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Opinion

Has the government really rolled out a ‘blanket’ 20mph speed limit in Wales?

31 Dec 2023 6 minute read
20mph road sign.

Emily Price

In the run up to the 20mph default speed limit which came into force in Wales, the Welsh Conservatives were relentless in their claims that the new road regulation is a ‘blanket’ limit.

Given the record breaking support of an anti-20mph Senedd petition which sky rocketed to over 467,000 signatures, it was clear that opposing the policy could be a vote winner for the Tories.

When referring to the new default speed limit, Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies repeatedly characterised it as “blanket 20mph” and even used the hashtag “blanket” in social media posts.

Messaging

But was the Tory messaging surrounding the new default speed limit accurate and is the term ‘blanket’ appropriate? – The short answer is no.

It can be fairly argued that when the Welsh Government trialled a 20mph default speed limit in Buckley between 2021 and 2022, it was most definitely a “blanket” approach.

But during the pilot, the Welsh Government found that changing all 30mph roads to 20mph frankly wouldn’t work.

As a result, guidance was strengthened by the Welsh Government when it came to allowing local authorities the flexibility to keep some roads at 30mph where appropriate.

But how do local authorities do this? The key thing to point out here is that legally, local highway authorities are responsible for local roads – the Welsh Government is not.

The Welsh Government can however, change the guidance and this is how the 30mph default speed limit was shifted to 20mph in Wales.

In theory, if a local council wanted to revert every 20mph road back to 30mph, they could and there would be nothing to stop them from doing that in law.

In the past, if a local authority wanted to reduce a speed limit on a road from 30mph to 20mph, they would have to pass a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) which would cost around £15,000 – £20,000 a pop.

Costly

But changing multiple roads to 20mph by passing lots of separate TRO’s would be a really costly and inefficient way to approach road safety.

As a result, the recommendation by the taskforce behind the new default was that this way of doing things needed to be turned on its head whilst allowing councils to effectively “opt out” roads where a 20mph just doesn’t make sense.

The issue that local highway authorities have faced during the roll out of the new limit is that some simply haven’t consulted properly due to department resources being overstretched.

But there’s no time limit in place as to when local authorities can change certain 20mph roads back to 30mph.

There does seem to be different risk appetites for each separate local authority when it comes to deciding which roads should remain at 30mph.

Some councils have chosen to rigidly stick to the exact wording of the Welsh Government guidance – even though there is wiggle room to exempt roads from the default.

A fear emerged among some councils that if a road were to be changed back to 30mph and there is a death on that road – a council could be legally liable.

However, if there is genuinely a risk of someone being killed on a road – then the speed limit probably shouldn’t be 30mph.

Some councils have been fairly bullish with their approach to road exceptions and have chosen to keep all main roads at 30mph.

With the new road regulation still brand new, 20mph guidance is in the early days of being tested by local authorities and changes to 20mph roads will continue for some time during the settling in period.

The Welsh Government has said that in a year, the guidance for local authorities will be reviewed to decide whether the current flexibility is enough for councils.

Roads in Wales at varying stages of exception orders.

Road map

There is already a handy colour coded data map available for the public to check which roads have remained at 30mph.

The map is being constantly updated and also offers information on what stage any given TRO is at.

Stage one of a TRO involves a highway authority preparing draft regulation orders. Stage two is when the length of the proposed speed limit has been finalised and the highway authority has advertised the draft. The public can review these proposals and even leave a comment.

It’s worth remembering though that if a local authority decides to revert a 20mph road back to 30mph, this can also be objected to by the public and a council must then decide which speed limit is appropriate.

Stage three of implementing an exception road is when a road consultation has closed and any relevant procedures to deal with objections and sealing the TRO are being undertaken.

The data map shows that so far there are already hundreds of roads in Wales which have remained at 30mph – blowing the Tory argument that the all 30mph roads became 20mph out of the water.

So how is it decided which roads would suit remaining at 30mph?

Exception roads are decided based on how likely it is that pedestrians would cross that road.

This is decided based on the following questions:

  • Is the road within 100 metres of a school or other educational establishment?
  • Is the road within 100 metres of a community centre?
  • Is the road within 100 metres of a hospital?
  • Do residential or retail properties front the road, and exceed 20 properties per kilometre of road (i.e. 5 or more properties every 250 metres of road)?

When it comes to road safety, the Welsh Conservatives have called for “targeted measures” rather than what they describe as a “blanket” approach.

However, with local authorities having the power to keep roads at 30mph where it makes sense, the policy is demonstrably already “targeted”.

Attitudes as to how separate Tory Party members decide to describe the new speed limit may be shifting with some MSs recently opting to describe it as a “default” rather than a “blanket” limit.

Could it be that some within the Tory ranks have chosen to no longer take a “blanket” approach when parroting the party lines of their leader?


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James
James
1 month ago

It’s not a blanket, the Tory nut jobs just enjoy lying

P Sharland
P Sharland
1 month ago
Reply to  James

It a cash cow we will pay for the 33 extra members

Neil C
Neil C
1 month ago
Reply to  James

As per your puppet masters you fail to mention the other STEALTH speed reductions that they have imposed since they introduced this ridiculous unnecessary 20 limit. Idiots will speed irrelevant of what speed limits are imposed. The £33 million could have been used to get more speed cameras outside where they are needed..i.e Schools , Hospitals , etc instead of main roads where they aren’t needed. With people like you encouraging the idiots in the Senedd they can and are implementing whatever they want to do without fear of losing their seats. Sorry to inform you as you obviously don’t… Read more »

James
James
1 month ago
Reply to  Neil C

Did I say I agreed with the limit? I just said the Tories enjoy lying about it being a blanket rule (which it isn’t).

A.Redman
A.Redman
1 month ago

If a council is pressured into reversing the 20mph presumably it is their constituents that will have to cover the cost? With several Councils already having financial difficulties,that would have a significant bearing on any decisions?

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Tory party, 20 mph, grrrrrr, 20, grrrrrrrr

they don’t complain about petrol, insurance, repairs, tyres, parking charges, england nhs car park robbery, nasty parking bandits that chase and hound people for parking charges, road congestion, paying tax twice on petrol, the Cons really are a con.

Bethan
Bethan
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

Very good points.

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
1 month ago

The data map is very interesting to see. It looks like the South Wales Councils have actually looked at the roads and done what the legislation actually wants local councils to do. The rest of Wales shows how little the local authorities have done and they are the ones who need to answer the question why so few exceptions in their areas. It is time to move on from the Anti Tory retoric and actually start putting local councils under the spotlight

Vance Grffiths
Vance Grffiths
1 month ago

If this 20 mph is so good, why did the ssenedd not use the usual cost benefit analysis and not just the apparent benefits. Why is there so little mention of the costs to the Welsh economy which even by the ssenedds own admission is in billions.

Why vote
Why vote
1 month ago

The only thing wrong with the 20 mph legislation is that it exists! Our rulers sat around a table or Zoom meeting and raised the subject is dumfounding, why is the sennedd so obsessed with 20mph? safety? Pollution? Saving wales money? Saving the NHS 90million a year? Or pay per mile, LEZ pricing and ridding wales of cars once and for all. Go back to basics and teach everybody ROADS are for vehicles, footpaths are for people and DO NOT MIX these rules, there you go just saved 35 milion. as for blanket ban all those words to explain what… Read more »

Don Neil
Don Neil
1 month ago

To be fair to Drakeford, he actually said it was a “default speed limit”, but let’s be honest, to all intents and purposes, no matter how you spin it and try to divert, it is to all intents and purposes so similar to being blanket coverage apart from specific roads which are in the minority. Either way it the policy of insanity.

J Evans
J Evans
1 month ago

This article is incredibly biased and is quite frankly hilarious to read. You honestly think there is 0 chance of a death on the M4? Maybe that should be 20 too. Where does it stop? Of course councils won’t change roads back to 30 as a death will eventually happen when all things align because some incidents are unavoidable usually due to multiple failings and that will be on their head. I bet you still go to the supermarket to shop rather than get home delivery every time even though the risk to your health is almost eliminated by not… Read more »

Jonathan Stanway
Jonathan Stanway
1 month ago

‘Some councils have chosen to rigidly stick to the exact wording of the Welsh Government guidance’

Blaming local authorities for closely following the Governments guidance is absurd, that’s what they are supposed to do.

If the Welsh Government wanted more main roads exempted they should have clearly stated so, anything else is just passing the buck

Keith
Keith
1 month ago

Its not a blanket 20 mph as there are still 30mph areas Bern in Wales today and Bern on several roads with 30mph signs and 20 mph it depends on where the road is inrelation to houses and business and people .

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