Changing speed limits on all 20mph roads would 'bankrupt Wales'

A petition signed by 469,571 people opposed the 20mph policy in Wales - but it has plenty of supporters too
A petition signed by 469,571 people opposed the 20mph policy in Wales - but it has plenty of supporters too -Credit:Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Calls to scrap Wales’ 20mph policy, rather than tinker with it, have been rejected by the country’s transport secretary. Ken Skates said a complete U-turn would effectively “bankrupt Wales” and tie up local authorities in red tape.

This week he pledged to amend exceptions guidance for local authorities in the expectation that more roads will see 20mph restrictions removed. A “national listening programme” will also be launched this summer so that the public can suggest which roads should be revised to their local councils.

The Welsh Conservatives have dismissed the move as a “comms exercise” and said that “nothing has changed”. Wrexham Council has now told its residents not to expect wholesale revisions to its 20mph speed limits. It said lower speed curbs will remain in place in vulnerable areas and, without extra funding, few others are likely to revert to previous speed limits.

READ MORE: North Wales council to shut recycling centres two days a week to save cash

READ MORE: New £1.3m cycle path on Anglesey a luxury while roads crumble, critics claim

Speaking in the Senedd, Mr Skates insisted that, for speed limits to be revised, the Welsh Government’s current approach was “by far the quickest and the least expensive”. Not all 20mph limits need changing, with a consensus they should remain by schools, hospitals and housing estates, he said.

Reverting all roads back to 30mph would require traffic regulation orders (TRO) and this would be prohibitively expensive. “It would cost £3,500 per road,” said the minister.

“At the last count, there were 148,000 streets in Wales. They would bankrupt Wales, in all likelihood several councils, and they’d also tie up councils for years upon years in bureaucracy and red tape. We want to bring consensus where there is disagreement.”

By the minister’s calculations, the total cost of ditching all 20mph zones in Wales would come to £51.8m. In reality, roads in vulnerable areas would remain at 20mph. Nevertheless, the move would add further costs to a policy already estimated to have cost Welsh taxpayers £34m. North Wales Live has a WhatsApp community group where you can get the latest stories delivered straight to your phone

20mph signs could start reverting to 30mph later this year
20mph signs could start reverting to 30mph later this year -Credit:Isle of Anglesey County Council

Wrexham Council has given a guarded welcome to Cardiff’s change in direction. It’s waiting for updated guidance from the Welsh Government, expected in June, and said it looked forward to receiving public feedback.

Just 10 roads across Wrexham were exempted from the 20mph speed limit. Several key routes, such as Chester Road, Marford Hill and Mold Road, were not revised back to 30mph.

Cllr David A Bithell, the council’s deputy leader with responsibilities for strategic transport, stressed: “I would like to be clear that not every road will revert back to 30mph. Wrexham Council supports 20mph outside schools and completed this programme prior to the change made by Welsh Government, we have no intention of reversing this decision.

“We are also very mindful of the costs to make the necessary changes. Unless supported by Welsh Government, we would have to consider our financial expenditure very carefully as there is no budget for these works.”

Cardiff has pledged funding for councils to support the revisions, estimating a cost of £3m-£5m depending on the number of changes needed. In some cases, speed limits may actually be reduced, said Mr Skates.

He was responding to a question by Montgomeryshire MS Russell George, who said speed limit inconsistencies bedevil too many roads in Wales. Mr Skates has had similar representations from Clwyd West MS Darren Millar, alarmed at the 40mph speed limit on a section of the A494 in Llanferres, Denbighshire.

The minister said: “Three of my nephews went to school in Llanferres, and I know that area very well. It’s currently 40mph, and Darren Millar would like to see it reduced to 30mph. So would I. I think that it would make great sense in terms of road safety.

“There are other routes like that across Wales that perhaps should be reduced in speed. The most appropriate means of doing that would be through TROs.” Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox

A stumbling block was the “clunky” nature of TROs, said Mr Skates. He now plans to lobby UK Government ministers to amend relevant legislation to enable a “far more streamlined and efficient" means of changing speed limits across the UK.

Find out what's happening on the roads near you