Every suburban residential road in Birmingham is set to have a 20mph speed limit imposed in a major road safety push.
But serious concerns have been raised that cash-strapped police won’t be able to enforce the new limits.
Councillors have voted for plans to introduce a lower limit in a bid to improve road safety, save lives and encourage more people to walk and cycle.
A motion put to Birmingham City Council, backed by the vast majority of councillors, has set up the development of a policy to introduce 20mph zones across the city on a phased basis.
The new police and crime commissioner, set to be elected next week, will have a huge say on the enforcement of such a speed limit.
Last year saw 28 fatal car accidents in Birmingham with a further 395 leading to serious injury and 2,089 causing slight injuries.
Councillors heard that as well as deaths and serious injuries, the financial cost to emergency services can be as much as £1.7 million for a crash.
Deputy chairman of the West Midlands Police Federation Tom Cuddeford said that enforcement could be difficult.
He said that in the last two years the road policing unit had lost 60 officers, leaving 90 to patrol the region’s roads.
“We are going through all these cuts and while officers will do their best when asked. The road policing unit has been cut very severely over the last couple of years and are spread more thinly. That is obviously our concern. It is unlikely they will be able to pro-actively target these zones.”
A blanket speed limit would cost around £2.6 million to set up across Birmingham.
The council, which is responsible for a 2,500km road network, has set up 20mph zones in 246 streets over the last 20 years.
Liberal Democrat David Willis (South Yardley), who tabled the motion, said: “It’s regrettable that it’s taken almost twenty years to create a 20mph zones. We simply cannot wait a further 30 years
“The current procedure of generating a Traffic Regulation order for a single road is slow and bureaucratic. It must surely be far easier to implement a traffic regulation order on a group of roads in a community following consultations with residents regarding the design of a suitable scheme.”
Coun Mike Sharpe (Lab, Tyburn) who has been involved in setting up a 20mph zone for the Castle Vale estate following the death of 10-year-old Callum Henry in a road accident last year, warned there could be problems with enforcement.
He said: “We are trying to save people’s lives. After ten-year-old Callum died in 2011 the residents raised a petition, and we are setting up a 20mph zone. But we know that the police will not enforce it, because it is not an official speed limit.
“That is why we need to get together and bring a policy back.”
Councillors also raised questions over the ability of police to enforce any official limits as their numbers have been cut.
Coun Mike Leddy (Lab, Brandwood) suggested that it did not matter if police were unable to enforce, as following an accident it could be up to magistrates to enforce by considering speed in a stiffer sentence.
He also hoped that most motorists would respect the lower limit and behave.
A note of caution came from members of the Conservative group who called for zones around schools and colleges and consultation with communities over further restrictions. Coun Bruce Lines (Cons, Bartley Green) said: “The policy is too simplistic and can be seen as anti-car, the act of a nanny council.”
He pointed out that traffic congestion around schools means that speeds are much lower than 20mph, but even then there is the ever present danger of children weaving between cars.
“Speed limits have very little affect on behaviour without further expensive traffic calming measures or enforcement by police.”
He was backed by Coun Meirion Jenkins (Cons, Sutton Four Oaks) said that such schemes in Portsmouth, Bristol and Oxford had failed to have a significant impact on accident rates.
“We are in danger of confusing anti-car legislation with safety legislation,” he warned.
Tory police and crime commissioner candidate Matt Bennett said: “It is enforceable with political will. I know there was a Tory amendment calling for the zones around schools and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be enforced.”
UKIP PCC candidate Bill Etheridge, said that a city-wide policy could place a huge burden on already over stretched police resources.
He said: “There are good reasons for introducing a lower speed limit, particularly around schools. But all commissioner candidates are committed to not raising the police precept on council tax, so it would have to be enforced using existing resources.
“We would have an obligation to uphold the law and this would place a further strain on officers.”
He urged the council to consider carefully the impact on policing and consult with West Midlands Police when drawing up the policy.