WHAT price on saving a life?

That is a question officials in national and local government, not to mention our health service, wrestle with every day.

With a limited pot of cash what is the best way of spending it to keep people safe and healthy?

There was an excellent example raised in Southampton this week – an ambitious scheme that could save lives but is unlikely to go ahead for a lack of cash.

Road safety charities have backed a campaign to slash Southampton’s speed limits to 20mph in residential streets.

As reported by the Daily Echo the idea came from Conservative Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith, who launched a petition which he will present to Parliament next month if it gains enough support from the community.

However, despite some evidence from a similar scheme along the south coast in Portsmouth that it does cut road casualties, it is unlikely to see the light of day.

Council chiefs say the estimated £1 million cost would be prohibitive.

It is the second time Mr Smith has urged the council to reduce speed limits. He proposed a similar scheme in 2014, backed by 5,000 residents, but that was rejected by Southampton City Council.

It came after a pilot trial costing £30,000 was carried out in Maybush, where speeds were capped to 20mph.

The plans would cover smaller residential streets, including those home to schools and parks and not the main routes and through-roads, which would stay at their current speeds.

If the campaign is successful, Southampton would follow in Winchester’s footsteps after the council there dropped speeds to 20mph in August 2014 at a cost of £90,000 in a bid to cut emissions and encourage more people to walk or cycle.

Daily Echo:

Continued on page 24 Southampton would also follow Portsmouth, which became the first place to roll out a city-wide speed cap in 2007 and 2008 - lowering the limits on 94 per cent of roads which were previously 30mph.

But Portsmouth’s scheme, which is the largest 20mph area in the country, has received mixed reviews.

Portsmouth had the highest proportion of road casualties within 500 metres of a school with 1,520 incidents between 2011 and 2013 according to figures released by AXA and the Road Safety Analysis group last October.

The city was also rated the fifth worst in the country for the number of child road casualties within 500 metres of a school with 214 children getting knocked down in the same period.

However, Portsmouth City Council report a drop of 18.8 per cent of casualties during the three years after their scheme was put in place (2009-11), compared with the three years before (2005-7). And they say the number of collisions are still falling with a 31 per cent reduction on 20mph roads and a 10.5 per cent reduction in 30mph zones between 2011 and 2013.

Portsmouth’s roads chief Cllr Ken Ellcome, Portsmouth City Council’s said: “We were the first council in England to implement an extensive residential 20mph speed limit scheme back in 2008. Casualty levels on these roads have reduced, which is a positive outcome.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said casualties fell from 163.7 a year to 129.4 and speeds across Portsmouth dropped by 1.3mph from 19.8mph to 18.5mph thanks to the new speed limits.

But while the charity backed the campaign to bring the scheme to Southampton, they said it would only work on certain roads unless other speed reduction measures were used alongside signs.

Daily Echo:

Road safety manager Nick Lloyd said: “If the whole town already has speeds at or below 20mph the evidence to date is that limits are effective.

“However, if you have got within the town a road that maybe carries a 40mph limit, it looks and feels like a 40mph road, so if you sign it as a 20mph limit a percentage of drivers won’t comply with that limit unless it’s actively enforced. It’s about choosing the right speed reduction measures for the road.”

Road safety charity Brake also backs the campaign. They are working to bring speeds down to 20mph in towns and cities across the UK.

A spokesman said: “We are wholeheartedly behind this campaign to introduce 20mph speed limits in residential streets across Southampton. Widespread 20mph limits are a proven way to reduce casualties, particularly among more vulnerable road users.

“Everybody has the right to walk or cycle to school, to work, or around their local community without fear of being knocked down by fast traffic.

“That’s why Brake works with communities across the country to help them achieve road safety improvements in their area.”

The AA agrees 20mph limits were appropriate in some areas but urged the council to consult residents properly before going ahead.

A spokesman said: “20mph limits are appropriate outside places where they would assist road safety like outside schools, hospitals and old people’s homes for example. But beyond that it’s down to local democracy and whether the residents actually want 20mph speed limits. Quite often you get blanket limits and they turn up on roads where you don’t have any residents.

“The key question is how much it’s going to cost and some drivers would ask why isn’t this money being spent to stop the roads flooding instead.”

However, the Association of British drivers said lowering the speed limits wouldn’t make a difference to road safety.

Spokesman Hugh Bladon said: “We don’t believe that 20mph limits are doing anything what so ever for road safety. Road safety is much more than putting speed limits up. It’s been proven not to work in Bristol and in Portsmouth.

“It’s absolutely absurd to have this vendetta against motorists and whack up these 20mph limits.

“Quite frankly motorists are far more sensible than people make out. If you have children and other pedestrians then people will slow down.”

Mr Smith said he would gauge whether residents supported his proposal before lobbying Parliament.

If Parliament got behind the scheme he would then urge Southampton City Council to implement it.

The MP has already collected more than 1,000 signatures from people backing the campaign and he feels that this time he is likely to be more successful.

Mr Smith said: “I’m hoping they will look at it more favourably because we have many more people behind the campaign.

“There is an appetite but I don’t think it’s but I don’t think you should bring these schemes in unless there is a majority in favour.

“The council are just making it up that it will cost £1m. They have no idea how much it’s likely to really cost. It’s likely to be less.

“I would be surprised if it didn’t have an effect. It might not have a big impact but I think it will and even if the impact is low, there’s still an impact.

“If people are doing 35-40 and we drop the speed limit to 20 the decent people might do 25mph but traffic is still slower than it was.”

He said it was possible that speed limits could be changed within nine months to a year.

Mr Smith added: “Currently in Southampton we have speed cameras in non-residential areas and not a single speed camera outside a school, which is where our most precious possessions are.

“Children are most likely to run out in the road and they’re most likely to be injured fatally but there is no protection.

“I want to reduce the speeds in residential areas where people are most worried.

“It’s for keeping people safe in the big residential area, we’re not changing main arterial routes where cameras are currently in place.”

Southampton City Council’s roads chief Labour Councillor Jacqui Rayment, said: “The data from the council’s own 20mph signing only pilot in the Millbrook/Maybush area showed only a marginal decrease in speed. This is reflective of the evidence from other 20mph signing only schemes, including Portsmouth, Bristol and Manchester. The average decrease has been shown to be between 1 and 2 mph.

“The last time it was raised we agreed we would write to the minister, but it would cost in the range of £1million to implement and we have not got that sort of money for 20mph schemes.

“They are not universally popular, sometimes residents on one half of the road likes them and the other half don’t.

“Mr Smith has got a right to do this and if the government want to give us funding and if after a consultation with residents they were for it then of course we would implement it.

“But at the moment it is very costly to introduce and it is not universally supported, and the government has cut our grant quite significantly.

“And the 20 mile per hour limit only works if it is done with enforcement and due to cuts Hampshire police would not be able enforce it in the way it was needed.

“It is a lot of money for very little payback and sometimes there are better traffic calming measures.”