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Unchain The Brighton Motorist: influential businesses launch lobby group to rail against 20mph speed limits

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 “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.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Martin Thomas | 10 years ago

I've barely noticed any change since the 20mph limit was introduced in Brighton. Most motorists didn't stick to the 30mph limit and most don't stick to the 20 limit either, surprise surprise. And didn't the police say they weren't going to enforce it anyway? (I might be making that up but I don't think so...) As gestures go I approve of it, but let's not delude ourselves it's anything other than a gesture. I'm genuinely surprised that anyone's noticed such a difference in our clogged up city that they feel a pressure group, campaign etc are warranted.

mikeprytherch | 10 years ago

I think I'm maybe the only person who reads this site who is against the 20mph limit,I feel around schools (at school time only !) they are a good idea, but outside of that they are not and don't help, they just increase the frustration of the drivers and make them even more dangerous.

Municipal Waste replied to mikeprytherch | 10 years ago
mikeprytherch wrote:

I think I'm maybe the only person who reads this site who is against the 20mph limit,I feel around schools (at school time only !) they are a good idea, but outside of that they are not and don't help, they just increase the frustration of the drivers and make them even more dangerous.

Not at all. I actually find it much more difficult to cycle in Brighton now. What basically happens is you ride along and let's say you get to some traffic lights. Then once you pull away all the drivers race to get past you (usually going over the limit) and then drive along on the 20mph limit which more often than not either is slower than I want to cycle but too fast for me to over take or else the same situation just occurs again 30 yards down the road whereas before they were off in the distance.

I continue to stand by the fact that if everyone used the current road system PROPERLY. If every driver stuck to the speed limit. If every cyclist stopped at red lights. If people used their mirrors & indicators or hand signals as they're SUPPOSED to. Plus if everyone actually just gave one shred of respect to one another, we'd do so much to save lives and it wouldn't cost ANYTHING!

WolfieSmith | 10 years ago

I agree with James-o. I campaign as part of 20 is Plenty in my town. The local paper is always on the blower for comment. They never publish my comments on no one respecting the current speed limit.

I expect 20 mph areas to bring people down to under 30mph. That will save lives and encourage more to ride bikes.

When grown men big enough and mean enough to work the door on a night club are riding on the pavement because they daren't ride on the road something is obviously wrong.

james-o | 10 years ago

It'd not be too bad if people respected 30 limits, but around a third, a half maybe (from watching the local 30 flash warning signs near the town centre), are doing more than that at any opportunity. 20 limits will mean 30mph in reality, maybe those supporting a wider 20 area realise that?

Dr. Ko | 10 years ago

Let me see, the only times I would go faster than 20mph in Brighton (as a cyclist)

- downhill from the station
- the street along the sea side, hunting for tourists  13

If people abandone 30% of their journeys if they got stuck in a traffic jam, their journeys most not be that important. You are the traffic jam after all!  39

Nope, I don't think it will impact the only Brighton business  103 I deal with:

notfastenough | 10 years ago

"we wanted a grown-up debate"

And you thought you'd do that by hiding behind anonymous ads in the paper? Really?!

dave atkinson | 10 years ago

along with cab firms


cat1commuter | 10 years ago

Gosh, if only someone in power would declare war on the motorist. Cluttering up my roads with their silly metal boxes on wheels!

racyrich | 10 years ago

'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.” '

I must be odd. I've never visited anywhere and thought my tourist experience would be improved by the traffic going faster.

mrmo | 10 years ago

shock horror mini cab firms complaining about lowering speed limits, IME they never bother with the 30 limits now.

Maybe it is time to start a war on motorists and give the roads back to people!

mrchrispy | 10 years ago

or a peace treaty with pedestrians, cyclist, children, horse rides, etc....

how you look at it depends on if you are a c0ck or not!!

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