Devon’s opposition leader has criticised the low number of new 20 mph limits being introduced in the county.

Four were given the go-ahead last month for the ‘most in need’ communities: selected areas of Tiverton and Winkleigh, and all the roads in Atherington (North Devon) and Ashburton.

It follows the introduction of a new way of considering 20 mph requests last year after Newton Abbot residents rejected such limits on the town’s main and residential roads. They did, however, support it outside schools.

A total of 105 requests for new 20 zones were received by the county council. Lib Dem group leader Julian Brazil says the fact only four were approved shows how the Conservative administration has become “complacent” with “no ambition.”

Council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh and Wembury) says it will “get round to some more” but the money should come from future government highways funding.

However, Cllr Brazil said: “Obviously communities want it, but what [the council] comes up with is just, ‘oh, well, we’ll see what we can do.’”

The member for Kingsbridge, who recently took over as leader of the Lib Dems from Cllr Alan Connett, called on the council to “set a target and go for it, and really try to do something slightly dynamic.”

He revealed he was “quite impressed” when first elected to county hall in 2005, because it had “much more [of a] can-do environment than the district council that I was a member of.”

But he suggested it had since developed a more cautious outlook following the austerity years, adding: “I just think that attitude doesn’t bode well. I think it’s got to change.”

Cllr Brazil acknowledged the council’s argument that it doesn’t currently have more money to fund further 20 mph limits, with the four approved set to cost around £100,000.

However, he said: “If you don’t set an ambition there, you’re never going to achieve it,” and suggested asking parish and town councils could contribute. “Tell them to put their money where their mouth is.”

Under the new speed limit prioritisation scheme, each request was assessed, considering average speeds at key locations and the number of vulnerable road users in the area.

Other factors include the speed related collision history, the level of community support, the presence of an active ‘community speed watch’ group and the community’s deprivation index ranking.

The four highest ranked areas were then chosen, with the council agreeing to consider future funding for more communities as part of its local transport plan in the autumn.

Defending the current policy, council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh and Wembury) pointed to the blanket 20 mph limit for Newton Abbot being rejected and said: “Small parts [for] 20 mile an hour is feasible. It’s got to be actually monitored by the police or somebody.”

He added: “We want areas where the 30 mile an hour limit is not really reached. Then you can create 20 miles an hour. You can create 20 miles around schools.

“If we’ve got to put street furniture in to slow the traffic up, then it becomes an expensive exercise. At the present moment we have got a whole list, we’ve got a criteria, and we’ve said that depending on the government’s allocational money next year for highways we would look at it.

“We cannot afford, in my view, to put extra money into that. It’s got to come out of highways money given to us by government. We will get round to some more.

“What we can also do is where the district council passes a planning application, we can ask them to consider making a mandatory 20 miles an hour.”

Cllr Hart went on to say: “Cllr Brazil and the other parties for 13 years have asked us to take money out of reserves to spend more money every year.”

He claimed they would have “overspent the reserves that we had three times over.”

In response, Cllr Brazil questioned how well the Conservatives have run the county’s finances, pointing to the council’s projected £119 million overspend on caring for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The government has told councils to put the overspends – effectively debt – into separate ring-fenced accounts for three years until April 2023 while it develops a new plan to fund provision.

But Devon, along with a number of other councils, are still waiting to hear what will be done with the deficits next year.