A 20mph speed limit for the town centre: what do you think?

MOTORISTS who have dented the town centre’s historical heritage will be forced to hit the brakes if a new idea to introduce a 20mph speed limit is given the green light.

A number of Saffron Walden’s listed buildings have reportedly been damaged by careless drivers after a spate of minor scrapes on the town’s narrow streets – raising the issue of traffic restrictions once again.

It has led to renewed calls from town and district councillors to introduce measures that would not only help improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, but also preserve one of Essex’s most historic town centres.

Although the bid to bring in a 20mph limit has been discussed before, the Department for Transport has recently relaxed conditions imposed on county councils to introduce the change. It means that it is now easier and less expensive to implement 20mph zones – giving renewed vigour to the cause.

Having campaigned for a lower speed limit in the past, town and district councillor Heather Asker is adamant that a 20mph zone is needed.

“I am really concerned about the old town centre. We have been given lots of reasons why it is not viable to introduce a 20mph speed limit but there are an awful lot of smaller market towns like us that have one.

“It is not just about safety, these methods have been introduced to preserve historic town centres and their cobbled streets – something that is very close to my heart.”

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Cllr Asker added that although a lower speed limit could not be introduced overnight – with concerns over the extra street furniture in a conservation area – she was determined to be “a thorn in Essex Highways’ side” to make sure it was brought in eventually.

“I do not want to see the idea shelved or for it to be put on the backburner, so I will keep banging on the door until someone listens to us.”

The rallying call also received support from the chairman of Saffron Walden’s Historical Society, who told the Reporter that the organisation would be “fully behind” any initiative to reduce town centre speed limits.

“We would firmly be in favour of the introduction of a 20mph speed limit to help preserve both the character and peace of our historic town centre,” Rev Canon Michael Swindlehurst said.

“The big problem is the shaking of the buildings caused by the speed and volume of so many modern day cars. The narrow streets were not designed for such large vibrations.

“Small errors of judgment can also lead to very bad damage to the buildings and we have already had a number in Church Street affected by such incidents.”

Essex County Council said it would be happy to investigate the possibility of bringing in a 20mph limit and it is hoped a highways representative will attend the town council’s next planning and road traffic committee meeting to explain the necessary criteria.

DO you think a 20mph speed limit should be in place across Saffron Walden town centre? E-mail sam.tonkin@archant.co.uk