The speed limit along a “dangerous” stretch of road in the South Hams will be reviewed again following concerns from councillors.

Highways officers had advised Devon County Council’s ruling cabinet against a “departure from policy” to lower limits along the A3121 in Ermington, but it has now deferred the decision after unease from members.

The stretch of main road passes through the bottom of the village, which includes a care home, and is currently 40 mph. Locals think this should be reduced to 30.

A South Hams highways meeting earlier this year heard concerns that the road hinders residents’ ability to safely access areas and facilities in the village and public rights of way, while they also said it was discouraging cycling and walking in the area.

However, a road safety audit suggested the current limit is correct and that a lower limit “may cause a potential safety hazard as some drivers may not adhere to a speed they considered to be inappropriately low compared to other similar routes.”

Local councillor Dan Thomas (Lib Dem, South Brent & Yealmpton) said surveys revealed the 85th percentile [the speed at which or below 85 per cent of drivers travel] showed motorists going at 38 mph, below the speed limit of 40.

But Mr Thomas told the cabinet meeting on Wednesday: “When the residents are asking for a reduction down to 30, the fact that motorists are driving at 38 is of little comfort.”

He added: “One of the things that police said at that meeting, which I’m happy to put on public record, is they could not support a speed reduction because they did not have the resources with which to enforce a reduction in speed, which I think is a pretty poor justification for not reducing the speed.”

Disagreeing with highways officers, he said: “I think those of you that have driven the A3121 through Ermington will know very well that it’s clear from the residential driveways, it’s clear from the old people’s home, it’s clear from the children’s play park, it’s clear from the stables, it’s clear from the parking layby [and] it’s clear – most tellingly of all – from the streetlights that this is a road that would suitably fit a 30 mile limit.”

Cllr Thomas disagreed with the council’s highways policy being applied “too rigidly,” explaining: “We as public officials and as councillors should be placing greater weight on those with special needs and then those on foot and then those on horseback and then those riding bicycles.

“Only at the end should we be thinking about motorised vehicles. And I very much regret that that isn’t happening.

“The reality is that the people of Ermington are having to walk on a live lane on what is a public right of way – signposted by county as such – to get to a bus stop a mile away from their village. They have no option but to walk on the live lane. There is no pavement.”

Labour’s Carol Whitton, while admitting to not knowing the stretch of road in detail, criticised a “general reluctance to listen to communities and to be prepared to bend policy where needed.”

The councillor for St David’s & Haven Banks in Exeter added: “Policy is there to give guidance and to decide the majority of cases, but there will be exceptions and it’s the role of councillors and lead officers to recognise there are cases that need to be exceptions.”

Defending the recommendation, Devon’s director of transport Meg Booth told the cabinet that “reducing the speed limit does not necessarily make a road safer.”

She continued: “Fundamentally, if the combined views of our road safety officers and the police are that we shouldn’t be doing this, because actually it doesn’t make the road necessarily safer, that’s when we generally do not agree with departures from the policy.”

But cabinet member Cllr Rufus Gilbert (Conservative, Salcombe) was “disappointed” with the highways recommendation, telling colleagues he had “walked this route, by coincidence” just a few days ago.

“It is very, very dangerous,” he said. “You’re forced upon to the road, on the difficult, dangerous, fast sector. There’s no doubt about it, safety is poor on this sector. And I thought about it really carefully. My wife was with me and I said, ‘what do you think?’

“’Christ,’ she said. ‘This is really dangerous.’”

Cllr Roger Croad (Conservative, Ivybridge) added: “I’ve walked this road and have done for years and I’ve never felt safe on it. Surely the policy should be flexible enough so residents actually feel safer.

“They may not be any safer but surely there’s a case of making them feel safer?”

He didn’t attend the site visit through a confilct of interest but thought the request for a lower limit was “a shoo-in,” explaining: “I was actually quite amazed that the policy is so rigid as to say that it can’t happen.”

Deputy leader James McInnes (Conservative, Hatherleigh & Chagford) supported deferring the decision for another look but said there needed to be an “onus on drivers” for speeds to go down.

“Everybody is saying, ‘we’d like a 20 mph speed limit’ but who are the people who actually go the fastest in their local community? The local people,” he said.

“I’m supportive of a reduction of speed limits but we also need to be working with our population across Devon about actually travelling slower through villages, through built-up areas, as a duel approach.”

The cabinet agreed to defer a decision on the speed limit. A shorter 30 mph strech may now be proposed.