Council joins chorus over speed limit changes

Proposed changes to the country’s speed limits have caught the eye of the Invercargill City Council, prompting it to send a strong message in response.

In March, the government announced new speed limit rules, which it hoped to sign off by the end of the year.

They included reversing the previous government’s blanket speed reductions, introducing new variable speed limits around schools during pick-up and drop-off, and enabling 110kmh speed limits on new and existing roads of national significance.

Economic growth by way of reduced travel times was a key driver for the changes.

But the Invercargill City Council has joined a chorus of councils in opposition to much of what was put forward, expressing its concerns in a letter.

"Higher speeds in our network will result in additional risk to our users," deputy mayor Tom Campbell wrote.

"There is also a higher inherent cost to manage higher-speed roads when remedial works are being constructed."

The letter expressed concern over the proposed variable speed limits outside schools, saying they were excessive and would create unnecessary delays.

As it stood, those speed limits were bespoke to each school and were for 55 minutes a day, Cr Campbell said.

"The proposed rule would increase this operating time by over 200%, or over three times, to 180 minutes each day, significantly increasing delays to drivers on main roads."

The council also strongly disagreed with introducing static signs showing variable speed limits, saying it did not work because the time of day was not front of mind for drivers.

On Tuesday, councillors discussed the proposed letter to the government at an extraordinary infrastructure and projects committee meeting, with most in full support.

Cr Lesley Soper said it was a "common sense" submission with strong points.

"I’ve always been fascinated by the theory that if you travel faster you get off the roads quicker, and therefore are less dangerous.

"Whereas I think actually what you are doing is what reports show — you’re increasing the severity of the crashes."

Mana whenua representative Evelyn Cook said she was a big advocate for tailored approaches to speed management throughout the city. There was a social and financial cost to crashes and near misses, she said.

"Getting somewhere faster but dead in a hearse is really not the aim."

Crs Barry Stewart and Allan Arnold felt there were parts of the city where the limit had dropped too low, while Cr Campbell suggested staff bring back a report by the end of the year revisiting speed limits.

The Invercargill council is not the first to express concern over the government’s proposed changes.

Last week, RNZ reported Marlborough and Tauranga were pushing on with reducing speed limits, while Christchurch had voiced concerns about the proposal and Auckland Council had opposed it.

 - LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.