CONTROVERSIAL 20mph zones could be increasing rather than reducing the risk of accidents, a new report has warned.

The reduced limits could be lulling pedestrians into a false sense of security, so they take less care, a transport boss at City of York Council says.

The revelation has sparked calls for a rethink on York’s “twenty’s plenty” campaign, central to Labour’s transport strategy.

National statistics released at the weekend showed the accident rate in 20mph areas increased by a quarter last year, while the rate in other urban areas fell by one per cent.

Neil Taylor, the council’s interim director of city and environmental services, noted concerns in a written report following a meeting behind closed doors to discuss objections to a new 20mph zone in South Bank and Clementhorpe.

He said: “Officers have examined the national casualty data and there are more accidents in 20mph areas, although there are also more 20mph areas than were in existence previously.”

He said officers werecontacting Portsmouth and Islington councils to get as much feedback as possible on their projects, but said: “One scenario is that pedestrians may be less vigilant when in a 20mph zone and have a false sense of security.

“Officers have identified that as a possibility and will be working closely with colleagues to help win the hearts and minds of residents.”

Council transport plannner Tom Horner said in a report to the meeting that there had been “substantial increases in killed and seriously injured casualties” in two areas implementing widespread 20mph speed limits, but said there was little clue yet as to the cause.

Coun Dave Merrett , cabinet member for transport issues, said in a statement it was not appropriate to assume the statistics meant 20mph zones were more dangerous.

He said: “There has been a significant increase in road length covered by the 20mph speed limits from 2010/11 nationally, and this on its own could be the reason behind the apparent increase in accidents. The point is nobody has the full information at this point in time to understand the true explanation, but it is important that such an analysis is undertaken so as to feed into future policy.”S He said the council was working with police to ensure 20mph limits were implemented in York sensibly, to minimise accidents, and said a number of such zones in York had already proved successful in reducing accidents.

His statement did not say where these zones were.

He said extra funds had been committed for traffic-calming measures on non-residential roads with higher speeds, and said a pilot in Bishopthorpe Road and Scarcroft Road would be closely monitored.

Coun Merrett said the 20mph zones were in line with residents’ wishes and said work was also being carried out to raise public awareness.

Conservative group leader Ian Gillies said Labour’s push for 20mph zones was “purely ideological”, and said: “Motorists ignore them, the police will not enforce them and there are no statistics to justify them.”

Liberal Democrat leader Carol Runciman said the report “completely undermines” Labour’s claims about 20mph limits and said the possible increase in accidents was “worrying”.

She said: “This scheme will cost somewhere approaching £1 million and Lib Dems think this is a waste of valuable resources which could be invested elsewhere, including on enforcing existing speed limits.”

The increase in the number of accidents in 20mph areas was raised by the Lib Dems.

The concerns were discussed at a meeting on July 31, along with concerns from four residents, including ones about air pollution and value for money.

Mr Taylor approved the South Bank and Clementhorpe 20mph zone in consultation with Richard Wood, the council’s assistant director for strategic planning and transport, and Coun Merrett.