Hundreds of old speed limit signs removed and scrapped after 20mph switch
Twm Owen and Nicholas Thomas – Local Democracy Reporters
Hundreds of speed limit signs were taken down and either salvaged or scrapped when Wales’ new 20mph law came into force, Freedom of Information requests have revealed.
Many speed limit signs became redundant after the switch, when the Welsh Government lowered the default speed limit on most roads in built-up areas from 30mph to 20mph.
Councils across Wales collectively received millions of pounds to cover the cost of taking down old signs and putting up new ones to remind drivers of the new speed limit on so-called restricted roads – typically described as roads with street lights at every 200 metres or less.
As a result signs which notified drivers of the maximum speed have had to be taken down and replaced – including some in areas where there was already a 20mph limit.
In these areas, smaller, “repeater” signs to remind drivers a different limit to the standard was in force have had to be taken down now that the lower limit is the one drivers should assume applies in a residential area.
Councils say they have been trying to reuse the signs they’ve been taking down but some have had to be discarded.
A Freedom of Information request to Caerphilly County Borough Council shows 1,110 signs were removed as part of the switchover.
“We have aimed to salvage as many signs as possible that were of good condition,” the council said in its response to the information request.
“As we do not have an abundant space for storage, we have not been able to stock all the ‘good condition’ signs that have been taken down and these have been presented as scrap waste for processing.”
A similar request to Newport City Council did not uncover the exact number of redundant signs, but the local authority followed a similar inspection process to that in Caerphilly.
“All signs removed resulting from the Welsh Government change in the default speed limit were inspected, and where found to be in a condition where they may be reused in future maintenance programs or new schemes, have been retained and put into storage,” the city council said in response to the request.
“Those signs deemed to be redundant, were disposed of by our term contractor as part of the work instruction for their removal.
“Our contractors are obligated to dispose of redundant materials responsibly and are recycled where the material permits this.”
Nearly 300 road signs in a Gwent borough have also had to be disposed of since the default 20mph speed limit came into force.
Peter Hall queried what happened to road signs in Gwent, as a result of the 20mph legislation, through a similar the Freedom of Information Act.
Answers from the five councils in Gwent, shared via the What Do They Know website, show that in Torfaen 285 were deemed to be “redundant” following the change in the legislation.
The borough council had told Mr Hall that it had sought to reuse road signs but said some were no longer of any use.
It told him: “The authority, where possible, have tried to reuse signs that have been removed in other locations across the network, however, signs considered to be redundant e.g. no longer needed or not of a suitable standard to be reused have been disposed of accordingly.”
Mr Hall was then given the figure of 285 when he asked how many were deemed to be redundant.
Monmouthshire County Council told Mr Hall that by the beginning of November, it couldn’t tell him how many signs were no longer required as it is still installing 20mph zones and changing signs, work that may not be fully completed until the end of this year.
An officer told him: “We can’t answer the query presently.”
In response to Mr Hall’s original query, as to what the council had done with signs that were no longer required as a result of the introduction of the 20mph limit, it said: “The signs that were removed in good condition have been retained to use in other locations, those signs which were damaged or unable to be used again will be recycled.”
In Blaenau Gwent the borough council said it has also tried to reuse signs but has had to dispose of some.
It told Mr Hall: “Signs that were removed which were in a reasonable condition were returned to our stores where they will be cleaned and kept for future use.
“Signs that we were able to repurpose as part of the 20mph default works were used in alternative locations, for example 20mph repeaters signs from Strand Annealing were repurposed in Trefil.
“Signs that we were unable to be repurpose or in a poor condition were disposed of.”
Blaenau Gwent wasn’t asked to clarify how many signs it has disposed of.
The switch to 20mph default speed limits came into effect on September 17, with police forces saying they would first generally try to educate drivers breaking the law, before introducing penalties.
The Welsh Government said it had introduced the lower speed limit to “reduce the number of collisions and severe injuries from them”, and to “make our streets safer”.
The introduction of the policy has proved controversial, however. Calls to scrap the change to 20mph became the Senedd’s most-signed petition ever, and drivers opposing the switch held several go-slow protests on major roads such as the M4 around Newport in the autumn.
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