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Drakeford dismisses fears over emergency response times due to new 20mph speed limit

18 Oct 2023 4 minute read
First Minister, Mark Drakeford

The First Minister has said he does not believe fears over emergency response times due to the new default 20mph speed limit will materialise.

Last month, Wales became the first country in the UK to drop the default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph in built-up areas.

Mark Drakeford was questioned on the controversial policy during an appearance at the Welsh Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning.

A petition against the roll-out of the law, on the Welsh Parliament’s petitions page, has now been signed by more than 462,400 people.

Mr Drakeford told the committee: “We will take the petition seriously, of course.

“The petitioner has chosen, as is his right, to keep the petition open for the full six months so there will be no response the Senedd will be able to make to the petition until probably March of next year, but the petitioner can choose at any moment to close the petition and at that point it gets considered.

“The way petitions are handled in the Welsh Parliament is that they go first of all to the Petitions Committee. It decides the process by which it wishes to respond to the petition.

“The Welsh Government will take the petition seriously and look to respond to it when that happens, by which time we will have had six months or more of experience of the new regime and I think that will help us in responding to the points that are made.”

Exemptions

Mr Drakeford was asked how councils can apply exemptions in the way they apply the new 20mph limit.

He responded that local authorities do not have an “unfettered right to disregard the law” and had to act within the parameters of the legislation.

“In those parameters, it is local authorities that make decisions on individual roads as to whether or not to exempt that road from the default 20mph position,” Mr Drakeford said.

“One of the reasons why I think six months’ worth of experience will be useful will be that I think you can already see that different local authorities are taking a different approach to how they navigate their way through those criteria to a final decision.”

Mr Drakeford said local authorities may want to “look again” at whether their initial judgments were correct, adding that “there may be some fine-tuning and adjustments to the designations of individual roads”.

He acknowledged that there had been some concerns from those working in the emergency services over potential delays when responding to emergencies due to the 20mph limit.

But the first minister insisted such views had not come directly from the emergency services themselves.

Individual voices

But Mr Drakeford said: “There are some individual voices in some services that have expressed concern. The services themselves have not and of course we work very closely with them.

“The roads are no different in a 20mph road than they are in a 30, or 40, or 50, or 60mph road. Emergency services are able to travel above the speed limit where there is a case for them to do so.

“None of that has changed and I think a number of these concerns are concerns in advance of the facts. When it comes to operating the system on the ground, I don’t think those fears will materialise.”

Mr Drakeford’s appearance at the committee was his fourth this parliament. He previously appeared in March 2021, March 2022 and November 2022.

The Welsh Government previously said that cutting the speed limit would protect lives and save the NHS in Wales £92 million a year.

It predicts the change will save up to 100 lives and 20,000 casualties in the first decade.

Not all 30mph roads will see their speed limits reduced as councils have the power to exempt certain roads from the scheme.

The project is costing around £33 million to implement and has proven controversial, with reports of the new 20mph signs being defaced in areas including Conwy, Gwynedd, Newport, Torfaen, Wrexham and Flintshire.

The Welsh Conservatives have opposed the scheme and cited Welsh Government documents that estimate the cost to the Welsh economy of increased journey times from lower average vehicle speeds at anywhere between £2.7 billion and £8.9 billion.


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Richard 1
Richard 1
5 months ago

The tories in Wales are contradicting their earlier support for 20mph. Their position is irresponsible. I notice less compliance since they decided belatedly to snipe at the limit. If I were a tory voter I would be wondering how many deaths it would take to change my politics.

Richard 1
Richard 1
5 months ago

… and I would also point out that it’s easier to get out of the way of an ambulance if you’re going at 20mph than 30.

Jonathan Stanway
Jonathan Stanway
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard 1

There are other issues though that are being ignored For instance, our local fire station, it is being proposed that it will reduce the hours it is fully staffed and only have staff on call overnight. Those staff have to drive to the fire station obeying the new limits before they can respond. So it will increase call out times. Issues such as this have not been considered, funding has not been put in place to enable such stations to stay fully manned, and lives could, not necessarily will, but could be lost as a result. There are safety arguments… Read more »

Lewis
Lewis
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard 1

If you can’t get out the way of an ambulance while doing 30 you probably shouldn’t be driving.

Max Wallis
Max Wallis
5 months ago

Why repeat the discredited sum for cost to the economy? Stupid counting of theoretical minutes longer journeys, when all motorists frequently encounter still longer delays from congestion, roadworks, delivery lorries etc.?

A.Redman
A.Redman
5 months ago

£92 million.per year.How has this sum been arrived at?

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
5 months ago
Reply to  A.Redman

Dividing the current cost of traffic related injuries to the NHS by a factor based on the numbers injured and severity of those injuries. Then multiplying by a factor based on the statistically predicted reduced injury numbers and reduced severity of those injuries. Then subtract the former from the latter I would imagine.
At its basic level, statistics isn’t hard.

George Thomas
George Thomas
5 months ago

I’m a commuter who experiences a 35-40 minute drive in the morning. I would say that a stretch of road that used to take 5 minutes now takes 6-8 minutes due to the change in law, only effecting that small stretch and other roads still being at a greater speed limit, but no other part of the journey has been changed. Cars being driven better, better drivers not having to take protective action for people driving badly and too quickly, makes the roads more efficient, in my experience so far. Not saying this policy is a good thing but I… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by George Thomas
Jeff
Jeff
5 months ago

Conservatives: “grrrr, 20 MPH, world will implode, grrrrr”

Point out the state of the UK under conservatives and they would probably tank Wales if in power cos they do No10 bidding, food banks, energy prices, cost of living pain, NHS, HS2, Brexit damage, green policies and on and on (too many to list cos they tanked a nation)

Conservatives: “but but but 20mph, grrrrrr”

So, how many times can I sign petitions?

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