The Independent London Newspaper

Letters

‘Curbing traffic speed will cut road toll and help to combat child obesity’ - says Director of public health Dr Helen Walters

Published: 17 September 2010
by JAMIE WELHAM

THE debate over the introduction of a 20mph speed limit has reignited after the borough’s most senior public health official said it would reduce accidents.

Dr Helen Walters, the new director of public health for Westminster, has written to council chiefs, urging them to reopen the case for bringing the speed limit down to 20mph on residential roads.

Dr Walters said a lower limit would also help the fight against soaring child obesity levels in Westminster, where more than a quarter of 11-year-olds are putting their health at risk.

Opposition leaders have seized on Dr Walters’s comments, saying the council can no longer ignore the weight of medical evidence that supports the scheme.

In a letter accompanying the latest child health profile for the borough, Dr Walters wrote: “The profile rightly highlights our high child obesity rates and poor oral health. It also highlights the high rates of road traffic accidents.

“It is interesting to note that there is a single low cost intervention that is shown to increase walking and cycling (and thus reduce obesity), reduce road traffic accidents and to benefit children who live in poverty most (as they are more likely to be pedestrians) – the intervention is reducing speed limits in residential roads to 20 miles an hour. 

“I gather 20mph speed limits have already been considered in Westminster, and I would like us to bear this data in mind if there is chance to reconsider it.”

Labour’s campaign was rejected by the council in February saying “speed was not generally an issue”.

Labour leader Paul Dimoldenberg said: “This new NHS information supports our campaign for the introduction of a 20mph speed limit in Westminster’s residential streets and we urge the council to take action so that more children are encouraged to get more exercise by walking more than they do now.”

Government figures show Westminster has the highest number of road deaths and serious injuries among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists in London. 

In 2008 272 people were either killed or seriously injured.

The health profile reveals higher than average child poverty and obesity levels in Westminster as well as one of the worst oral hygiene rates.

Cabinet member for transportation Lee Rowley, said: “We respect the opinion of the director of public health but we cannot agree with her view on 20mph speed limits. The council has already said it will look at current speed limits where there is a clear and localised need to do so. However, we do not believe that a blanket 20mph speed limit across the city is any more appropriate or sensible than other theoretical ways which might get children walking including, for example, banning cars altogether.”

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