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Demands to scrap Belfast city centre speed limit after police fail to catch one driver in six months

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 18/08/2016

The 20mph speed limit was launched at the end of January
The 20mph speed limit was launched at the end of January
The 20mph speed limit was launched at the end of January

Police have failed to catch a single speeding motorist in the new 20mph zone in central Belfast - more than six months after it was introduced.

The controversial speed limit has been in force since the end of January.

But the PSNI has not issued a fine or referred a driver for prosecution since it went live. Nor has it deployed speed cameras in the area.

It has led to calls for the 20mph zone to be scrapped. Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers said: "It has been a waste of time and money."

Mr Rodgers added that he knew people who had stopped coming into the city centre because of the 20mph speed limit and bus lanes.

The restriction came into force on January 31, three months later than planned.

The speed zone includes May Street at the back of City Hall and extends to the Cathedral Quarter and past the back of CastleCourt Shopping Centre.

Yet, more than six months since it started, not a single driver has been caught speeding.

The PSNI made the disclosure in response to a freedom of information request from the Belfast Telegraph.

The force said: "On the PSNI systems, there have been 0 (zero) detections for speeding within 20mph limits. The searches included were for any fixed penalty notices issued, discretionary disposals issued or drivers referred for prosecution."

The PSNI was also asked how many times officers had used speed cameras to catch motorists breaking the 20mph limit.

It responded: "PSNI do not operate/mange the speed cameras in Northern Ireland. They are operated and managed by the NI Road Safety Partnership, and there are currently no permanent or community concern sites enforced within the 20mph limits in Belfast.

"In addition, Belfast resources have not deployed any speed cameras in the area."

The 20mph limit has proven deeply controversial. Transport Northern Ireland previously said it was aimed at reducing the number and severity of collisions. But critics have claimed the city is being turned into a "cold house" for motorists.

The UUP's Mr Rodgers was among those opposed to reducing the speed limit.

"We in Belfast City Council were very much opposed to this, but yet again the old Department for Regional Development just did its own thing," he said.

"It talked about consultation, but very seldom took on board the views of the elected representatives of Belfast.

"They just seem to go at this ram-stam and it's time they started listening to the views of those who put ourselves before the electorate to get returned to Belfast City Council or Stormont."

Earlier this year the Belfast Telegraph reported how two-thirds of people who took part in a consultation did not support cutting the speed limit.

Only six out of 19 responses received during the three-week exercise in 2014 backed the introduction of a 20mph zone.

Mr Rodgers said: "I know people who will not go into the city centre now full stop. They are just disgusted between bus lanes and this 20mph limit.

"We are trying to encourage people to come into the city centre, to shop in the city centre, to visit the enormous amount of attractions there.

"I think it's time now, with a new minister in place in Chris Hazzard, to look at this again."

However, Green Party councillor Ross Brown said the speed limit was needed.

He added that a lack of prosecutions did not mean the restriction was being ignored.

"The ban is there and you would hope that the public adheres to the law," he explained.

"The PSNI's resources, given that they are stretched, need to be put in place wherever the greatest risk is. I think it's a good idea... that traffic is going slower through the city centre."

Around 60 major towns and cities across the UK have 20mph limits. These include parts of London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Chief Inspector Diane Pennington, from the PSNI's road policing unit, defended the zone.

"Police will continue to monitor traffic and enforce where appropriate following the introduction of the new 20mph speed limits in Belfast city centre," she explained.

"All right-thinking and law-abiding motorists will recognise that speed restrictions are not there to inconvenience them, but to make our roads safer for everyone.

"The responsibility for making the roads a safer place is one that we all share and one that we can all do something about - by slowing down, staying within the speed limits and driving at a speed appropriate for the conditions."

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