The largest single county police force in England and the commissioner charged with holding it to account are facing mounting pressure over claims that 20mph zones in its jurisdiction are never enforced.
Councillors from across the political spectrum in North Yorkshire have said residents deserve answers from both North Yorkshire Police and police commissioner Zoe Metcalfe.
Both declined to answer elected community representatives’ questions over why 20mph zones are not even enforced in areas such as outside schools.
North Yorkshire County Council’s constituency committees have heard that many residents want the number of 20mph zones increased or introduced across all built-up areas.
However, 20mph zones which have been in place for 15 years had never been policed.
While police safety camera vans enforce 30mph restrictions, irresponsible motorists appear to be able to drive with impunity in the 20mph zones, councillors say.
Earlier this year Hertfordshire’s police and crime commissioner said 20mph speed limits in that county would and could be enforced in the same way as higher speed roads.
In responses to questions over why North Yorkshire Police did not enforce 20mph zones, neither the force or the commissioner denied that 20mph zones were not policed – and the police appeared to suggest it would largely be up to trained volunteer residents to do so.
A police spokesperson said: “When concerns are raised by a local community about a 20mph zone, this may result in a community speed watch (CSW) outcome via our speed management protocol process.
“This process is speed and collision data led and determines the most appropriate outcome for each complaint received.
“Anyone exceeding the speed limit whilst CSW are on deployment can be dealt with. Our roads policing officers may also be requested to conduct speed enforcement as part of their daily duties wherever it is determined necessary – again based on data.”
When asked why 20mph zones were not being enforced, police commissioner Ms Metcalfe said operational policing, such as deciding where and when to enforce the law, was the chief constable’s responsibility.
She said: “I am hearing that road safety is becoming more of an issue for some communities and next year I will be holding a public accountability meeting to look, in depth, at how North Yorkshire Police are keeping our roads and communities safe.
“Speeding motorists and anti-social behaviour on our roads has always been a major concern with communities and I will continue to raise this with the chief constable to ensure that the force are taking the most appropriate action necessary.”
The county council’s executive member for highways and transport, Cllr Keane Duncan, said the authority was reviewing the most effective approach to speed limits following a request by elected community representatives for a default 20mph zone throughout their area.
He said: “We must ensure that all of our efforts, particularly when resources are tight, are focused on saving lives and avoiding injuries.
“As part of this review, we will be formally asking the police about their approach to speed enforcement inside 20mph limits so that councillors can consider this.”
Richmond councillor Stuart Parsons said when a large 20mph zone was introduced in the town police stated there would be no enforcement, which made the zone “totally pointless”.
He said: “The police should be explaining why they are not enforcing the law in its entirety. If they’re not there enforcing the 20mph, then they’re not going to be out there enforcing it when the cars are driving at 40mph, 60mph or 80mph. The boy racers know they risk nothing.”
While Cllr Parsons described the Community Speed Watch scheme as a farce as residents faced indefinite waits to be trained, long-serving Harrogate councillor Pat Marsh said volunteers had to give motorists advanced warning of speed radar guns, undermining the deterrent.
Cllr Marsh said she had double checked that the force did not enforce 20mph zones, adding: “They do monitor 30mph areas, but they don’t even do that very often, they want this Community Speed Watch, which isn’t accurate and what surprises everybody is there is an allowance for people to drive at up to 37mph without incurring a fine.
“If the police and the commissioner know how people are feeling why aren’t they addressing that?”