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.
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 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 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and remove vital information from signs which have been comprehensible to all drivers for 20 years and go back to outdated imperial units.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.