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Opinion

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

25 Sep 2023 6 minute read
20mph speed limit sign. Photo Dominic Lipinski PA Images

Emily Price

In the run up to the 20mph default speed limit coming into force in Wales, the Welsh Conservatives have been 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 has now sky rocketed to over 420,000 signatures, it’s 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 always characterises it as “blanket 20mph” and even uses the hashtag “blanket” in social media posts.

Messaging

But is 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 has 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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Y Cymro
Y Cymro
6 months ago

No they have not. What I can gather is the 20mph default speed limit is in built-up & residential areas throughout Wales. As usual the Welsh Tories are lying. They want to whip up hysteria. In reality this shouldn’t be party political as any reduction has been done to save lives, but seeing the Tories favour attacking the most vulnerable in society even our children are not safe thanks to these rightwing loons who are busy going nowhere.

Last edited 6 months ago by Y Cymro
Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 months ago

Excellent article spelling out clearly and comprehensively the truth about the 20mph speed limit in Wales. So to the 400,000 (I still don’t believe the figure and smell a Tory rat) who (supposedly) signed the petition, you’ve all been had by a massive misinformation con OR, to frame it in a more kindly fashion to make such gullible souls feel better, you signed a petition to stop a ‘blanket’ speed limit in Wales and you got your way. There is no ‘blanket’ speed limit in Wales (and with the exception of the trial in Bwcle, there never was). This meaningless,… Read more »

Tracy lewis
Tracy lewis
6 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Victim signatories!! Really how small minded. The many thousands of people who have signed this petition are doing so because they to have a valid opinion. That this opinion does not chime with yours makes it no less valid.

karl
karl
6 months ago

No, but it tells you alot of people are very easily led and probably shouldn’t have a license.

Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago

Wonder if you can FOI all the back channel chat on this to see how the Cons have tried to use it as a wedge issue, should make interesting reading.

Erisian
Erisian
6 months ago

Tory’s trying to play culture wars. They have no more deliverable policies – so it’s all just hogwash and dog whistles from now on.

Hogyn y Gogledd
Hogyn y Gogledd
6 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

The only culture the tories know is in a petri dish.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
6 months ago

And that’s because they’re feeding (and breeding) off its culture medium.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
6 months ago

Misinformation is what the Tories are good at, they did it with Brexit now here. In Westminster there is apparently a bill making its way through that will make it an offence for a politician to lie – the Senedd needs something similar. These are elected people who should be forced to tell the truth, enough of the lies.

Windy
Windy
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve A Duggan

Whoever Bill is he’ll have a hell of a job making his way through pestminster with all the crony party in his way

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
6 months ago
Reply to  Windy

I didn’t say it’ll succeed….

Max Wallis
Max Wallis
6 months ago

The Vale of Glam were worse in declaring not ‘main roads’ but all A and B roads should be 30mph. A Labour Council trying to sabotage the 20mph law. We’ve battled against their exceptions because they didn’t assess them against the WG criteria, while lying about it. The WG fault is no mechanism for local people to call to account these pompous officials.

Llyn
Llyn
6 months ago

From the start it was demonstrably not a “blanket” speed limit. This is clear to all now. But sadly a lie like this that would have been the end of a political career not too long ago, is accepted as normal. This “blanket” nonsense is what Joseph Goebbels would have called a “big lie”. Repeat a lie enough and people will believe the liar and not the truth.

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago

My comments deleted once more. I see. If I say anything against the prevailing narrative, I will be censored. My opinion of this publication to which I have contributed in more ways than one has fallen greatly. How sad that debate and respectful disagreement cannot be sustained here. I shall leave you all to your bubble. I despair of your poor politics. It impacts us all. Misguided, tribal and blinkered. Remember that those whom you insult are voters. Just remember that one fact and there might be hope for you …

The Mayor of Mynachlog Ddu
The Mayor of Mynachlog Ddu
6 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Absolutely agree, very well put and my experiences exactly. This is not the forum for the expressing of fair minded opinions, if they are at odds with the ‘group think’ here.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago

Slogans like ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ and the ongoing removal from the affected roads of all ’30 mph’ signs along with the non-erection of any replacement signs to indicate the new speed restriction, on the basis that 20 mph is now to be assumed to generally apply in all built-up areas, certainly qualifies as a ‘blanket’ application of a 20 mph speed limit. Furthermore, any exceptions are ‘opt-out’ and not ‘opt in’, the presumption being for an all-inclusive measure. Typically, our Socialist hegemons in the Senedd are indulging in niggling semantics instead of engaging in honest and open dialogue with their critics.

CapM
CapM
6 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

“Furthermore, any exceptions are ‘opt-out’ and not ‘opt in’, “ Well yes that’s what a default system is and by drawing attention to that it indicates that you must understand that it is not a blanket approach. “presumption being for an all-inclusive measure” I don’t think that opinion can be backed up by the facts. The way the system works means that there is a mechanism which local authorities can, by using a legal framework exempt lengths of road they consider should not default to 20mph. And local authorities have used this to make hundreds of such exemptions. That’s sensible as… Read more »

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  CapM

It is of course a good and democratic provision if it is possible for local authorities to address circumstances and requirements in their own constituencies.  Unfortunately. this element of choice is somewhat vitiated by concerns that claims might be made based on the possible legal argument that the lower speed limit could be adduced to impute liability for accidents at the retained higher speed limit. It is this opt-out – which is not pre-emptive – that a Court might find to be presumptive of an intended all-inclusive measure, hence the nervousness of some local Authority lawyers in advising retention of… Read more »

CapM
CapM
6 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

Whatever advice real legal professionals might offer or virtual legal enthusiasts might opine the reality is that every local authority has already made exceptions to the 20mph limit in total numbering many hundreds. If there is an inclination as you say for local authorities not to make more exceptions because they feel they face a risk if something untoward happens then that is an example of them using the ‘precautionary principle’. Not something new or unique but an approach that is used in very many real life applications. It looks like your personal preference has fallen foul of it on… Read more »

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  CapM

I’ve already said the possibility of exceptions are welcome; I’ve also said ‘hundreds’ of them is not so remarkable when we consider that nearly 8000 miles of road is involved (35% of all the roads in Wales), which tends more to indicate the inhibiting factors built into a measure intended to be as sweeping as possible, than any urge towards liberalising an authoritarian approach. Furthermore, the administration of the roll-out has created an unintended imbalance between the needs of rural Wales and those of the South Wales conurbation which has much denser traffic volumes on a more complex road system:… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Philip Davies
CapM
CapM
6 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

My experience over the past few days is that a large majority of drivers are already complying with the “overweening arrogance of unchecked Leftist authoritarianism”.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
6 months ago
Reply to  CapM

How does this alleged compliance of drivers with an unpopular and poorly-thought-through law in any way disprove my contention that it is the product of an “overweening arrogance of unchecked Leftist authoritarianism”? You are mistaking compliance with the law for a widespread and willing adoption of an authoritarian imposition. Protests and a petition belie the smug assumption that everyone shares your support for this radical interference in people’s lives. And in any case I defy you to meaningfully categorise or quantify even the insignificant personal sample of motorists you have casually observed: All you have witnessed is that people are still… Read more »

David C
David C
6 months ago

Stop talking good sense ! You will confuse the simple folk!

(Super article, clear, grown up, explanatory and factual. All the things that RT and his crew of plebs don’t want for the Welsh people)

Captain Cat
Captain Cat
6 months ago

Own Goal by Welsh Labour, a kind of Karma, note that those it adversely affects most are its voters, Welsh Labour – the Party of Cardiff and the Valleys.

It may not be the end, but it may well be the begining of the end, thankfully.

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to kept that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

— Thomas Jefferson

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