Southwark goes back to the 1980s

The London Borough of Southwark appears to relish its role as the setting for the BBC’s 1980s retro series Ashes to Ashes, which was filmed on location in the borough. Just a few hundred metres from filming locations, which were dressed to take off a quarter of a century and appear as they were in the 1980s, Southwark has been busy spending public money removing universally understood metric road signs and replacing them with imperial ones that fewer drivers will understand.

The width restriction at Cope Street in Surrey Quays was signed in both metric and imperial units in the 1990s, with these signs still visible today, albeit they have been covered up by rather unattractive paint since roadworks closed the turning in 2008.

Cope St2

1990s vintage Cope Street sign (as painted over in 2010) with metric units alongside imperial

At the conclusion of the roadworks in 2009, new signs were erected at the entry to Cope Street, showing a slightly reduced width restriction of 2.0 metres.

Cope St metric

Cope Street signs in 2009 with metric units

Sadly the borough recently decided that it no longer wanted to appear as a modern 21st century borough, and spent public money removing these signs and replacing them with signs showing the width restriction in feet and inches only.

cope st1

Cope Street signs in 2010 showing only imperial units

The Department for Transport’s current Traffic Signs Manual recommends that such signs should show both metric and imperial units (see paragraph 5.36), and this recommendation is strongly supported by Network Rail and the road haulage industry. Indeed dual signing  has been common practice amongst more enlightened  highway authorities since the 1990s, and enables drivers of HGVs to avoid narrow or unsuitable streets and low bridges.

In 2008, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham had to find £100,000 to repair Hurlingham Road after a French HGV crashed into a similar width restriction which wasn’t signed in metres.

UKMA Chairman Robin Paice said, “It is extraordinary that a public body has spent money to go backwards, and remove vital information from signs which have been comprehensible to all drivers for 20 years and go back to outdated imperial units. They have also failed to repair vandalised road signs such as the height restriction warning sign in South Bermondsey, making it more likely that a foreign vehicle will strike the bridge and cause chaos on the main railway line into London Bridge station.

I would call on the borough, and all other highway authorities, to ensure that they follow the Department for Transport’s advice, and include metres on all height and width restriction signs to reduce the risk of accidents.”


Vandalised warning sign in South Bermondsey approaching the main railway line into London Bridge

Council tax payers of Southwark would be wise to ask why the Council is wilfully exposing them to these potential costs by not only failing to follow the official DfT advice to use metres, but  actually reverting to obsolete imperial measures – thereby increasing the likelihood of a costly accident.

10 thoughts on “Southwark goes back to the 1980s”

  1. This retrograde action by the council demonstrates further how lamentable the new government’s apparent decision is not to require (rather than simply allow) dual metric/Imperial signage for height and width restrictions. Without such a requirement, local councils will be free to do the irrational thing and maintain Imperial-only signs as demonstrated by Southwark.

    A question: Is the warning sign in South Bermondsey approaching the main railway line into London Bridge fully compliant with the Traffic Signs Manual? I thought that a warning sign would show the red roundel sign with the restriction painted on the larger warning sign and with the distance to the restriction being shown as “130 yards” without the word “ahead” (and placed on its own separate sign just underneath the main warning sign).


  2. All this is as a result of not having a proper education plan and a desire to see Britain in the forefront of world countries. Pandering to the selfish and lesser-educated individuals all for the sake of political votes is causing huge embarassment for the UK as a whole internationally, but then who said selfish people could care less about what others see them, but just buffoons?


  3. One of the practical aspects of removing metric width limit signs is that some 4×4 vehicles that were previously permitted to access the road in question will now be banned – after all 6ft 6in is 1.98m. (It is amazing how many 4×4 vehicles one sees on motorways that have a width restriction lane when undergoing repairs).


  4. I’m all for single signage.

    Dual units are quite a pain to read and don’t stand out enough… Get rid of the imperial once-and-for-all!

    We are not the United States, we use the metric system exclusively for most things. We need metric signs on our roads.

    Successive governments have been pussyfooting on the issue and wasting money extending the lifespan of a dead system of measurements. Enough is Enough!


  5. This is really quite pathetic – and also disturbingly dangerous. Even though I grew up with imperial measurements, I’m finding that I relate to them less and less, and I now default to metric unless forced to use imperial. If I, an old codger in my late 60s, think this way, then how do the metric educated younger generation cope with signs like these, let alone visitors to this country who will almost certainly not have a clue what these signs mean.


  6. Based on John’s well put comment, I’m wondering if UKMA and supporters could fund a proper survey of drivers that tests how well they really do relate to metric vs Imperial information (width, height, distance, speed, etc.)

    If the survey shows that most drivers fundamentally understand and relate to metric units for these road-related units (as opposed to personal height and weight, which is an entirely different matter), that would be important information in favour of converting road signs to all metric.


  7. It is one thing to abstain from putting up dual signs in place of imperial for cost reasons but quite another matter to replace a metric sign with an imperial-only one.
    If they are prepared to pay what it costs to replace a metric sign to accomodate imperial indications then there is no real excuse for not making it a dual sign. If one accepts the DfT loaded costing estimates for sign replacement then the difference in overall cost between an imperial only and a dual sign is minimal.
    This therefore is clearly a blatant anti-metric regime on the part of Southwark Borough Council.


  8. Further to my previous post, and with specific reference to Phil h’s comment above, the following is an extract of a 14 August letter I received from the Traffic Signs Policy Branch of the DfT:

    “However, with regard to dimensional traffic signs, we recently consulted on a package of amendment regulations to the TSRGD. That consultation closed on 24 December 2009. These included proposals to phase out, by April 2016, all imperial only height and width limit traffic signs. These proposals are in direct response to a known problem of bridge strikes. We have considered all responses received and will be publishing our response to that consultation in the coming months.”

    So, these new imperial-only signs installed by Southwark can only last for a maximum of 5-1/2 years! What a waste of taxpayers’ money. I wonder if Southwark even knows about the elimination of imperial-only height and width signs by April 2016?


  9. I remember seeing metric distance road signs in Essex in the 70’s, I wonder if they’re still there?

    The longer this dual system remains, the longer confusion will reign. Nobody in their right mind would want to go back to pounds shillings and pence. Do away with imperial overnight as we did with the old currency, can you imagine the confusion if both currencies were in circulation?


  10. John’s point above is well taken and I appreciate seeing the statement from the Traffic Signs Policy Branch back in August.

    However, they also said they will publish their response to the consultation “in the coming months”. Since that statement was made in the middle of August, one would hope their response will come by the end of this year.

    Furthermore, there is no guarantee what their response will actually declare. So, I guess we have to wait and see what the published details will be.

    I am sure someone on this blog (or in UKMA) will post relevant extracts from the response (when it comes) as well as a link to the full response. Let’s hope for the best here.


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