You may or may not be aware of a piece I wrote in June about the possibility of 20 mph speed limits coming to Horsham. Vainly googling today to see whether this had progressed from a councillor idly mooting the idea, to something slightly more concrete, I chanced upon this frankly incredible story from two years ago.
It relates to proposals, now shelved, to introduce a 20 mph limit on the High Street of Steyning, a small, attractive town to the south of Horsham.
The High Street itself is narrow, and in my experience rather congested. It would be unwise to attempt to travel at anything like the current 30 mph along it, because vehicles are frequently making turns into and out of the even narrower side streets, or are parked and loading. Here is a typical scene, captured by Google Streetview –
Needless to say, people on foot are also regularly crossing the street, either directly, or at the several pedestrian crossings. In my opinion it is deeply unreasonable, not to say unwise, to drive at 30 mph through this environment. And yet –
MORE than 40 traders have signed a petition opposing a 20mph speed limit in Steyning High Street. Steyning Parish Council has been looking into the possibility of a lower speed limit for the High Street, which is currently 30mph. But at their last meeting councillors were told that a 20mph restriction could be devastating to Steyning’s traders. Alan Marsh, speaking on behalf of the town’s Chamber of Trade, told them: “I would say to councillors, on behalf of all the traders, wake up and see what’s going on in the town.” He made reference to Ken Johnstone’s, the High Street electrical shop which closed earlier this year and remains empty. Mr Marsh said: “There are a lot of traders in trouble and this could drop them over the edge. There are 240 locally-employed people in the town. Do you want to risk all of their jobs on this sort of plan? Because that’s what will happen. On the strength of responses from every single business, why is this still proceeding?”
Mr Marsh evidently believes that cars travelling at 20 mph, rather than 30 mph, along the High Street in Steyning will magically force the shops along it out of business. He is plainly a rather strange man.
The Council responded to Mr Marsh.
[Parish council chairman Sue Rogers] assured Mr Marsh no decision would be made about a change to the speed limit, originally suggested by the Steyning Society, without extensive research. “When we have got all the research and all the information to hand the committee will discuss it,” she said. “It’s not just about businesses – we’ve had a lot of petitions and support for the plan from residents and other groups, including the Steyning Society. There are certain parts of the town where it’s difficult to cross and it could make Steyning safer.” Councillors also questioned whether there was any link between a 20mph speed limit and fewer people visiting the town.
A good question. Does Mr Marsh actually have any evidence that a marginally lower speed limit will drive people away, and result in the mass closure of shops?
Mr Marsh replied: “The town will gradually disappear – the 20mph limit is a barrier to customers coming into the town. If they’re worried about getting a ticket from a speed camera, they might go elsewhere.”
I think the answer is no. The only straw Mr Marsh can grasp at – and note, this is not evidence, by the conventional understanding of the word – is that “customers” worried about “getting a ticket” will stay away. This doesn’t, of course, explain why “customers” who presently visit Steyning aren’t scared away by their inability to stay under the current 30 mph limit – unless these customers have a rather selective ability to drive at slightly different speeds.
I am also intrigued by Mr Marsh’s idea that the town will ‘disappear’ if the speed limit gets lowered. Edinburgh, Oxford and Portsmouth are no doubt vanishing before our very eyes now that they have succumbed to the idiocy of a 20 mph limit.
Mr Marsh – and the other traders on Steyning High Street – provide a textbook example of how shopkeepers overestimate the importance of the motor vehicle to their business, and grossly underestimate the importance of a pleasant shopping environment for people on foot.