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Council / Plan to trial lower speed limits at south approach to Lerwick put on hold

Sound Brae is moving from 40mph to 30mph as part of the trial. Photo: Shetland News

PLANS to temporarily lower the speed limits on Sound Brae in Lerwick and near to Gulberwick in response to concerns over safety from people cycling and walking in the area have been parked for the time being.

At a meeting of the full Shetland Islands Council on Wednesday a number of elected members were frustrated that the decision to press ahead with lowering the speed limits had been made by officers under delegated authority.

Delegated authority is when officers have the permission to make decisions without it being discussed by councillors.

Chairman of the council’s environment and transport committee Ryan Thomson requested that the report be deferred to obtain more information and data and to allow further consideration of potential similar projects in other areas of Shetland.

A report was due to be presented to councillors asking them to note plans to drop the speed limit at the south exit of Lerwick from 40mph to 30mph before moving to 40mph near the observatory and through the straight road into the north entrance to Gulberwick.

The A970 road from the Gulberwick junction to the Black Gaet junction would have been reduced from 60mph to 50mph.

The report from traffic and road safety engineer Colin Gair said that measures taken now may help to maintain the choices being made regarding active travel as lockdown eases, with reducing speed limits one way of doing this.

Lockdown restrictions have seen an increase in the number of people walking and cycling, including those around the periphery of Lerwick.

One particular issue is the steep uphill sections at Sound Brae and Shurton Brae where cyclists have to slow down significantly, causing a traffic build-up due to limited visibility.

Pedestrians also reported difficulties with fast moving traffic.

Temporary traffic regulation orders (TTRO), such as lowering speed limits, can be made with limited advance notice and have a normal time limit of 18 months.

“Prior to the end of the TTRO period the roads service will report back to the environment and transport committee on the effectiveness of the speed limits, any changes in travel patterns that are evident and with recommendations on what permanent measures, if any, should be introduced or maintained going forward,” Gair’s report added.

A number of councillors supported the deferral of the report, including convener Malcolm Bell.

“We are saying we should defer it for a future report that contains evidence and looks at it with a Shetland-wide context,” he said after Lerwick member John Fraser sought clarity on why it was being postponed.

“I think it’s really important that members make decisions. I do not like reports that come to members simply for noting.”

Chief executive Maggie Sandison said new coronavirus legislation passed by the Scottish Government mentions the use of temporary traffic regulation orders and how they can be used to support active travel.

“The officers were using the Scottish Government’s recommendation that TTROs be used to sustain active travel,” she said.

Thomson, though, said he was given no foresight of the report and did not know it was going on the meeting’s agenda.

“Is it fair to say you are not particularly happy?” asked Shetland Central member Ian Scott.

“I think that’s fair to say,” Thomson replied.

Lerwick south councillor Peter Campbell, however, said he was “bitterly disappointed” that the report was set to be deferred.

He said his constituents have been keen to see safety measures implemented for some time.

“It’s a very, very sad day if we can’t discuss this as it is proposed,” Campbell said, adding that he would want to see the report come back to members at the next opportunity.

He was echoed by fellow Lerwick South member Cecil Smith, who said constituents are “really frustrated about this”.

While he did accept that decisions should be made by councillors, Smith said he was “really angry”.

Gair told councillors that the Covid-19 restrictions had impacted on roads staff’s ability to collate data on traffic in the area and suggested it would not be possible to bring a report back for the next full council meeting on 10 August.

South mainland member Robbie McGregor – who is the chair of the council’s road safety advisory panel – said he was “really worried this is going to be kicked into the long grass” and made a plea that the issue is dealt with quickly.

Scott said the issue “highlights the dangers of delegated authority” and said there were some issues too important to be dealt with in this way.

Lerwick member Amanda Hawick added: “I suggest…we go back and look at our overall strategic review and how the council conducts its business.”

South mainland councillor George Smith, meanwhile, wanted it noted that the officers themselves “have done absolutely nothing wrong” with their approach.

“They have acted with delegated authority that they have.”