Slow process but we arrive in the end

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The biggest frustration I find in my political roles is how long it takes to get things done.

I’ve written before about the ridiculous lengths I’ve had to go to in my attempts to have our brown sign reinstated on the motorway.

Even a year on from getting approval and despite contacting the Highways Agency and the highways department at Leeds City Council on a weekly basis, still we wait.

This is not unique and the reality of Government is that this is just how long things take.

It is quite a relief this week to talk about something that has finally happened.

I’ve been campaigning for my entire six years and my colleagues for much longer than that to have the speed limit on Spofforth Hill reduced to 30mph.

Last week, the signs were erected and the new limit is now in force. It doesn’t solve all the problems at a stroke as we have to hope that people obey the signs and we have to rely on the police to enforce the law.

I’d like to see a flashing indicator sign, similar to the one at Collingham, installed but it will take some take to get the funding together.

I thought it may be useful to explain the process that we have to go through to attempt to get a speed limit such as this lowered.

I’d like to stress that I’m not in any way trying to justify the time and expense taken to deliver the solution, if it were up to me, things would be very different.

I couldn’t quite tell you how and when it all started because it was long before my time. I do know, however, that in the year I was first elected (2007) a proposal to reduce the speed limit was rejected following an objection from the police as they felt they would be unable to enforce the reduction.

We have been lobbying the highways department ever since. The most infuriating response we received from highways is that a particular stretch of road can’t be dealt with because there haven’t been enough accidents.

It is apparently not enough for us to use our local knowledge to seek changes that will almost certainly save lives.

It is a response I’ve received far too many times in my relatively short career on council and it has been the case on several occasions in relation to Spofforth Hill.

In 2008, to try to help build the case, I borrowed a speed monitoring device and spent some time with the police, who had their own device, and local residents monitoring the speed.

You’ll also have noticed the strips of cable that are sometimes placed across the road to count traffic and measure average speeds.

Bizarrely, if the traffic is going too quickly, it counts against a reduction in the speed limit. I have yet to be given an explanation for this that makes any sense to me.

We’ve organised for this monitoring to be done a number of times and I can’t tell you how tempting it is to drive ever so slowly repeatedly over the strips to reduce the average speed figure.

I’ve tried to think back over the past six years and my best estimate is that I’ve met highways officers at least 30 times in that period to lobby them for the change.

What I have learned in my time as a councillor is that you can never, ever give up.

A couple of years ago, we finally managed to get Spofforth Hill included in a city wide review of speed limits which took about nine months to complete.

Officers finally concluded what we all already knew, that the speed limit should indeed be reduced.

That’s that then, you might think? Obviously not, the council deciding to do something is only the start as far as their concerned.

First of all, a report has to be written to get permission to out to consultation. This is the hurdle we fell at last time as the police objection carries sufficient weight to end the process. This time, no such objection was forthcoming.

The next step is for the relevant director in the highways department to write another report to the council’s Executive Board asking for permission to advertise a traffic regulation order (TRO).

There had already been a further report seeking permission to incur the not insignificant expenditure required to go through all of this.

My first reaction was that this is all a complete waste of time and money.

Unfortunately, the council gets a certain amount of ring fenced money each year for these sorts of schemes.

It can be used for this purpose or given back and the correct procedural and legal process has to be followed to the letter otherwise any attempts to enforce the speed limit will be thrown out of court.

The TRO has to be advertised for a couple of months, giving people another chance to object or amend the scheme.

Once this period has passed the council then programmes the change into its scheme of works and sometime later, the old signs are taken down, the new ones erected and the new 30mph speed limit in operation.

Total time taken - about 12 years, possibly more. Approximate cost - my estimate would be getting on for £50,000 if you add up the actual work, the officer time and the various legal costs.

I cannot believe there isn’t a better way to do these things.

I fully understand why people get angry with me when I keep turning up at public meetings year after year to say that we’re trying our best to get things done and while I’m not seeking sympathy, I hope you can start to get some appreciation of just how excruciatingly, frustratingly slowly things happen.

What I can promise you always, is that my colleagues and I are constantly battling away on numerous fronts and however long it takes, we nearly always get there in the end.