DORSET Council has been accused of misinterpreting the rules around 20mph speed limits – putting some residents at unnecessary risk.

Opposition councillors say, if they were elected in May, they will do better and make the authority more responsive to public worries and make the process of applying for a lower speed limit simpler.

So far this year there have been 50 communities either applying for or expressing an interest in having a 20mph limit in Dorset.

Five have been agreed with six areas going to public consultation later this year. These are Cheselbourne, Child Okeford, The Causeway at Milborne St Andrew, Okeford Fitzpaine, Winterborne Kingston and Allenview Road and Burts Hill at Wimborne.

Several new housing schemes are also progressing with Curtis Fields at Weymouth the closest to being delivered.

The issues have been highlighted by the council’s rejection of a 20mph request for Fontmell Magna which has A350 heavy traffic volumes and virtually no safe areas for pedestrians and cyclists.

Dorset Council were reluctant to make a 20mph limit because of the effect it would have on a main trunk route and say the layout of the road through the village makes it almost impossible to add pavements or other traffic calming measures.

But despite the claims about safety highways officers at Dorset Council say incidents of accidents in the village remain low.

Resident Peter Mole told councillors on Monday his Speedwatch members have recorded higher than average percentage of vehicles travelling at above 35mph, which each mph adding to the likelihood of an accident.

He called for the council to again review its refusal and see what might be achieved to make the village safer. He told the Place and Resources Scrutiny committee that five out of six village residents supported the 20mph limit.

Mr John Roberts-Davies, from the parish council, said the way that Dorset Council has interpreted the rules for a 20mph speed limit in the village was clearly not what was intended by the Department of Transport and claimed that Dorset Council has failed in its responsibilities to residents.

“A grandmother walking a child to school would be right to feel let down by how this policy has been applied,” he said.

 “People should not be forced to resort to using their own car as a means of self defence… We do not wish for a tragedy to be the trigger for remedial action,” he said.

Cllr Bill Trite described the situation in Fontmell Magna as "a serious accident just waiting to happen" and urged a review.

The council’s road safety manager, Tony Burden, promised that a review for Fontmell Magna would happen in partnership with other agencies, including the residents’ action group, parish council and the police.

Cabinet member Cllr Jane Somper said it had not been Dorset Council’s intention to block 20mph zones on A roads and said that applications which did involve main roads would be kept under review.

Head of highways, Jack Wiltshire, said there was nothing which said that A roads should not be within the scope of 20mph applications and a B road, at Langton Matravers had been included.

Both main opposition groups on Dorset Council, the Liberal Democrats and Green Party, say that if elected in May they would do more to improve the application process.

Said Lib Dem leader Cllr Nick Ireland: “We will work with parish councils to make changes to the Dorset Council 20mph policy to make it easier for 20mph areas and zones to be implemented. We will also create walking neighbourhoods in new developments so residents can walk safely to the primary school and shop.”

Said Green transport spokesman Cllr Brian Heatley: “We of course want to make it much easier.  Much of the fine detail is way over the top, and we’d want to reduce that.”

He said he was pleased that five areas had been approved but described the process as "incredibly difficult" to achieve a lower limit and suggested the council might be interpreting Department of Transport guidelines incorrectly.

Independent group leader Cllr Les Fry admitted he was ‘not a fan’ of 20mph limits, mainly because of the lack of police resources to enforce the limits.

“Clearly I accept that a collision at the lower speed will result in less serious injuries, but I’m not aware of a significant number of collisions in 30mph zones other than those committed by reckless drivers who would not adhere to any speed limit.

There is little point in bringing in any regulation that you are then unable or unwilling to enforce, in particular when many exceeding lower speed limits are locals,” he said.

Lyme Regis and Charmouth councillor Belinda Bawden, who has been working on a 20mph zone for both areas said: "The best things to improve Dorset Council’s 20mph policy from my point of view would be, first, to know clearly the costs in advance if the application is to be undertaken as a community scheme i.e. town council or grant funded.

"Secondly, if community support can be demonstrated by petitions, emails, surveys etc, there shouldn't necessarily need to be a minimum of 12 months-worth of volunteer Speedwatch monitoring. "