Blair drops plan to cut speed limit to 50mph

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The Independent Online

A plan to cut the national speed limit from 60mph to 50 has been ditched by Tony Blair after fears that the move would cost Labour the votes of motorists at the next general election. Road safety campaigners were angry at news yesterday that a government review is set to water down the proposals.

A plan to cut the national speed limit from 60mph to 50 has been ditched by Tony Blair after fears that the move would cost Labour the votes of motorists at the next general election. Road safety campaigners were angry at news yesterday that a government review is set to water down the proposals.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and other ministers had wanted to cut the speed limit on single carriageways to help reduce road deaths. But the road safety review, due to be published in January, will instead suggest more restricted reforms which would allow local councils to oversee cuts in limits. Local authorities already have the power to consider reducing 30 mph limits to 20mph in built-up areas, and the plan may extend their remit.

Downing Street would not comment yesterday on reports that the idea of a nationwide 50mph limit had been dropped.

Lord Macdonald, the Transport minister, refused repeatedly to say whether the plan had been shelved. "We will report in a month's time and we are on course to make a report to ensure that the remarkable effort we have made in reducing speeds to create the safest roads in Europe, apart from Sweden, will be maintained," he told Today on BBC Radio 4.

John Redwood, Conservative transport spokesman, said the Government should "come clean" on how it planned to cut speeds. "It shows there is a flaming row between Downing Street and the transport department. Downing Street is rightly alarmed that only 16 per cent of the public back the 'bash the motorist' policy."

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Mike Moore said it was disappointing that the Government was "running away" from strong political action. "Yet again we see that the Government is trying to pass a difficult decision down to local authorities when there are not the resources there," he said.

Mr Prescott made a similar decision on plans to introduce congestion charges; after extensive criticism and worried noises from Downing Street, he said the road tolls would fall to councils and were unlikely to be introduced before 2005.

The transport White Paper last year acknowledged that high road speeds were a serious problem for pedestrians, especially children. Britain has one of the worst records in Europe on child road casualties - about 5,000 children are killed or seriously injured each year.

"The Government should be ashamed of itself," said Lynn Sloman of the Transport 2000 pressure group. "Ministers appear to be prepared to sacrifice children's lives to win motorists' votes."

Rob Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, said: "The theory is fine, but in practice most local councils don't have the expertise or cash or political will to take on the issue."

However, the G overnment's climbdown was welcomed by motoring organisations. The AA said: "We will support lower speed limits - but only when they are demanded by local people, and where there are other routes for through traffic. This is best decided by local councils."

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