Wales' 20mph overhaul to start in September but critics complain 'nothing has changed'

20mph signs could start being replaced from September
20mph signs could start being replaced from September -Credit:Rob Browne/WalesOnline

Welsh ministers have been accused of window-dressing planned changes to 20mph speed limits. Transport secretary Ken Skates has announced a beefed-up system of exemptions but the onus will remain on councils to decide which roads can revert to 30mph.

The Welsh Conservatives labelled the changes as a “sham” and insisted the 20mph default speed limit remains firmly in place across Wales. Shadow Transport Minister Natasha Asghar said talk of widespread change was “just a comms exercise” designed to appease voters.

Mr Skates today (Tuesday, April 23) told the Senedd that revised guidance for 20mph exceptions will be published this summer. This, said the minister, will allow for local authorities to “better target 20mph on appropriate roads” from September.

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He said: “Ultimately, the degree of change in each of our 22 local authority areas will not be determined by me and the Welsh Government, but by the public and councils as the highway authority for most residential roads. The Welsh Government continues to believe that 20mph is the right speed limit in places such as near schools, hospitals, nurseries, community centres, play areas and in built-up residential areas. This is particularly the case when children and vulnerable people are in close contact with traffic.”

Mr Skates said the 20mph approach would be “refined”, potentially giving councils greater flexibility with 20mph exempted roads. As part of this, the transport secretary plans a “genuine programme of listening to people”. Already he has met council chiefs across Wales to discuss speed limit changes and all have agreed to work with him over the issue.

He added: “Between now and July we will listen to citizens – to bus drivers, emergency services, the police, to young people, vulnerable people, to businesses and to councillors in county, and town and community councils, in order to understand their perspectives on road safety in residential areas.

“Councils are already looking at local roads where changes might be needed. As part of our listening programme, I will encourage people to get in touch with their local council to tell them where they think 20mph should be targeted. I will also work with town and community councils to make sure their voices are a part of this national conversation.” Sign up now for the latest news on the North Wales Live Whatsapp community

Ken Skates plans a national listening programme with the Welsh public
Ken Skates plans a national listening programme with the Welsh public -Credit:Ian Cooper/North Wales Live

Information on how people can lobby their councils for changes will be published on the Welsh Government website. Ultimately, stressed the minister, final decisions will “rest with the highway authority”.

The system raises issues about the ability of local authorities to cope with the extra work of administering 20mph exemptions – and the added expense of changing speed signs again. Mr Skates said councils will not be left in the lurch.

He told the Senedd (Welsh Parliament): “I absolutely recognise the range of pressures facing our partners in local government, and this government is committed to ensuring they have the resources they need to implement changes. We will not expect councils, who are facing difficult financial pressures, to cover the cost of adjusting routes back to 30mph.”

The default 20mph policy, which covers some 37% of roads in Wales, was bitterly opposed by a large cohort of motorists. But it also enjoyed support from cyclists and other groups, who had called on Cardiff to “hold its nerve” and not ease up on the law.

Last year, Welsh councils adopted different approaches to 20mph exceptions. While just 10 roads across Wrexham were exempted, remaining at 30mph, Gwynedd exempted 85 and Swansea more than 150. Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea Council, expects another 10 roads in the local authority to be exempted following today’s announcement.

Natasha Asghar wants the 20mph default to be 'scrapped in its entirety'
Natasha Asghar wants the 20mph default to be 'scrapped in its entirety' -Credit:Rob Browne/WalesOnline

Clwyd South MS Mr Skates was put in charge of transport for Wales on March 21 after Vaughan Gething succeeded Mark Drakeford. Responding to his statement, shadow transport minister Natasha Asghar said “nothing has changed”.

“All of Labour’s talk of change on their flawed 20mph speed limit was sadly just a comms exercise,” she said. “It consequently made people from all corners of Wales believe that their roads will be going back to 30mph.

“The bottom line is that after all of Labour’s talk about listening to the Welsh people, the default speed limit across Wales will remain 20mph. Nothing has changed to everyone inside and outside of Wales.

“Instead of making councils clean up the mess of this daft, divisive and destructive policy, it should be scrapped in its entirety. Common sense should prevail and 20mph remain where it is needed, such as outside schools, play areas, high streets and places of worship.”

Speaking to the Press Association, Mr Skates denied his party was capitulating to the Conservatives. He argued they wanted to see the policy reversed entirely, which would cost the Welsh Government around £35m.

He said: “The Tories want something completely different, something that would cause chaos at an extraordinary cost. They want to get rid of the policy completely, and that will cost in the region of £35m.

“Then they would wish to use what are called Traffic Regulation Orders to change any 30mph routes back to 20. It would be like a game of yo-yo.” Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox

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