One thing I did say was that the speeds they were setting were so unnaturally low that this stretch of road would become a haven for speed checks and the camera partnerships. They did not think so (can’t imagine why?). Time will tell!
Still - these Highways people spent a lot of time dealing with our objection. We can’t say they didn’t properly “consult” us (except perhaps for the fact that they didn’t give us the info we needed to properly formulate and support our objection). We cannot complain because we are not so naive that we do not understand very well that these days any “consultation” by government or their agencies is merely to go through the motions - before they “decide” to do exactly what they were going to do in the first place. Where, when and how did we go so seriously wrong in Government, and for so many years ago now? One answer I did get from this meeting - for a question I had repeated in all my letters - was that there would be no final decision by elected politicians - this is a bureaucrat led exercise where the bureaucrats get the final say. Very true. Very sad. I feel we’ve been invaded by aliens!