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Opinion

Why the 20mph policy isn’t working as it should

22 Apr 2024 4 minute read
A vandalised 20mph sign – Image: Local Democracy Reporting Service

Hefin DavidMS for Caerphilly

I rarely check emails on a Sunday. Yesterday, I broke that rule and read correspondence from Sustrans, the sustainable transport lobbyists. They were making the point that there should be absolutely no row-back on the 20mph speed limit policy in Wales.

Transport Minister, Ken Skates said at the weekend that some roads will revert to 30mph following a community led review of the guidance.

As Jeremy Miles intimated on Politics Wales, the 20mph policy itself is sound but the implementation has been problematic to say the least.

Sustrans say that ‘YouGov polls consistently show 70% support for 20mph speed limits’. However, that polling neglects to take account of the way in which the policy was implemented here in Wales.

Sustrans add that, ‘with 470k signatures (against 20mph), the current survey [sic] represents 15% of the Welsh population – just half of the proportion we would expect to object.’ I’m afraid that is professional level head-burying.

The Senedd petition has set a record for responses that is unlikely to be broken. Though the petition itself is oddly worded, the sentiment must be taken seriously. And the Welsh Government is absolutely right to think about why there is so much public anger still out there.

When the policy was being designed under the authority of the previous Transport Minister Lee Waters, we were told that there was only one practical way to introduce it. That was setting a default 20mph limit on 30mph roads then handing responsibility to local authorities to add exemptions where appropriate.

Concerns

Several of us in the Labour Senedd Group, while supportive of the principle of extended 20mph zones, had concerns about this approach to its introduction. However, we weren’t party to government level discussions with highway authorities and were assured that the 22 local councils would have complete freedom to make changes that were within the deliberately broad guidelines.

As a Minister, Lee Waters displayed exceptional courage. He never took a step back and defended the policy in public despite the huge outcry. He deserves respect for the way in which he fronted up to back a policy he knew would save lives.

However, successful policy implementation also needs an understanding of how it will operate several miles away from the minister’s desk. Anyone who has served as a councillor will be aware that council officers adhere closely to the instructions they are given by elected members. As a member, it can be frustrating when trying to address an anomaly in your own ward only to be told by an officer, ‘but that’s the policy, councillor.’

I can identify a number of roads in my constituency that are 20mph but, by common agreement, really should be 30. I can also identify a few that are 60mph but should be 20 indeed I was approached by a resident about this last week. That these remain unaddressed clearly shows that the policy isn’t working as it should.

I have heard from bus operators who tell me that there are issues on their routes. However, when I contact the council to see if limits can be amended, I am told ‘that’s the policy’. Lee Waters talked about a ‘sniff test’- if it doesn’t ‘feel’ right, it should be amended. But that just isn’t how local decision making happens.

‘Risky’

So why not just write to the elected council cabinet member? I have done. Leading councillors then approach officers about such routes and are told that it would be risky to alter speeds as it would be contrary to the guidance. It would be very difficult for a lay-cabinet member to overrule their expert highway officers on that basis. I can have no complaint about that.

It’s clear that the guidance needs an overhaul and more flexibility introduced. However this must be done in a way that involves community voices. The best ward councillors are in touch with their residents. They can help give voice to residents who have concerns about roads failing the ‘sniff test’. They must be empowered to assist the changes at the most local level possible.

It is hugely encouraging that Ken Skates has said that he wants ‘communities to own speed-limit decisions’. Any changes must be carefully worked through with highway officers to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility for that public voice to be heard.

The policy of introducing 20mph where people and vehicles mix is an excellent one. The changes proposed by Ken Skates will make sure that exactly such a policy is in place in Wales.


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Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
20 days ago

An excellent piece Hefin, I agree with every word. You describe what should have happened when the policy was first implemented.

Swn Y Mor
Swn Y Mor
20 days ago

It is a shame Mr David started quite well. He correctly criticised Sustrans highlighting that they are a lobby group, (maybe he should have told us who was part of the group before his entry into the Senedd), and rather refreshingly did not just dismiss the petition as the work of Tories etc. However it went downhill with Mr David declaring’ as a minister, Lee Waters displayed exceptional courage. He never took a a step back and defended the policy in public despite the huge outcry. He deserves respect for the way in which he fronted up to back a… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by Swn Y Mor
Mab
Mab
20 days ago
Reply to  Swn Y Mor

Could not agree with this comment more. Lee Waters and whoever voted for this were wrong. That includes Plaid. They voted for this with Labour.

Gareth
Gareth
20 days ago
Reply to  Mab

As did the Torys, well, all except Darren Millar, the only Tory to vote against in 2020, all the others agreed.

Last edited 20 days ago by Gareth
Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
20 days ago

We need UK policies on speed limits. There is no problem with 20MPH in other parts of the UK

Gareth
Gareth
20 days ago
Reply to  Iago Traferth

What, like airport duty, one rule for Birmingham and Bristol, and another for Cardiff, that’s UK policies.

Evan G
Evan G
20 days ago

Hefin says to Lee Waters’ suggestion that local discretion be exercised according to what feels right ‘that just isn’t how local decision making happens’. And yet it seems to have in some local authority areas, but not others. Doesn’t that suggest there is already flexibility in the Guidance but either the officers or the members in Caerphilly don’t have the appetite to use it?

Annibendod
Annibendod
20 days ago
Reply to  Evan G

Yes. This is the problem. Always was. W.Govt didn’t provide sufficient leadership. That’s all that’s needed. Help the LA’s identify the correct roads for the 30mph exceptions. Tell the Cons to stick their huffing and puffing where the sun doesn’t shine.

Jon_S
Jon_S
20 days ago
Reply to  Evan G

Loads of roads in the Caerphilly area have had a 30mph exemption, notably some of the main commuter routes. The 20mph roads people are moaning about that link them have school crossings and parks adjoining them in addition to housing. At least on the roads I know it looks like the guidance has been applied correctly, and any “review” therefore a carefully orchestrated saving-face exercise.

Tom Hadley
Tom Hadley
20 days ago

I agree with all of the comments by Hefin on here but as he said there are quite a few roads that should not be included in the twenty mile hour speed limit and i do understand what he said about council officers 😉 the trouble is they think they are always right and it’s hard for ward councillors to get them to amend things when they have set something instone but at the end of the day i think it’s the ward councillors who know whats happening in their wards and the officers should only be there for advice

Richard
Richard
19 days ago

You were warned by “ friends of 20mph. “ that the top down , mother knows best implementation was unwise and would cause division.

MD was and. Is a great guy with vision – but the academic sense he used often needs to match public opinion and the tricks of some anti Cardiff Bay Council leaders….who would fail to add apropriare mitigation roads. A lesson learnt i hope and a touch of “ we got it wrong “ please

Why vote
Why vote
16 days ago

This is what happens when lobbyists are taken seriously, a political party clutching at straws but offering nothing to repair its reputation. Stop listening to lobby groups and listen to the electorate quite simple really.

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