New Welsh Government minister says 20mph guidance must be corrected as soon as possible

Ken Skates, North Wales Transport Minister
Ken Skates, North Wales Transport Minister -Credit:Ian Cooper/North Wales Live

Welsh Government's new transport minister Ken Skates has acknowledged that the default 20mph speed limit has caused divisions and that "there will be a change". Since its introduction last September, the policy has sparked significant controversy, leading to protests and petitions, making it one of the most contentious pieces of legislation since devolution in 1999.

Appointed as the minister for transport and north Wales in First Minister Vaughan Gething's cabinet, Mr Skates has indicated that changes are on the horizon, with an overhaul of the existing guidance. Speaking to North Wales Live, he acknowledged that the 20mph had caused division in some communites.

"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.

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"We've put our hands up to say 'the guidance has to be corrected'. This will enable councils to revert back those routes that are not appropriate. Whether the change will be radical will largely depend on what people want.

"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."

Mr Skates said the extent to which these changes would be "radical" would be influenced by public opinion, but said he anticipated a substantial decrease in the number of roads designated as 20mph zones across Wales. While this revision may be met with approval from many residents, it is expected to come at a cost. However, Mr Skates assured that the expense involved in rectifying the situation will not be as high as the initial £33m rollout.

Taking over from former deputy transport minister Lee Waters last month, Mr Skates confirmed that the Welsh Government would cover the costs associated with the amendments. He is set to deliver an update on future actions in the Senedd next week.

"I imagine in some parts of Wales we will see relatively few changes and in others we will see quite a lot more but we won't know the degree of the change until we have completed that exercise, listening to people and taking stock of the routes people would like to see return to 30mph," he said.

Of the potential timescale for changes, he added: "We are working to do this as swiftly as we possibly can, I will be outlining the timeframe on Tuesday. We don't want this to go on and on. In terms of this programme focused on the 20mph policy specifically, we want to deal with this as soon as we can.

"There will be costs involved given that routes will have to revert back to 30mph with 30mph signs and the labour that goes with that. I don't feel it would be fair to place that costs on local authorities given that councils are making really tough decisions. I'm not going to say to councils that they need to find the money to make the changes.

"I don't anticipate the costs being anywhere near the cost of the rollout and we will work very closely with local authorities to make sure Welsh Government can provide that support, not just financial but assurance support so that local authorities know they are making the right decisions. It is about making sure the application is consistent and we bring back a good degree of unity, whereas currently there is discord."

Speaking to S4C’s Y Byd yn ei Le, Cardiff Council leader Huw Thomas confirmed there would be a review conducted in the capital. He said around "half a dozen streets" may change from 20mph depending on the outcome of the review and added: “I think it’s right we look and listen. But generally, the speed limits will stay as they are.”

Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea council, said Mr Skakes' "pragmatic approach" was "to be welcomed", reports the BBC. However, he said the Welsh government should "help us with the cost" of any roads which revert to 20mph.

Speaking about the division the 20mph limit had caused in parts of Wales, he said: "I have friends and family who have signed the petition, when I speak to people close to me about the petition they generally say they want 'X,Y or Z removed'. I don't want to impose the changes, I want people to identify those routes to change so that at the end of the day we have a policy a vast majority of people can support, which not just makes roads safer but makes people feel safer on them as well. That has been one of the benefits with policy in built up areas, housing estates in particular, that people feel a little bit safer as a result of the policy."

He added: "On both sides of the argument there are some really heated and difficult discussions that have taken place online. I have seen language used that you would expect to be used in relation to combat and wars. I just don't feel this has helped our communities, it has not helped unify people. One of the primary objectives is to make sure we bring people together."