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Why a Warwickshire metric distance sign was removed by Active Resistance to Metrication

A reply by A.R.M. Secretary Bennett, who was one of the founders of the group in June, 2001 to Jonathan Simkins, of Warwickswhire County Council, Group Manager for Traffic Projects, who had written an explanation as to why the unauthorized metric sign was first erected, and then failed to remove it, following representations from residents.

Metric road signs are unlawful by virtue of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (2002). Distances must be in miles and yards, and bridge height and road width restriction signs must have imperial, with metric only as an option. A point not often emphasised sufficiently is that it is more sensible, and safer, to have one system of measurement on highways: no country in the world apart from the U.K. allows dual measurement systems on road signs, and a recent survey found that 98% of people said they understood Imperial distances. In February 2006 the then Transport Minister Alistair Darling announced on Question Time, to loud cheers from the audience, that he had abandoned plans to metrify two million road and footpath signs in the country.

What was the sequence of events in Warwickshire? Jonathan Simkins and his staff were faced with the problem of lorries turning back from a low bridge on a narrow main road. His response was to erect an unlawful sign, warning of the bridge 550 metres ahead. It was a complex sign with two sets of measurements on it, both metric and Imperial heights and distances. He did not adopt the solution of erecting signs further back on the road, warning drivers of high vehicles to find another route.

Letters followed from BWMA members Mike Parker and Martin Green who recognised the sign was unlawful; Mr Simkins responded: “Many of the drivers are from European countries and the drivers understand neither feet and inches or yards”. This is absurd; the idea that foreign drivers cannot understand ‘London 25 miles’ or ‘Give Way 150 yds’ is risible. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are as many bridge strikes on bridges that are dual marked, as those that are imperial-only.

Mr Simkins says the Warwickshire Traffic Department had been pressed by local people to prevent lorries getting stuck at the low bridge: “We were caring for local people’s well-being”. But Mr Simkins had a narrow mindset of changing signs from yards to metres, rather than other, more obvious ways of addressing the problem. Mr Simkins admits that when the unlawful sign was pointed out, Warwickshire C.C. accepted that “… the inclusion of a small ‘550m’ distance plate on the sign did not conform to the Traffic Signs Regulations”.

When it became clear that Warwickshire C.C. would not budge, Mr Green contacted A.R.M, which warned the Council that the sign would be removed, using the provisions of Section 131(2) of the Highways Act 1980, which authorises anyone to the ‘pull down or obliterate’ any sign ‘unlawfully placed’ on the highway. We gave reasonable warning, but Warwickshire C.C. took no notice. Instead, official Craig Jones wrote: “… as the TSRGD are presently under review, no changes will be made until the results of this consultation have been published”. Consequently, two A.R.M. operatives removed the sign, and reported its removal to Warwickshire C.C. In removing it, we observed that there were ample other legal signs warning of the low bridge ahead. Days later, a sign in Imperial units only was erected by the council.

Mr Simkins’ explanation for not removing the sign, that new regulations might allow metric distance signs, is a poor excuse. Four years previously, the Department for Transport had ruled out metric distance signs. In any case, his legal duty was to erect signs that conformed with existing Regulations. Mr Simkins also says that the removal of the sign caused Warwickshire C.C. to pay £436 for a new one. He says: “Council Tax-payers’ money was wasted by those who needlessly took down the entire sign. Amending the sign would have been simple – using grey spray paint or applying a small metal patch with adhesive would cover the small area containing the ‘550m’. This would have cost only a few pounds”. Precisely! So why didn’t he do that in the first place?

After removing the sign, I received this from Mr Green: “… thank you for your support and professionalism in regard to the issue which we have now brought to a close. I, like yourself, am tired of our heritage and our British ways being totally thrown in the bin, like some poor relation. The Imperial measures are superior for our road system. The folly of this and previous governments of trying to ‘Eurofy’ everything to fit one big superstate has gone too far – and it’s nice to see the British sticking up for themselves, especially when the local authority is clearly in the wrong”.

To sum up: metric distance signs are illegal. When any are found, we advise the local authority to remove or replace them. Where councils refuse, we remove them. The shock of having a sign removed usually means that the authority concerned won’t make the same mistake twice.

About Tony Bennett

Profile photo of Tony Bennett
Tony is the Secretary of Active Resistance to Metrication. He is based in Harlow, Essex, United Kingdom.

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