Ex-Top Gear star James May backs more 20mph zones

James May called for a 'mindful attitude' to make end road 'sectarianism' - Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
James May called for a 'mindful attitude' to make end road 'sectarianism' - Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

James May, the former Top Gear star, has backed more 20mph zones because it is "plenty fast enough".

The presenter said the lower speed limit "makes perfect sense", throwing his weight behind new planning guidelines which would make 20mph the default on new or redesigned urban streets.

The Department for Transport (DfT) is developing new planning guidance for designing streets, which is due to be published earlier this year.

A draft version titled Manual for Streets, seen by The Sunday Times, said: “The default should be to work to a design speed limit of 20mph in urban environments.”

It added that “for residential streets, a maximum design speed of 20mph should normally be an objective, with significantly lower speeds usually desirable”.

This would be a marked shift given 30mph is currently the national speed limit on single and dual carriageways with street lights, unless signage says differently.

Mr May, who now presents The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime, said he "hates to say I'm very right-on" but said motorists would be "absolutely delighted" to travel constantly at 20mph in cities like London, Manchester or Birmingham.

"I would agree that a blanket 20mph would probably be a little bit knuckle-headed, but in a lot of urban places, city centre, towns and villages, actually 20mph makes perfect sense," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I live in Hammersmith in west London which is an area where people seem particularly fond of just running out into the street without looking, which is their prerogative because they're people not machines, but 20mph is plenty fast enough and 30 does feel too fast."

The new guidance would not create a new, lower national default speed limit but councils would be empowered to set the limits locally.

Wales and Scotland are currently lowering their limits to 20mph in many areas, while in England, Cornwall is rolling out a 20mph-only limit in residential areas by 2026.

It came as Mr May criticised a "baffling" two-way bike lane introduced alongside a two-way road in west London by Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council, adding that "ending road sectarianism" means having a "mindful attitude" rather than changing signs or infrastructure.

Separately, the former BBC Top Gear presenter was asked about the row over co-star Jeremy Clarkson's Sun article calling for the Duchess of Sussex to be publicly shamed on British streets.

In his first comments on the row, he dismissed rumours of Mr Clarkson being dropped from Amazon filming, saying "I don't think Grand Tour is under threat".

He added: "I wouldn't have written that, I think it sounds a little bit too creepy, but I'm also very much in favour of free speech and allowing the haters to hate so we can see what they have to say."