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Group claim the measures represent a “declaration of war” on motorists

A group of influential Brighton businesses has launched a campaign against 20mph speed limits in the South Coast city, claiming that they constitute a “declaration of war” on motorists. They have formed a lobby group named Unchain The Brighton Motorist, which has pledged to fight the lowered speed limit and higher parking charges.

An investigation by the Brighton-based Argus newspaper has uncovered the businesses behind the campaign, run by an organisation named the Tourism Alliance, which describes itself on its website as “A group of like minded businesses, passionate about our City, working in partnership to improve the quality of the Brighton & Hove tourism experience for visitors and locals alike.”

Some of the big-name businesses are the Sea Life Centre, The Hilton Brighton Metropole and the Palace Pier, along with cab firms including Brighton and Hove Radio Cabs, Streamline Taxis, Brighton & Hove Private Hire Association.

The group supports 20mph around schools, hospitals and narrow residential streets – but not on key arterial roads.

It also calls for ‘affordable’ parking and traders’ permits to support local businesses.

Three anonymous paid-for advertisements have been taken out in the Argus newspaper attacking Brighton and Hove City Council’s 20mph speed zones and high parking charges.

Brighton and Hove City Council is the only Green Party controlled council in the UK, and having introduced a 20mph limit in the city centre in April – with all-party support – the administration is consulting on extending the limit throughout the city.

The chair of the Tourism Alliance, Soozie Campbell said: “We are not convinced that reducing speed limits to 20mph right across the city is the optimum solution to improving road safety and there are certainly better ways to reduce carbon emissions.

“Studies have shown that if traffic is held in a slow moving queue for any length of time 30% of journeys will be abandoned.

“That means 30% fewer car loads of customers coming into the city centre at peak trading times.”

A spokesman for the Green Party Group at Brighton & Hove City Council, said: “We have nothing to add at this time - the consultation on Phase 2 is ongoing and we continue to welcome views.

In response to the campaign, one Green councillor has floated the idea of boycotting City Cabs, one of the firms behind the plans.

Chris Nutley, of Brighton and Hove Radio Cabs, said: “How are threats and bluster going to help a debate about these issues? Why do councillors think they can bully and intimidate anyone who has an opinion different from his own? We wanted a grown-up debate.”

The campaign has support from Conservative and Labour local politicians.

Former council leader Mary Mears, Conservative, said: “We need to evaluate how the first phase works before implementing another scheme. I would have been devastated as leader of the council to see a full page advert in The Argus criticising my administration.

Councillor Gill Mitchell, environment spokeswoman for Labour, said: “We have always taken issue with the way that the Greens are implementing their blanket 20mph limit citywide.

Anna Semlyen, campaigns manager at the road safety charity, 20s Plenty For Us, told road.cc: “20mph limits are proven to improve safety, and businesses have often asked for them elsewhere because they encourage walking and cycling to the shops.

“Shop turnover and profits have increased in 20mph areas, because you get more footfall,” she added.

Evidence from eslewhere suggests that reducing dependency on cars and promoting other forms of transport such as bicycles can benefit local businesse.

A recent article on the Seattle Transit Blog reported how takings at some businesses in the West Coast US city had increased fourfold after car-parking spaces were replaced with a cycle lane.

At the VeloCity conference in Vienna in June, research commissioned by the City of Copenhagen was presented showing that although that  cyclists spent less per visit than mtorists when visiting local shops, during the year as a whole, they spent more in total.

Back in Brighton, a local blog, Notes From A Broken Society, has passed comment on the Unchain The Brighton Motorist campaign.

It writes:

The claim that 20mph zones have no effect on road safety be debunked in less than a minute’s Googling.  There is a serious and growing body of hard evidence that such zones do have a significant effect on casualties, which is why councils of all parties adopt them. We need to be honest about this debate – 20mph zones are about making life better for the large majority of the city’s residents

The ‘war on the motorist’ argument is tired nonsense. All the evidence is clear: over the medium term the cost of motoring has fallen in real terms, the cost of public transport has risen.  While it is easy to paint Brighton’s Green councillors as anti-car (a claim that gives a coherence to Brighton Green discourse that it sorely lacks) and to recoil from high parking charges, it is difficult to see any other administration acting in any other way. And it’s important to note that all the recent transport measures in the city have been backed by all its political parties

The real issues for Brighton and Hove, as for everyone else, are austerity and falling real incomes. Many of the businesses behind the Unchain campaign are the same organisations who criticise the Council’s living wage policy; they appear to be supporters of the very policy that is driving Brighton businesses to the wall. You cannot, logically, cheerlead a low wage economy and then complain people aren’t spending in your businesses

Moreover, it’s always forgotten in this debate that car ownership and use is, generally, driven by income.  Brighton has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in Britain; more generally, those without access to cars are usually the poorest in society and Brighton – despite its exorbitantly expensive bus service – is not one of those rural communities where no car means isolation (although the effect of car-centred planning policy is as evident here as it is in other cities, as part of the dynamic which ensures that car dependency increases inequality).  ”Unchaining the motorist” is really, as in so much transport policy, the rallying-cry of the moderately entitled; it forgets that in the great car economy, it is the people without cars who have no choice at all

The whole thrust of the Unchainers’ argument appears to be that Brighton’s economy depends on easy and cheap access for car-borne visitors.

As I have argued before, it is far from clear that this provides a sustainable long-term model for the city’s economy – there is no space for the big debate about what we want the future of Brighton to be.  We also need to understand the economics of this argument – it is about businesses, many of whom are not locally-based and who do not invest their profits in the city, effectively being subsidised by the people of Brighton – most notably Brighton’s poorest people who bear the brunt of the externalities –  when it is local investment that will provide the quality, sustainable jobs the city needs.

The Unchainers have made a clarion call for park-and-ride.  I have argued before that this is a trivial and unworkable approach to Brighton’s traffic problem.  And the evidence base suggests that park and ride can only work if you curtail city centre parking – by reducing it or making it more expensive!  Clearly, more homework needed.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.