Road Safety (Falkirk)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 18th November 2021.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-01281, in the name of Stephen Kerr, on road safety in Falkirk. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons or, if they are joining us online, to type R in the chat function.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises efforts in Airth and Reddingmuirhead to introduce a 20mph speed limit; considers that, in busy areas, a 20mph speed limit is safer for pedestrians, in particular school children and cyclists, and notes the view that local councils should be empowered to make decisions on speed limits, acknowledging their local knowledge.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to this motion on road safety in Falkirk. Road safety is of paramount importance and, when properly enforced, it saves lives. One of the most important factors in road safety is speed. The road safety charity Brake states that one in three fatal road crashes can be attributed to excess speed and that an average speed reduction of 1mph reduces crash frequency by 5 per cent.

Since becoming a member of the Scottish Parliament in May, I have been made aware of various community-led campaigns to improve road safety in Falkirk by reducing or enforcing speed limits. One of those campaigns is in the village of Airth and is led by Airth community council. For many years, residents have been complaining about the noise pollution and increased risk from cars, vans, lorries and even tractors ignoring the 30mph speed limit on the main street. Earlier this year, more than 100 residents took part in a survey that showed that 87 per cent of people who live in Airth backed proposals to reduce the speed limit on the main street to 20mph. Despite that support, the people of Airth are no closer to the introduction of a 20mph speed limit becoming a reality.

Reddingmuirhead and Wallacestone community council has also been leading a campaign to enforce the 30mph speed limit on Shieldhill Road. There is a school beside the road, but there is no continuous pavement on either side, so children cross the road back and forth on their walk to and from school. By itself, that is incredibly dangerous but, when we take into account data that shows that 75 per cent of the traffic on Shieldhill Road ignores the 30mph speed limit, we see how dangerous that daily walk is for the pupils of Braes high school.

In response to a letter

to Falkirk Council to highlight speeding on Shieldhill Road, the council’s network co-ordinator said:

“The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires local authorities to carry out studies into accidents that occur within their areas and, in light of those studies, take such measures as appear appropriate to prevent accidents.”

The letter went on to say that there have been three personal injury accidents on the section of Shieldhill Road that is subject to a 30mph speed limit within the past 10 years, but that vehicle speed was recorded as a “possible” contributory factor in only one of those accidents. I am thankful that the recorded personal injury accidents on Shieldhill Road are relatively low, but local residents believe that the actual number of accidents is much higher.

Residents who use Shieldhill Road regularly are worried about safety on the road and are anxious that measures to enforce the speed limit will be taken only if a serious accident occurs. I share those concerns, so I ask the Minister for Transport whether the Road Traffic Act 1988 allows the police and councils to take preventative measures to enhance road safety, rather than relying simply on recorded accidents in the past 10 years.

Since I lodged the motion in Parliament, many constituents have got in touch to highlight the issue of speeding in areas across Falkirk. Talking about Kemper Avenue, one constituent said that “cars fly up there”, and described it as a “nightmare” for elderly people who are trying to cross the road. There is retirement housing in nearby Glenbrae Court, so that nightmare is being lived on a daily basis.

Another constituent emailed me to say that the

“speed of some cars going from Gartcows Road onto Windsor Road is frightening”.

There are many family homes on Windsor Road, and such speeding is increasing the anxiety of parents when children go outside to play. Reflecting on why they believe speeding is prevalent, my constituent wrote:

“I believe the main contributor to speeding is a lack of enforcement of speed limits.”

Commenting on Slamannan Road, which is another 30mph road, another constituent said:

“people seem to think it is a 40 to 50 area ... it is only a matter of time before an accident happens”.

It is clear that road safety is a concern for people throughout Falkirk. Rather than wait for serious accidents to happen, police and councils across the country should be proactive in tapping into the knowledge and understanding that local communities have about their roads. That way, we could prevent accidents rather than simply react to them.

I would like to ask the minister the following questions, which I hope he will be able to address at the end of the debate. First, what steps has the Government taken to support efforts to introduce 20mph limits in places where local residents support an introduction, such as in Airth? Secondly, what steps has the Government taken to enforce speed limits where residents have consistently voiced concerns about road safety, such as in Reddingmuirhead? Thirdly, what steps has the Government taken to ensure that the safety of pedestrians, such as schoolchildren, and cyclists is at the heart of developments to promote active travel in Falkirk? Fourthly, what steps has the Government taken to empower local residents in promoting road safety in their local communities?

People in Airth, Reddingmuirhead and throughout Falkirk are voicing their concerns loud and clear about road safety in Falkirk. It is our responsibility—as well as the job of Falkirk Council and the police—to listen to them and to act accordingly.

Photo of Michelle Thomson Michelle Thomson Scottish National Party

I thank Stephen Kerr for securing this debate about roads in my constituency and other areas of Falkirk. I welcome his agreement with the ambition that is set out in the Scottish Government’s programme for government to make a move towards national 20mph limits where appropriate.

First, I would like to put on the record my condolences to the friends and family of the, as yet, unnamed victim in a road traffic accident in Grandsable Road, which is also in my constituency.

We should bear in mind that the motion speaks to only two areas within a network of nearly 1,000km of carriageways and over 1,700km of footpaths, cycleways and other structures. All of those are the responsibility of Falkirk Council, while our national Parliament is responsible for national strategy. I am sure that we will hear more on that from the minister in due course.

I also note that local councils already have powers to make decisions on speed limits, acknowledging local circumstances.

I will make a few remarks about the local issues contained in the motion. I am grateful to Councillor Laura Murtagh, a well-kent face in Airth and an extremely hardworking councillor, for all her efforts over a sustained period. Likewise, I am grateful to Councillor Gordon Hughes for his efforts in the Upper Braes over many years. They and other Scottish National Party councillors have been at the forefront of activities to ensure that community needs are listened to and addressed.

In the case of Airth and the A905, it is a matter of public record that Falkirk Council has undertaken numerous investigations into issues that have been reported about speed and other road-related concerns raised by local residents. Those issues have been assessed in line with advice and guidance on road safety. The investigations are publicly available and I will happily share them with my constituents and with Stephen Kerr, to ensure that he, too, is up to speed.

Alas, the available evidence does not support the introduction of a 20mph zone along that stretch of road in Airth—it is recommended neither by Police Scotland policy nor by the national guidance.

Although a 20mph zone might initially appear as a natural bonus to road safety, if it is unenforceable and in an inappropriate place without the corresponding road architecture to support it, drivers might be unlikely to observe it, which could ironically increase the danger to pedestrians.

The character of the road at Airth introduces an additional consideration, in that it runs adjacent to a stone wall and only one side of the road has a pavement. The passing of larger vehicles thus gives a feeling of being hemmed in. [

Interruption

.] The member should try to visit Airth sometime.

Local SNP councillors have led on exploring options for alternative pedestrian routes through the adjacent housing estate, and on securing agreement with some local heavy goods vehicles companies to limit their speed to 20mph when passing through the village. It was also local SNP councillors who helped to implement a spaces for people entirely closed road space in Airth.

Mr Kerr quoted a letter from the council that references Shieldhill Road. In summary, the letter notes that police records suggest that, of the three accidents that have occurred on Shieldhill Road in the past 10 years, confidence that vehicle speed was a contributory factor was noted as no more than possible in only one. That leads me to a key point. Although it is not my responsibility to act but that of Falkirk Council, it will act based on gathered evidence.

Everyone wants measures that will improve road safety. I understand that Falkirk Council roads officers are preparing a report under instruction from Councillor Paul Garner, Falkirk Council’s spokesperson for the environment. The purpose of that report is to consider the approach towards implementing a 20mph speed limit in some towns and villages in the Falkirk Council area.

The recommendations will be evidence based and consider increasing road safety for pedestrians and drivers, through local knowledge, in order to improve the lives of people, promote active and sustainable travel, climate change mitigation and place making.

Photo of Michelle Thomson Michelle Thomson Scottish National Party

I am already over my four minutes.

The report is expected to be presented to the executive committee in the next two months.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to wind up now, Ms Thomson.

Photo of Michelle Thomson Michelle Thomson Scottish National Party

None of the above can be confused with the national strategy, which is the job of this Parliament to determine. I draw the attention of all to the programme for government, which notes that

“all appropriate roads in built-up areas” should

“have a safer speed limit of 20 mph by 2025”.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

Down the years, Stephen Kerr and I have stood on opposite sides of the barricades. Ours is an unashamedly ideological clash and an honest and sincere political division, which stretches all the way back to the miners’ strike of 1984-85 and beyond. Given that history, there is a certain irony that it should be, of all places, the village of Airth and its community, with its strong associations with the Scottish coalfield, the mineworkers and the National Union of Mineworkers that brings us together on the same side of the argument. I thank Stephen Kerr for raising the issue.

I was in Airth on Monday with Joan Coombes, the local Labour councillor, to meet Robert Smith, the local community council’s secretary. Over the years, Robert Smith has petitioned Falkirk Council, petitioned Transport Scotland and petitioned the Scottish Government with a simple demand on behalf of the villagers of Airth: extend the 20mph zone by a distance of less than 1 mile, make it permanent and keep the community safe.

This week, as we walked alongside the A905 through the village, he said that

“People frequently get the impression that HGVs are exceeding the speed limit because of the close proximity of the vehicles to them, and the draft and slipstream caused. Many pedestrians particularly women with children, prams and pushchairs, have felt as if they were being blown off their feet.”

He is right—that is how it felt to me. I witnessed it this week, which is why the local community has my full support.

In the previous session of Parliament, Mark Ruskell proposed a member’s bill to introduce a statutory 20mph speed limit, which I was happy to sign and support. However, I recall that no Conservative MSP backed it at the time, and the bill fell before it could reach the statute book.

In this session of Parliament, we are told in the SNP-Green agreement that

“all appropriate roads in built up areas will have a safer speed limit of 20 mph by 2025” and that

“A task group will be formed to plan the most effective route for implementation.”

As this is the first time that we have been able to debate the matter in Parliament, perhaps the minister can explain in his closing remarks what exactly that means. Is it that a default position of a 20mph limit, as was proposed in the bill in the previous session of Parliament, will be introduced, pure and simple. Is it the situation as it currently stands, or will it be somewhere in between?

For the avoidance of doubt, the position as it currently stands is set out clearly by Transport Scotland in a letter that was shown to me by Robert Smith on Monday. It says:

“The A905 is a local road and the responsibility of the local road authority, in this case Falkirk Council. Local authorities are responsible for deciding how best to meet their duties on local roads in their area”

That is why I have written to the chief executive of Falkirk Council again this week, expressing my support for an extended 20mph zone through the village of Airth. It is why I am delighted to report that it is my understanding that the proposal will now go before the council early next year.

It is also why, when I spoke to Welsh Senedd member Huw Irranca-Davies just this morning, we discussed the situation there. He confirmed that the Government in Wales is now introducing a 20mph speed limit. Local authorities have the right to reverse that if they have local support, but the burden of proof will be on them, and not the other way around. I think that that is the right position. That is where we need to be for the sake of the people of Airth, of Reddingmuirhead and of communities up and down Scotland. We are democratically elected representatives; we are sent to this Parliament to make people’s lives better, and I think that we are at our best when we show political conviction.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

I am delighted to speak today; I pay tribute to my colleague Stephen Kerr for securing this debate on road safety in Falkirk.

Mr Kerr made a strong case for introducing a 20mph speed limit in Airth and Reddingmuirhead. Falkirk residents have been vocal in their support for the measure, with 87 per cent of respondents to a recent survey by Mr Kerr calling for a 20mph zone to be introduced on Main Street. In particular, the community complained about a lack of visible policing on Main Street and the risk to schoolchildren from speeding cars. Such concerns have been repeatedly shared with me in my region.

For local roads, I agree that councils are best placed to respond to the road safety requirements of the communities that they serve, so I caution against a top-down blanket approach being taken on 20mph zones. They can be effective at reducing casualties and accidents on the road, but they are not the only approach. Road humps, speed cushions, traffic islands, signs and markings provide alternative and sometimes more suitable traffic-calming measures. Such decisions are best taken at local authority level, based on local knowledge and community feedback.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Does Tess White agree that Richard Leonard’s speech was a splendid example of where we can set aside party badges and colours and do the right thing for the people who live in the communities that we are elected to serve? Does she share my disappointment about the tone of Michelle Thomson’s speech, which was highly partisan and wholly inappropriate for the subject we are discussing?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms White, I can give you time back.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

I agree with Stephen Kerr. Please could the minister not laugh from a sedentary position? The safety of children around schools is very important and—[

Interruption

.] Shame on you. I would like just like to say—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could you take your seat, Ms White?

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

Safety is not a laughing matter. May I continue, Presiding Officer?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I discourage you from responding to interventions that are made from a sedentary position. I will deal with those.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Decisions on such matters are best taken at local authority level, based on local knowledge and community feedback.

I note that last year there was a 35 per cent decline in the number of road casualties across Scotland because of restrictions on travel. That significant reduction is, of course, extremely welcome.

Michelle Thomson asked for evidence. I will give her evidence. There were still almost 5,000 casualties, including 490 children. That is not a laughing matter. Six children lost their lives—

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

No. I am talking about safety, so I would like to proceed.

Six children lost their lives—that is a higher figure than in the two years prior to the pandemic—and 176 children were seriously injured. There is the evidence. Those figures provide a sobering reminder of the critical importance of road safety for all users.

Now that restrictions on travel have been lifted, and as the winter approaches, with reduced visibility and adverse weather conditions, we cannot be complacent. Traffic calming measures have an important role to play, but their success depends on drivers respecting them, and on the measures being suitably enforced, where appropriate.

I understand that Aberdeenshire Council is investigating the correlation between certain age demographics, high collision rates on the roads, the work commute and the school run. I am particularly concerned about non-compliance with 20mph zones around schools in my region. For example, I have been contacted about concerns that have been shared by parents and teachers in relation to Marykirk primary school, where drivers regularly flout the 20mph speed limit on Kirktonhill Road. There are already too many near misses on our roads. Too often, we see action being taken when it is too late. I am committed to working with the school, local councillors and the police to ensure that children are safe on the school run. I appeal to residents and visitors to the area to reduce their speed around the school in order to ensure the safety of pupils, parents and teaching staff. It is simply not worth the risk.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I invite the minister to respond to the debate.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

I congratulate Stephen Kerr on raising the issue of road safety, which is a very important issue not just in Falkirk but across the country, and I commend the efforts of the communities of Airth and Reddingmuirhead in promoting their concerns in that regard.

I agree that lowering speed limits in cities, towns and villages can help to make communities feel safer, not only in Falkirk but across Scotland. Tess White was right to say that the street furniture that accompanies such speed limits is equally important.

However, I must reiterate that the roads in and around the communities of Airth and Reddingmuirhead are local roads. Given the varied nature of Scotland’s urban road network and the number of factors that need to be considered in setting appropriate limits, the Scottish Government’s position remains that decisions on setting speed limits on local roads are best taken by individual local authorities, which can and do successfully implement 20mph limits where it is appropriate to do so. That is the case elsewhere in these islands, in England and Northern Ireland, although Richard Leonard was right to say that Wales has taken a different path.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 places a statutory duty on local authorities to promote road safety and to take steps to reduce and prevent accidents. Where data supports it, that can include the setting of appropriate speed limits. Therefore, local authorities do not require further powers to assist them with such things. It is not for the Scottish ministers to intervene in councils’ day-to-day performance of those duties.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Can the minister understand the frustration of the people of Airth about the fact that motorists who continue along the A905 towards Stirling will find that, once they have left the jurisdiction of Falkirk Council and entered that of Stirling Council, there are 20mph speed limits on the A905 there? They are deeply frustrated by the lack of action. I am afraid that Michelle Thomson’s speech reflected the tone of the response that those people have been getting from her colleagues in Falkirk Council for some time.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

As someone who represents a constituency, of course I understand local communities’ concerns in such areas, but I will not get dragged into discussing the basis on which a 20mph zone has been set in one area but not in another. As Michelle Thomson rightly pointed out, the approach that is taken must be evidence based.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

No. I want to make some progress.

All that said, the Government encourages implementation of 20mph speed limits and zones in appropriate environments. In 2016, we published the “Good Practice Guide on 20 mph Speed Restrictions”. The guidance offers flexibility to local authorities on the setting of local 20mph speed limits when that is right for the individual road, with local needs being reflected and all local considerations being taken into account. The guidance aims to provide clarity to councils on all the options that are available when setting 20mph speed limits throughout Scotland. I assure members that the Scottish Government is committed to facilitating further the lowering of speed limits in cities, towns and villages.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

The minister rightly points out that the guidance gives councils flexibility. The problem is that many councils do not show that flexibility and instead hide behind the guidance. Having been a councillor, I have experience of that. Some councils just present the guidance, which is used as an excuse for not doing anything. That is done instead of showing common sense, which in this case would be to set a 20mph zone.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Let us move on to what is coming down the track in that regard. As Michelle Thomson rightly pointed out, there is a commitment in the programme for government that all appropriate roads in built-up areas will have a safer speed limit of 20mph by 2025.

Reducing traffic speed to 20mph in the right environments can be a positive step in making our towns and cities friendlier and safer places, where people are confident to walk and cycle more often.

The importance of appropriate speeds is reflected in “Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030”, which has a vision for Scotland to have the best road safety performance in the world. The framework also supports active travel and sets out that Scotland’s communities should be shaped around people, with walking and cycling being the most popular choice for short everyday journeys.

On the questions that Richard Leonard posed, we have committed in the framework’s first delivery plan to developing a national strategy for the expansion of 20mph zones or limits in Scotland. The strategy will introduce a package of measures to support a range of policies. It will tackle the perception of road danger, encourage people to walk, wheel and cycle, and will create more pleasant streets and neighbourhoods.

In relation to a point that was made earlier, a multistakeholder task force has been set up, and its membership has been agreed. At its first meeting, which will be early in the new year, participation and input from local authorities will be key. The parameters of the group’s work, as well as its membership, have been established. A series of options will be considered, ranging from the status quo to substantial change, so all the points that members have made, and their stances, will be covered.

I reiterate that, as I said at the outset, decisions on deployment of 20mph limits on local roads, when that is deemed appropriate, should and must be made at the local level.

13:18 Meeting suspended.

14:15 On resuming—