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Opinion

Grit and determination: the Welsh Government is in the fight of its life for 20-mph

13 Sep 2023 4 minute read
Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Climate Change

Chris Carter

On the 17th of September, the streets of Wales will see their biggest change since the introduction of the motor car. The speed limit on restricted roads will default to 20-mph, the beginning of the end of a significant policy and legislative headache for the Welsh Labour government in Cardiff.

Numbers on signposts will change after the most testing period for the Welsh Government since COVID-19. Opposition has been stark, one recent opinion poll showed two-thirds of the Welsh public opposed to its introduction. Despite an original poll showing high levels of public support for the introduction.

What had initially started with a great deal of public support also had cross-party support, a popular idea, to be implemented with little controversy, or so it seemed. As the 17th of September approached, support has quickly dropped as the reality of the change became apparent.

Cross-party support in the Senedd fell away as the Welsh Conservatives quickly backtracked and joined the chorus of naysayers. Labelling the change as a “blanket” introduction and even attempting to force a vote on the matter on the eve of its introduction.

Resolve in the face of shifting opinion

Yet, the Welsh Government, with its reasoning clear and resolve unshaken have continued to push ahead. 14,000 fewer casualties. £1.5bn saved for the NHS, not to mention pain and suffering caused by road injuries and deaths.

Pedestrians are five times more likely to survive when hit at 20-mph compared to 30-mph. 80% of child deaths on the road occur away from schools with 20mph limits already in place.

In the final week before the speed limit’s introduction, the Labour Party has gone on the offensive. Pushing the line hard on road safety, statistics appearing from TV and radio, print and of course in the Senedd itself at First Ministers questions on Wednesday.

One person embodying this determination most of all has been the Minister responsible for introducing the 20-mph limit, Lee Waters, who even went so far as to say in an interview he was happy to lose his highly marginal Llanelli seat over the issue.

Drawing parallels with the smoking ban, which faced its own share of criticism in 2007 at the time of its introduction. He argued the ban changed our coffee shops, restaurants and pubs for the better. As will our roads.

The fact remains, lower speeds on roads save lives but political challenges have begun to mount. The Welsh Government now has rock bottom approval ratings of -21% on Transport as a policy area.

The UK now looks to Wales

The national political arena is never devoid of strategies and counter-strategies either. Nationally, the Conservatives are attempting to paint a picture of Labour as anti-motorist. The expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in London and the 20-mph limit are being used freely as tools to build this narrative.

In the wake of Labour’s defeat at the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by election, this framing seems to be one of the few political punches the Conservatives have managed to land in the past year, following Liz Truss’s chaotic and short-lived administration. It stands to reason why the matter has been pushed hard by Welsh Conservatives on one of the few political openings they have.

Drakeford’s Swan Song

Mark Drakeford will also stand down at the next Senedd election. Having steered Wales through the tumultuous period of COVID and the Cost-of-Living crisis. He has led the circling of wagons over the last two weeks in the press and in Cardiff Bay around beleaguered colleagues. Even quoting Conservative Senedd Members own words back at them over the limit.

The introduction of the 20-mph limit could very well be his swan song, his final piece of major legislation before the baton of leadership is passed on.

If the policy achieves its goal of reducing injuries and deaths, it will stand as a proud legacy for Drakeford, even if it may not seem it right now. A testament to resolve in the face of adversity, even his strongest detractors will eventually have to admit, if the policy succeeds as planned, and as many trials have shown.

Whichever way you look at it, the Welsh Government’s grit and determination in getting this controversial policy over the line has been commendable. It is one from which we all stand to benefit. Perhaps even something we look back on and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Chris Carter is a Transport and Infrastructure Research Specialist, he writes in a personal capacity and Tweets at @CarterRoutes


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NewYorker
NewYorker
5 months ago

Don’t suppose many are against low limits around schools, housing estates etc. Where the support disintegrates is when it is applied admin across major thoroughfares and trunk roads, the WG claiming it will have little impact on journey times.

Blinedig
Blinedig
5 months ago
Reply to  NewYorker

The A468 is a major thoroughfare through several villages where many children and frail older people live adjacent to the road. Despite currently 30, the new limit may encourage those boy racers’ and HGV drivers, currently thundering through at 50-60, to think again.

Glen
Glen
5 months ago
Reply to  Blinedig

If they ignore the 30 signs why will they obey a 20mph limit?

G M
G M
5 months ago
Reply to  Blinedig

And do these kids and old frail and wheelchair people use the same track as the large HGVs? I.e. Do they all use the same lanes?
Get real guys. Or you’ll have no deliveries in shops and supermarkets and other places.
Accidents are few and far between as it is. It’s the frustration of driving that might increase the accidents.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago

The concern for me is the additional pollution generated by 20mph caused by increasing traffic jams and higher use of brakes while driving. Shame there wasn’t a viable alternative mode of transport for people in Wales. Senedd are failing hugely on provision of public transport

Rhydgaled
Rhydgaled
5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

I support the 20mph plans but I agree it is a shame that public transport is going in the wrong direction in many areas (this is not limited to Wales mind you). Bus routes are being cut and old trains going for scrap either without any replacement (meaning less frequent services and/or more overcrowding) or by new trains which are often poorly designed and not fit for purpose with scenic lines getting trains where the seats don’t line up with the windows, long-distance routes getting fewer toilets, fewer tables and more standing room. Horrible rock-hard seats (the infamous ‘ironing boards’,… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 months ago
Reply to  Rhydgaled

Brings back memories of the old school train non-corridor coaches pulled by steam locomotives, where when you gave the old cushioned seating a thump a cloud of dust would fill the compartment for ages. I travelled on the Trans Pennine line once, it was disgusting (smile you are on cctv signs everywhere but not a seat to sit on) I have not been on a mainline train since. I also tried the TrawsCymru bus from Dol to Cardiff and back, awful experience, not been on a bus since (these new electric 6 wheelers look a better job)… Give me the… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Rhydgaled

Yes people I know are missing out on jobs and promotion opportunities because of a lack of a decent bus service in Cardiff.

G M
G M
5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Totally agree

Samson
Samson
5 months ago

If the Tory’s are against it, then it’s probably in our favour

TomTom82
TomTom82
4 months ago
Reply to  Samson

The policy was originally put forward by a tory AM. It got cross party approval, where do you stand now?

Son of Me
Son of Me
5 months ago

20mph will be chill

Rob
Rob
5 months ago

Waters, a former employee of Sustrans.

Wynford Jones
Wynford Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Is that a criticism, approval or neither? Please elaborate.

WilliamG
WilliamG
5 months ago

Imposing a policy that the majority don’t want and then getting the police to enforce it against the populations wishes is not a good idea or very democratic in my opinion. Let’s have a referendum on it’s introduction.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 months ago
Reply to  WilliamG

The prifathro and his head boy are not for turning or compromise or democracy. A one party state in all but name…

Gareth
Gareth
5 months ago

“Pedestrians are five times more likely to survive when hit at 20-mph compared to 30-mph.”

Seems a bit unlikely. Are you sure it’s not that pedestrians are 5 times more likely to die when hit at 30-mph compared to 20-mph?

Daisy
Daisy
5 months ago

My concern is that so many will be so intent on watching their speed, they won’t be looking at the road. Also that impatient drivers behind will be rear-ending those in front. This is going to be carnage

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 months ago
Reply to  Daisy

Spot on Ms Daisy…insurance will go up, car repair businesses will be rubbing their hands and the resulting traffic jams will bring the roads to a standstill…

Pmb
Pmb
5 months ago

If dear old Drakeford was so concerned about saving lives he would sort out the Welsh NHS , that I would suggest to him would save more lives .

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
5 months ago
Reply to  Pmb

And get rid of the Baroness…but that is beyond the capabilities of anyone in the present government so to leave his mark this is the only way…

Rob
Rob
5 months ago

At one point the R2D2 Davies and Welsh Conservatives were very much in favour of this law change, it seems that they have played into populism.

G M
G M
5 months ago

How many people even walk on the footpath, let alone the roads that we are trying to protect?

TomTom82
TomTom82
4 months ago

This new law will prove to be Labour’s downfall. Road traffic collisions have been going down every year since records began. Most fatalities occur when the speed limit is above 40mph(surprise surprise)
People who flaunt the 30mph limit will not obey the new 20mph limit. Most schools already have 20mph limits imposed near them. Finally, consider this; Just because the old limit was 30mph it didn’t mean you had to drive at 30mph, you’d could do 20mph and feel good about yourself.

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