Which Council in the UK is most metric?

Philip Bladon of Redditch puts this question. He also asks which local authority is most supportive of metrication. The editors of Metric Views, however, have doubts about whether this would be a useful line of enquiry, and invite comment from readers.

The acceptance of a single, simple, rational (and now almost universal) system of measurement has obvious local benefits for residents, commerce, and visitors alike. Do County, District and Unitary Councils have significant influence on the process? One thinks of the enforcement, or otherwise, of the Weights and Measures Act 1985, the provision of pedestrian signage, and local efforts to attract investment from overseas. Do Councils see policy in this area contributing to their image – progressive and modernising, or slow-to-change? Is there scope for a scoring scheme, with points awarded under various headings, and an award for the best of each type of Council?

Or would such awards attract the unwanted attention of those opposed to change, dragging out even further the metric changeover in the UK?

Over the last fifty years, many other Commonwealth countries have made the changeover to metric, successfully and in a fraction of the time being taken by the UK. Perhaps their experience might indicate the extent to which local authorities were able to influence the process, and whether or not Philip’s idea is worth pursuing further.

4 thoughts on “Which Council in the UK is most metric?”

  1. I recently asked Northamptonshire County Council Roads department about their metrication policy (I did this after noticing a good number of dual height/width limit signs on trunk roads but new signs on minor roads being installed with only imperial measures). The response I got was very much a matter of “We do what is legal and cheap”.

    My original question to them suggested that putting up dual-unit signs would save them money in the longer term – the replies to several other messages seemed to indicate that it was the bottom line on the current years accounts that was the most important to them.

    This seemed to mirror a response I got from the Highways Agency (not a local authority but still relevant) about width limit signs in roadworks. Imperial-only signs are the minimum allowed by law and are cheaper, so that’s what gets used with no regard whatsoever to the possible public safety question!


  2. Are the imperial unit only width restriction signs legal? The TSRGD 2002 says they are. The EU directive (backed up by a now depreciated section of ISO-31) states that the symbols for feet and inches are “ft� and “in� respectively, not single and double quotes which implies that they are not legal. So far nobody has had both reason and funds to get a ruling from the courts on this matter.

    There is a possibility (Heaven forbid!) of a foreign registered wide vehicle causing a fatal accident as a result of being on a narrow road. In such a case the lawyers supporting the driver will support their client by looking at every possible loophole. I believe that they will certainly have a case against the Council and/or the Government for the width restriction sign being at variance with the EU directive on units of measure.

    The consequence of such an argument being upheld would be every council in the country, not just the council concerned, having to change every width and height restriction signs top comply with the EU directive overnight – the cost of which will not endear them to the ratepayers. Maybe the cheapest option for any council concerned is to “insure� itself against such a scenario by erecting dual-unit width restriction signs (and also weight restriction signs that use “t� rather than “T� for tonnes).


  3. You say “Or would such awards attract the unwanted attention of those opposed to change, dragging out even further the metric changeover in the UK?”

    Isn’t it time that the UKMA stopped running scared of those who hold different views. In our media-led democracy you do not win arguments by being right. You win arguments by making the headlines and defining the terms of engagement yourself. The reason that metrication has taken so long to implement in the UK is that those opposed to it have taken all the initiatives, whilst those in favour have rested on the laurels of being “right”.
    An award for the “most metric” council would be a great idea. Let the fossils from other organisations come and knock it, and vandalise the street signs if they wish. The more often they say “those signs are illegal” the more often we get a chance to say “it’s time the law was changed”. But far better to take the initiative than be constantly in defence mode – the supplimentary indications debacle proved that.


  4. Of all the places in the United Kingdom that should have metric road signs, surely Northern Ireland would be the most obvious choice. The reason is obvious:

    The Irish Republic has had metric road signs since 2005, and it makes sense for all Ireland to have metric road signs.

    Metric road signs in any part of Ireland would be across the Irish Sea, and not affect the larger island’s insular peculiarity.

    if British authorities were so disposed, they could use it as a dry run for the metrication of signs in the larger island.

    If Scottish and Welsh authorities were so disposed, they might be able to copy it in their jurisdictions. Even the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands may be interested in metricating before the main island.

    Metric road signs in Northern Ireland would be a good way for the British authorities to test a metric change-over of road signs without disturbing the Home Counties.

    Is such a proposal practicable, or does it break all sorts of arcane rules about the way the United Kingdom operates?


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