Auckland schools ‘shocked and confused’ over speed limit U-turn – councillor

Councils around the country are pumping the brakes on the government’s proposal to raise speed limits.

New legislation around the limits was set to be introduced by the end of September.

The government has said scrapping blanket reductions on local streets – including around schools – on arterial roads and state highways would boost productivity and economic growth.

Instead, councils in Marlborough and Tauranga are pushing ahead with speed reductions, and Christchurch City councillors have voiced their concern on the government proposal.

And on Thursday, Auckland Council’s transport and infrastructure committee voted overwhelmingly – 18 votes to three – to oppose the government’s directive.

Auckland councillor Richard Hills was one of those voting against the speed increases.

He told Checkpoint many councillors believed, as the road controlling authority for the region, they should have the right to make their own decisions about speed limits.

People assumed the speed restrictions were blanket and had been forced on local councils by the previous government, but this was not the case, he said.

“We did have to review the safety of each of the roads [around] our schools and town centres, but we put them in with strong consultation.”

In fact, about 80 percent of schools had told council they wanted permanent speed reductions around them.

The council was also reluctant to reverse the speed limits as it could cost them up to $12 million to implement, he said.

“We’re happy to review it if certain communities oppose those changes, or don’t believe [the lower speed limits] are working.”

However, councillors had been hearing “a lot of shock and confusion” from schools and communities who had supported the changes that were put in over time, he said.

“There were many groups who presented to us, this transport committee … and last year when council unanimously supported the way forward for the speed changes.

“There were [pupils from] Students Against Dangerous Driving, talking about how the changes had meant they’d been able to walk to school, cycle to school – they feel safer.”

The students had also talked about the accidents they had seen their friends in and the trauma that had caused.

Although part of Transport Minister Simeon Brown’s proposal was that speed limits could vary around school drop-off and pick-up times, many schools wanted permanent speed changes and this had been supported by Auckland Transport (AT), he said.

“All we’re asking the minister is that we have that choice, that AT can continue to do what … the evidence shows can go in there.

“What the minister is saying is we have to spend all this money reversing those changes and just put in the plan that he wants.”

They were happy to look at the cost-benefit analyses of increasing the speed limits, but “all the evidence suggests that economic benefits come from not having people die and be injured and end up in hospital”, Hills said.

Meanwhile, road safety campaigners fear for children’s safety if speed limits are increased around school zones.

Brake New Zealand spokeswoman Caroline Perry said students needed to be protected throughout the entire day, including on their journey to and from school, particularly in high-density neighbourhoods.

“Evidence in Auckland has shown that 85 percent of serious crashes around schools occur [outside] those pick-up and drop-off times, so we’re not actually focusing on the whole part of the problem.”

Many schools split across several sites prefer lower speed limits if they have children crossing the road to different buildings between lessons, she said.

Simeon Brown said he was surprised by the council’s vote.

“It’s a bit of a surprise that they want to back one of Labour’s most unpopular policies, which was simply to slow people down, and make it harder to get around and more inconvenient.

“I find it ironic that they want to have people going to shift work at 4am in the morning, having to crawl around at 30km per hour.”

However, Labour’s Auckland issues spokesperson Shanan Halbert said Auckland Council’s vote was embarrassing for the government.

“When you look across Auckland, reducing speed limits has actually saved lives – a 30 percent reduction in fatalities since 2020 – and it’s embarrassing for the government that they have to be told by mayor Wayne Brown and his council that the decisions they’re making aren’t the priorities for Auckland.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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