Police admit 'fobbing off' councillors over 20mph limits

Herald Series: Susanna Pressel, pictured in St Giles, said she was pleased at the Chief Constable's action Buy this photo » Susanna Pressel, pictured in St Giles, said she was pleased at the Chief Constable's action

POLICE we're trying to “fob off” councillors over catching speeding motorists in Oxford’s 20mph zones for years, emails uncovered by the Oxford Mail reveal.

The county council spent almost £250,000 introducing the scheme in Oxford in September 2009.

But police did not dish out any fines for breaking the limits until last month.

Now a Freedom of Information request by the Oxford Mail has uncovered correspondence showing Chief Constable Sara Thornton stepped in saying it was time for the force’s policy to change.

After a meeting with Oxford city councillors last April, Ms Thornton agreed speed indication devices should be deployed where complaints has been made, and said police would act if serious problems were uncovered.

In an email in March, to Chief Inspector Henry Parsons of the Joint Roads Policing Unit, Ms Thornton wanted to see how this policy was working.

She wrote: “I would want to know how many times we have used speed indicator devices in Oxford and how many times we have then done enforcement.

“This will be the fourth year that RP (roads policing) want me to fob off the councillors and I am not happy to do so!”

Chf Insp Parsons promised a detailed briefing sheet and added: “Ma’am, I won’t make it five years with the ‘fob off’.”

A further email from Ms Thornton in April this year, this time to Supt Chris Brown, head of roads policing for Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police joint operations, said: “I am very concerned that I have reassured councillors that we will use enforcement when we have an evidenced problem and education and engineering have been addressed but that this is not in fact happening.

“The issue is bubbling politically in Oxford and is a theme which the Oxford Mail returns to regularly.”

The documents show Ms Thornton had been warned ahead of a meeting at Oxford Town Hall in April 2011 that the issue would be raised and city councillors Alan Armitage and Susanna Pressel were “very passionate” about it.

Ms Pressel said: “It is true that we were fobbed off year after year. I repeatedly asked for the 20mph zones to be enforced and the police did not do as we asked.

“I am pleased that Ms Thornton put her foot down – she is an excellent police officer and we are lucky to have her.”

County council cabinet member for transport Mr Rose added: “The police tried fobbing us off but we were not prepared to accept it. The persistence of councillors and the coverage of the issue in the Oxford Mail will have made a difference.”

A total of 58 drivers have now been prosecuted with a £60 fine and three penalty points.

Sushila Dhall, from Oxford Pedestrians’ Association, said: “When the 20mph speed limit was introduced, the police always said they did not have the resources to enforce it. So I’m not sure we’ve been ‘fobbed off’.”

In a statement, Thames Valley Police said: “In January 2009, the Chief Constable attended a meeting hosted by Oxford City Council where the planned introduction of 20mph speed limits in the city was discussed.

“The Chief Constable explained that reducing speed on the roads requires a joint approach from both police and local authorities consisting of educating drivers and the considered engineering and design of roads, as well as enforcement activity by the police.
“This reflected the approach taken nationally.
“The Association of Chief Police Officers’ position is that roads subject to a 20mph speed limit should be self-enforcing, with the design and road engineering needs in place to help motorists to appreciate that the road is subject to a lower limit than they might expect.
“Only where this fails should enforcement activity be directed towards drivers who fail to observe the speed limit.
“In relation to the specific plans proposed for introducing 20mph speed limits on roads in Oxford, the Chief Constable expressed concerns that other than erecting new speed limit signs, there was no intention to address the engineering of the roads and compliance with the new speed limits appeared to be reliant upon police enforcement alone, which was contrary to the existing ACPO guidelines.
“In January 2010 the Chief Constable again met with Oxford city councillors.
“The Chief Constable was also asked about enforcement and explained that any complaints about excess speed were being referred to the county council who had funds available to carry out remedial traffic calming or engineering work.
“In April 2011 the Chief Constable again met with Oxford city councillors and updated the on the work that was being carried out by local officers with Speed Indication Devices. After this the Chief Constable agreed with the Roads Policing department that where complaints had been made, Speed Indication Devices were to be deployed, and where a serious problem is identified following this, enforcement activity is to take place. In 2011 several policing operations involving the deployment of Speed Indication Devices took place but no serious problems were identified.
“In March 2012 the Chief Constable again met with Oxford city councillors and as a result met with roads policing staff to ensure that the escalation policy was working.
“In several areas where there had been complaints and where there was evidence of speeding, such as St Giles, enforcement has been carried out.”

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