Campaigners urge Welsh Government not to U-turn on 20mph

The Welsh Government plan to make changes to the 20mph limit
The Welsh Government plan to make changes to the 20mph limit -Credit:Copyright Unknown

Campaign groups are urging the Welsh Government not to compromise on the core principles of the 20mph speed limit in residential areas.

The 20 is Plenty campaign and Wales' future generations commissioner both spoke out ahead of an expected announcement from Wales' new transport minister Ken Skates outlining the new cabinet's approach to making changes to the default speed limit. You can follow live updates and reaction from that announcement here.

Future generations commissioner Derek Walker urged Mr Skates and new First Minister Vaughan Gething not to compromise on the principle of the change in the speed limit on roads used by cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars. He described the change as a "bold leap... shifting Cymru from car-dominated streets to ones that feel safe, walkable and friendly".

LIVE UPDATES: Welsh Government set to announce changes to 20mph speed limit

READ MORE: The most pointless job in Wales

He said: "While improvements to the implementation of the 20mph policy are needed, the well-being of our communities must remain at the heart of this policy."

The 20 is Plenty campaign also said the speed limit was working well. Founder Rod King said: " Communities across Wales are benefiting from quieter streets, safer streets, healthier streets and more equitable streets for all road users and residents. This is especially true for the 500,000 children, 300,000 households without access to a car, the 600,000 with concessionary travel passes and most important the 12,000 who will not be killed or injured by motor vehicles in the next 10 years"

Charles Musselwhite, professor of psychology at Aberystwyth University, has 25 years of experience of transport research experience, largely from a psychology or human geography perspective.

He told WalesOnline: "There is no need to dramatically change the default 20mph speed limit across Wales. Evidence suggests slower speeds are better for people’s health and can impact positively on communities. Places that have previously introduced slower speed limits, famously Bristol, Portsmouth and Edinburgh, have seen vocal dissent, but this tends to reduce over time as people adapt and realise their fears don’t come to fruition and in fact they begin to see benefits. And we won’t see these benefits immediately, it takes time for people to adjust to new behaviours, to come out of their closet to walk and cycle, and for us to see a change in collision stats, but we need a government committed to the policy to realise such things.

"Wales has delivered some really good, what we would call progressive, transport policy of which the default 20mph speed limit is a real flagship. I think it is something other countries can be jealous of. We should be really proud to be leading on this front."

Despite there being an initial cash outlay for changing the policy, Professor Musselwhite believe there are strong financial reasons for keeping with it.

"Reducing the speeds of vehicles will always help improve people’s health and wellbeing. It reduces the absolute number of collisions and, when there are collisions, it reduces the severity of injury and reduces the likelihood of death resulting from it," said Prof Musslewhite who co-leads the Transport and Health Integrated research Network, the Centre for Transport & Mobility and the Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research.

He added: "At the moment we accept around 100 deaths and almost 1000 severely injured people from road traffic collisions a year in Wales. The cost of that to the NHS is huge, as is the cost of lost working days to the economy, let alone the cost to families. That needs to change. We need to stop accepting death and serious injury as a normal side-effect of our freedom to drive. Of course we all want to get around easily and efficiently, of course we have to be mobile to live, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of injuries and deaths. We have to change this.

There should be benefits for residents and local communities too. People are more likely to walk and cycle if they do not drive and especially if their walk and cycle is safer. Not only is this good for health and wellbeing again, but there is evidence to say people spend more time locally, using local shops and services, keeping local communities vibrant, when they walk and cycle."

Other figures have warned against a u-turn on 20mph. Future Generations Commissioner Derek Walker said in a statement: "Wales took a bold leap in joining other world nations and introducing the change in default speed limits to 20mph where people live, work, learn and play - a step in the right direction to shifting Cymru from car-dominated streets to ones that feel safe, walkable and friendly.

“While improvements to the implementation of the 20mph policy are needed, the well-being of our communities must remain at the heart of this policy. Research by Public Health Wales found nearly 70% of collisions in which children are injured take place on roads which have a 30mph limit. The Well-being of Future Generations Act requires policymakers to use preventative measures to protect well-being now and in the future and with a health crisis and one in five people without access to a vehicle, it’s vital that we have more walkable communities for a healthier and more equal Wales.

"Transport policy in Wales has made some real progress since the introduction of our world-leading well-being goals. I would urge councils not to do a u-turn, to work with communities and ensure that when it comes to creating spaces that serve everyone in Wales, we don’t take any backward steps.”

However it seems that the new Vaughan Gething administration are still keen to push on with changes. Speaking previously Ken Skates said: "There will be change that addresses the concerns that a lot of people, including half a million people who signed the petition, raised on a consistent basis. These are that there is generally universal support for 20mph being targeted in areas where there are schools, built up areas like housing estates, and outside hospitals and so-forth but in many areas routes that shouldn't have been included, were," he said.

"I want communities to own speed limit decisions rather than having them imposed upon them. That is why this national programme of listening is going to be so important. We want to ease out what it is that people in their communities actually want to see happen, then implement the change according to the citizens' voice."