Road Safety (Schools) — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:37 pm, 13th September 2018

I am more than pleased to support Stephen Twigg, who put the case so succinctly. I echo the comments of Huw Merriman: the constituents of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby are lucky to have such a conscientious and hard-working constituency MP. This debate is an example of the hard work that he does, so I say well done to him. I also thank the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Bexhill and Battle for their contributions.

I commend the family of Bobby Colleran and extend my sympathies to them. This debate is taking place because of the tragedy that took place. It brings it back to us all. I well remember the death in a collision of a six-year-old child down the street from one of my local schools—the Model Primary School in Newtownards—not more than two years ago. Whatever the reasons for that, a family was bereaved. I still consciously think of that family, and particularly the parents, as they continue to grieve. They are very much in my thoughts and prayers.

At most of our schools, we have warning lights in place and a sign advising people to reduce their speed, but I am an advocate for a 20 mph speed limit during school time on any road that has a school. The Minister cannot respond to my questions about Northern Ireland, but I echo the comments and the contributions that have been made, because it is the same issue wherever it may be—it does not change because it happens to be on the mainland and not in Northern Ireland, or in Scotland or Wales—and what we need to do is the same.

Two weeks ago, in my major town of Newtownards, Transport NI, which was previously known as the Roads Service, put in a new pedestrian crossing across from the local secondary school. That was the result of the hard work of the elected representatives, including local councillors, Members of the Legislative Assembly and me as the Member of Parliament. It was necessary, because the school has more than 1,000 pupils. The car park is alongside the school, but many pupils cross the road to get to the school, so that crossing is good news.

I am of a generation—Mr Evans, there might be at least one other person not too far from me who is of the same generation or thereabouts—that well remembers the green cross code, which was the methodology of encouraging and educating our young people on the way to cross a road. I suppose that big man in that green and white suit with a green cross on his chest was the guy who put it in our minds, and it was effective. However, times change and moves on, and the reality has changed. There has been a build-up of schools and housing around schools, and the increased number of children involved means that we have to change how we do things.

It is coincidental that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby has secured the debate this week. I think it was yesterday that the announcement was made in Northern Ireland that the Schools (Part-Time 20mph Speed Limit) Order (Northern Ireland) 2018 will come into operation on 18 September for certain schools, including one in my constituency. Carrickmannon Primary School, which I and others have been lobbying on behalf of for the last couple of years, is currently adjacent to a national speed limit area, Carrickmannon Road in Ballygowan. The effect of the order is that the national speed limit, which is applicable to eight lengths of roads, will be reduced to 20 mph, when a 20 mph limit is indicated by means of a variable-message traffic sign.

There will be a number of these zones in Northern Ireland. As I say, there will be one in my constituency, and I will be very pleased to see it in place, because we have campaigned long and hard for it. Carrickmannon Primary School is a rural school, and I go back to the examples the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle gave earlier of rural schools. Indeed, Carrickmannon Primary School is right out in the middle of the countryside. The road has a couple of corners on either side of the school, it is bumpy, and there are large businesses, including a quarry, close by. The traffic going up and down that road, including large vehicles, is quite exceptionally heavy, and someone who does not know about the school will not know they are coming upon it until they come round a corner and over a hump.

Those are the realities, so how do we respond to them? To be fair, Transport NI, which was formerly the Roads Service, has responded in a way that shows it agrees that the 20 mph speed limit is absolutely critical and crucial; we welcome that, and I want to put that on the record as well. Many people lobbied for that 20 mph zone near Carrickmannon, including the principal of the school, the parent-teacher association and local representatives. Again, it is a victory for community, and for pupil and teacher power. That is good news.

I met school teachers and officials from the then Roads Service back in October 2016—very close to two years ago—and it is great to see the 20 mph zone coming into place. However, such zones should not simply be for this school and the other rural schools on the Northern Ireland list, but should be established throughout the Province and indeed across the UK as a whole.

I have also lobbied for some time on behalf of Grey Abbey Primary School, which is also in my constituency. Again, there are flashing lights up on either side of the road, but the school is on a corner, so it is in a difficult place. However, it seems logical to have the 20 mph speed limit for a corner that is actually right-angled; I cannot understand why there is not one there already, but there we are. Kirkistown Primary School is another local school that comes to mind. There is a straight bit of road beside it, but a 20 mph speed limit there would still be critical and crucial.

I know that such zones are in operation near many schools across England. The UK’s first 20 mph zones were introduced in England in 1991, in Sheffield, Kingston upon Thames and Norwich. Increasing the safety of road users and pedestrians has been the primary driver of 20 mph zones in the UK. It is now estimated that there are 2,150 such zones in operation in England, which again is an indication of the commitment by successive Governments to address this issue. However, what we may need to do now—it is perhaps why we are having this debate—is to try to up the ante and prioritise the issue, to see whether we can move closer to reducing the number of deaths around schools and finally stop them.

Case study evidence indicates that 96% of 20 mph zones take the form of vertical traffic calming/deflection measures, such as road humps. Only 1% of zones utilise horizontal measures, such as chicanes; 3% contain a mix of vertical and horizontal measures. Some 10% of 20 mph are speed limit-controlled areas using signing only. The UK Department for Transport recommends the use of signed-only 20 mph zones in places where speeds are already low.

We cannot ignore the statistics, even though they may be hard to listen to. The majority of pedestrian casualties occur in built-up areas; 29 of the 34 child pedestrians and 302 of the 413 adult pedestrians who were killed in 2016 died on built-up roads. Pedal cyclists are also vulnerable in built-up areas, with more than half of the cyclist deaths in 2016, at 58 out of 102, and most cyclist casualties in that year, at almost 17,000 out of nearly 18,500, occurring on built-up roads.

In total in 2016, 789 people were killed, almost 16,000 people were seriously injured and 113,055 people were slightly injured in reported road collisions on built-up roads in Great Britain. A large proportion of those accidents occurred on residential roads, with 90 deaths on B roads in built-up areas and 309 deaths on other minor roads in built-up areas. In Northern Ireland alone, we have had some 2,600 collisions close to schools, which signals—if I can use that terminology—a need for change, and although I welcome the change that has happened thus far, I believe that we need to do more.

The facts are clear. I think the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle referred to a 30 mph zone. If someone is driving at 40 mph and they hit a child, they will probably kill them; at 30 mph, the child has an 80% chance of survival; and at 20 mph, the child is likely to survive being hit, with only minor injuries. Those statistics show quite clearly why we need to have 20 mph zones outside all schools; having them would be simple and would save lives. If anyone wants the facts and the statistics, those are the key ones; I think they prove the case that a 20 mph speed limit around schools has made a difference.

I do not make this comment for the Minister to respond to, but our current budget at home, channelled through Transport NI, does not allow us to undertake all of the prioritising that is needed for the creation of 20 mph zones. Nevertheless, I believe that the eight such zones that will be created in Northern Ireland, including the one in my constituency, are a step on the road towards trying to change things, and will hopefully initiate the drive from within to make change happen.

I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, who said in his introduction that there must be additional ring-fencing of the funding that is given centrally, and I ask for that to be considered in the upcoming Budget discussions. Also, as a result of this debate, I will go back to Transport NI, not only to congratulate it on the Carrickmannon school zone but to remind it that there are other such zones to be done —I will do that while thanking officials.

It is not difficult to see that we can and should do more, at every school, in every town, in every village and for every child—now.