5. Statement by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change: 20 mph default speed limit on restricted roads

– in the Senedd at 4:14 pm on 12 September 2023.

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Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 4:14, 12 September 2023


We move on now to item 5, which is a statement from the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on the 20 mph default speed limit on restricted roads. I call on the Deputy Minister, Lee Waters.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. From Sunday, most roads with a 30 mph speed limit in Wales will be changing to 20 mph. This is the biggest step change in community safety for a generation. It will save lives, prevent injuries and encourage more people to walk and cycle. It'll make our streets safer for all road users, including car drivers, and improve the quality of life for everyone in our local communities.

On the two occasions when we have debated the approach in this Siambr, there's been cross-party support, including in 2020 from the Conservative benches and their group leader at the time, and the policy was backed with significant majorities. Change is never easy, and as we have got closer to 17 September, and with greater awareness of the speed limit coming into effect, concerns are being surfaced, and people’s natural anxieties about change have not been helped by the blatant misinformation being cynically spread by the Conservatives in Wales. Under our standards of personal conduct in this Senedd, the rules state that Members must act truthfully. I regret to say that Conservative Members are making false claims about this policy, a policy many of them voted for in this Siambr.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:15, 12 September 2023

I want to take the opportunity today to set out the facts. The hardest hitting fact is that if a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle moving at 30 mph, they are around five times more likely to be killed than if they are hit at 20 mph. It’s simple: lower speeds save lives. By the time a car travelling at 20 mph has come to a stop, a car travelling at 30 mph will still be doing 24 mph: lower speeds save lives. It’s not just me saying that—those are the exact words of Dr David Hanna, a consultant in paediatric emergency at the University Hospital of Wales. It is his job to deal with the consequences of children being hit by cars at 30 mph and more. He has described the devastating life-changing injuries children and young people and their families have to deal with as a result of road traffic collisions, more than half of which occur on roads where the speed limit is currently 30 mph.

Being struck by a moving car is the biggest cause of serious injury in children. Public Health Wales estimates that we can expect to see a 40 per cent reduction in collisions, six to 10 lives saved every year, and somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 people annually avoiding injury in Wales once we’ve moved to 20 mph. So, as well as reducing human misery, this will also ease pressure on our overstretched emergency services. Casualty prevention savings, which include reducing the need to attend so many road traffic collisions and reducing the flow of injured people needing treatment at A&E is expected to save £92 million in the first year alone, and for every year afterwards. As the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, says:

'Not only will slower speeds save lives and reduce injuries, it will also help keep people healthier and reduce the burden on the NHS.'

Dirprwy Lywydd, a 20 mph default speed limit will pay for itself three times over from the savings to the health service in the first year alone. This is not a policy that has been rushed, it has been four years in development, in close partnership with local authorities, the police and key delivery organisations. We've piloted it in eight communities across Wales. In St Dogmaels in Pembrokeshire, the first of the trial areas, 20 mph has already proven itself. A car driver avoided hitting a young boy crossing the road because, in their words:

'Luckily, I was doing 20 mph. At 30 mph I would’ve hit him.'

There was no need for an ambulance, no need for the police and, thankfully, no need for the parents of that child to hear bad news at the hospital. Many of us are parents and grandparents, and we understand the fear of traffic, and we know why most people support slower speeds on the streets they live on. And we know that the fear of traffic leads to many children being kept inside to avoid the risk of harm robbing them of the experiences many of us had of exploring our neighbourhoods and having fun with friends. All of this contributes to the obesogenic environment that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has warned us is adding to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity. In Spain, in London, in Edinburgh, and soon in Ireland too, speed limits have been reduced to 20 mph and casualties and deaths are falling too. The evidence for change is very strong and is not disputed.

My focus throughout has been to do all we can to concentrate on the practicalities of implementing the new speed limit to ensure its success. In May 2019 I set up a taskforce group to test our policy intent with experts and practitioners. Led by the widely respected independent transport expert Phil Jones, it spent over a year considering the best ways to bring in the change and find a consensus. The group included local government officers, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Road Haulage Association, amongst others. The taskforce group recommended that we move away from short sections of road being reclassified as 20 mph, and instead said we should change the underlying default speed limit. We should move from the current situation where local roads, restricted roads, have a default of 30 mph, where a case can be made to reduce that to 20 mph, to a default of 20 mph, where the case can be made for that to be set at 30 mph. So, there is no blanket 20 mph, as the Conservatives wrongly claim. We are following the approach that the experts recommended. And I know the Conservatives don't like experts, but in this Chamber, we do.


The Llywydd took the Chair.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:21, 12 September 2023

Local highway authorities will retain the power to vary the speed limit according to local conditions. It is not a uniform speed limit. It is not a blanket speed limit. It can vary according to local circumstances, as decided by the local highway authority, and that's already happening. If it was a blanket, how is it that Rhondda Cynon Taf could put in so many exemptions? How is it that Caldicot in Monmouthshire could change its speed limit as a result of the trial? How is it that in Buckley the speed limit could be changed on roads that didn't work in the trial? That can only happen because it is not a default and local highway authorities have the flexibility to meet local circumstances. Each of these local authorities have undertaken a thorough assessment of their roads and applied the Welsh Government exemptions guidance and their local knowledge. This has been a significant piece of work and I am extremely grateful to all local authorities who have helped to ensure that the change goes as smoothly as possible. These are small teams, and they've worked extremely hard, and I think we all owe them our gratitude.

Now, there is inevitably some local variability in how the exceptions criteria has been applied in each of the 22 local authorities—we've heard it praised as localism in the past—and of course by the Welsh Government ourselves on the trunk road network. We've encouraged councils to take a common-sense approach, recognising that the character of some stretches of road suits 30 mph, where people and vehicles don't mix. This is the biggest change in road safety in a generation, and despite all the efforts, it's unlikely to be flawless on day one. For example, we know that some councils will have all their signs up on Sunday, and others have decided to take a different approach in sequencing the change. It will settle down. And where communities think councils have got some stretches wrong, there'll be an opportunity to reflect and to revisit. We will carry out a light-touch review of the exemptions criteria after the change has had a chance to bed in, where this can be looked at again if there are problems. But we do expect, based on the experience in the pilots, that the new approach will be welcomed by local communities. It will take a while to adjust. As a driver, I find driving at 20 mph feels slower. But just as lots of people didn't like wearing a seat belt as first, people adjust. And as people adjust, we'll be taking a proportional approach to enforcement. Excessive speeders will be fined and given points, but while drivers are getting used to the new 20 mph limit, and if they are not breaching it excessively, they will be offered roadside engagement sessions, where available, with GoSafe and the fire and rescue services, as an alternative to prosecution.

Now, I know there are concerns that the new speed limit will add significantly to journey times. The early data from the trials shows that the new limit has succeeded in reducing average speed limits without a significant impact on journey times. This is because most delays occur at traffic lights and at junctions. I'm sure we've all been overtaken by a car only to meet them again at the next set of lights. At 20 mph there is less breaking and less speeding up. That not only reduces harmful particulates from tyres and breaks, which helps air quality, but also means that the average journey is only about 1 minute longer. And it's more efficient. A steady 20 mph for many cars will achieve better fuel consumption and use less energy. But most importantly, Llywydd, it will save lives. For all the discomfort of change, we must not lose sight that this will reduce deaths, it will improve the quality of life in communities by cutting noise pollution, which is the second-greatest harm to public health, and it will feel safer, which will lead to increased levels of walking and cycling. And there is strong evidence to support each of these points. That's why Wales is following Spain to make 20 mph the default speed limit on local streets. And others will follow. This is all part of our vision of making Wales stronger, fairer and greener. And I'm confident that we will look back at this change with pride. Diolch.

Photo of Natasha Asghar Natasha Asghar Conservative 4:25, 12 September 2023

Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your statement this afternoon on your deeply unpopular 20 mph pet project. It's no secret here, and I've been saying since day one, that I, alongside my colleagues, the Welsh Conservatives, have no problem with 20 mph being outside schools, places of worship, high streets—places where they're needed. But I'm afraid my position on this hasn't changed over the summer, much to your disappointment I'm sure. I cannot, will not and have not ever supported a blanket 20 mph speed limit across Wales. If anything, after talking to countless residents and businesses, and listening to the fresh and concerning details coming out in relation to your scheme, my opposition has in fact grown over recess.

You and the First Minister keep referring to Spain in many of your interviews, and also today in the Senedd, and also the results that they've seen. Just for everyone's knowledge, when Spain introduced similar changes, COVID was rife at that time. Everything had come to a sharp halt. Given that we were in the thick of COVID, just how reliable is the evidence that you have used from Spain, going forward? And if you've been to Spain, you would have seen their public transport infrastructure, and please take a minute to look outside what we have here in Wales—you cannot make the comparison that we have the roads, we have the public transport infrastructure to manage the 20 mph speed limits you're brining into place.

Also in your statement, you mention a taskforce made up of the likes of the FSB and Road Haulage Association, and a report that they produced recommending changing the default speed limit. Well, Deputy Minister, I actually spoke to some of the heads of the Road Haulage Association just this afternoon before I came into this Chamber, and they told me, in no uncertain terms, they didn't support in any way making the default 20 mph limit across Wales. They stood by the message, exactly what I've been saying, that they support targeted action outside specific areas, such as schools, playgrounds et cetera, but never a blanket move. Other participants who were in that group as well also felt that it was more of a steering group, where participants had to follow your agenda of 20 mph all across Wales, and not have a say into what they felt was right and the way forward. [Interruption.] That's absolutely accurate. Deputy Minister, are you misconstruing reality in a bid to dress up this unwanted and flawed policy?

Only last week we discovered that the Welsh Government had no plans whatsoever to monitor the impact of this 20 mph scheme on neighbouring roads. How will the Welsh Government be able to determine whether it has increased congestion or what impact the scheme has had on safety and air pollution, going forward? Why won't you be monitoring the impact, Deputy Minister? Are you worried about what it might actually uncover? And would you much rather prefer to hide from facts, going forward?

If this blanket pet project does go ahead, and I sincerely hope it doesn't, at the very least it should be properly monitored and reviewed. As we're on the topic of monitoring, Deputy Minister, have you been monitoring the success of your marketing campaign? Because, as far as I can tell, it's been one epic failure. So, just how effective has your campaign been? And have you been advertising the change across the border in England, as I fear many who will be here and visiting Wales, going forward, will indeed be unaware of this blanket 20 mph speed limit, going forward?

My inbox has been inundated, and I cannot underestimate and tell you how full it's been, with e-mails from constituents airing their concerns about the 20 mph limit going forward. You can all stand here today, specifically you, Deputy Minister, and say that the public are on board and perhaps support this move, but the reality is they do not support this move. The majority do not want this to go forward. In fact, a poll conducted by ITV Wales found that almost two thirds of people are against this change. I know my leader, Andrew R.T. Davies, said this earlier.

Deputy Minister, I have a long list of constituents who have complained to me, and I feel it might be beneficial for you to read what many of them said to me, and to perhaps get a better understanding of how your policy will in fact impact them every single day, going forward. So, what's the best e-mail address to reach you on, Deputy Minister, as I'm going to start sending each and every single one of their concerns to you so you can actually gain a full flavour of what the mood is on the ground? And rather than being missing in action, or MIA as I like to call what you've been doing all summer in relation to this policy, it would be good for you to actually speak to the residents and try and defend your policy rather than going to those areas where you know you're going to actually get support for it. Of course, Deputy Minister, it's also not too late for you to hold your hands up, admit you made a mistake—something you're all too familiar with—and stop this roll-out from going forward.

I want to make someone aware of something very important today. An e-mail was sent out by a local authority in north Wales to a resident, and I'm going to quote it word for word for all of you today: 'Over the next 12 to 18 months, further Welsh Government guidance is being provided to enable further speed changes to be reviewed, for example, for 40 mph, 50 mph, and national speed limit roads.' Now, I'll be honest, this set my alarm bells ringing even more so than before, because I want to know: is 20 mph just the tip of the iceberg, and are you planning even more drastic changes going forward when it comes to speed limits?

Clarity, Deputy Minister, is very much needed, and it's needed now. You say you will look back at this as a change with pride. You are, in fact, going ahead to damage the economy, thrashing people's livelihoods, and hampering emergency services' response times going forward. I'm not sure this is something to be proud of, Deputy Minister, but, if you are so confident in your policy, can I get assurance from you today that your Labour MSs will not be whipped for the Welsh Conservative debate tomorrow calling for this policy to be scrapped and that they can vote how they see fit rather than toeing the party line? Thank you so much, Presiding Officer.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:31, 12 September 2023

Well, as ever, I regret the tone with which Natasha Asghar makes her contribution on this serious matter. Let me try and deal with a number of issues that she put. She says, again, that she has no problem with the slower speeds outside schools. Eighty per cent of children do not get killed outside of schools, so it's their journey to school that we need to think about, not just immediately outside of their school. So, the proposal she has put forward would not work, and it was not supported by the taskforce. Let me just remind her again, okay: on 15 July 2020, this Chamber voted for the taskforce report, which included the default speed limit in the body of the text, and Paul Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservative group, voted for that, as did Janet Finch-Saunders, as did Russell George, as did Laura Jones, along with other Members who are no longer here. They voted explicitly for the fundamental approach we're now taking, an approach you're now trying to characterise as 'blanket'. If it was blanket, why did they support it? Because it was quite explicit in the motion that this was the approach that we were taking. So, there's just some hypocrisy here; they've turned tail because they can see it's unpopular with some and they want to be at the head of yet another band wagon. She says she will support them where it's needed. Well, this approach follows the UN Stockholm declaration on road safety that says that, where people and traffic mix, the speed limit should be 20 mph. That's where it's needed, that's where this will apply, and local authorities have the discretion to change it.

Now, she also makes a claim—and we heard it earlier—about emergency services being put at a disadvantage from this, and I just want to quote to you from a statement from the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, who say that they support this policy and this approach. They said: 'We have been asked whether this will affect on-call firefighter response times. Our on-call firefighters live or work at various locations within our communities, and their response times vary accordingly. Not all of them will travel exclusively by car, nor will they commute solely on roads where a 20 mph limit will be applied. Therefore, we do not foresee these changes adversely affecting our overall response times, and we will review their impact in due course.' And they are going to be reviewing and collecting data over the next six months and carrying out a robust evaluation to see if that is, in fact, the case. That is a sensible approach.

We are also going to be monitoring and reviewing, and if it turns out there are roads that have been given the 20 mph, not an exemption, and that's not appropriate, then the local authorities can change them, as we can on the trunk roads. So, I really don't understand quite what the drama is other than to whip up opposition and yet again pursue a culture war, wedge issue search, which the Conservatives are now obsessed with, even though it doesn't deliver them any benefits; the opinion polls still show them profoundly unpopular, so you'd think they might change tack. As Janet Finch-Saunders said in that debate in 2020:

'The de-facto standard for safer and people-friendly streets is now 20mph with higher limits only where they can be justified.'

And we support that approach. It's a shame that she has changed her mind.

I just want to touch briefly on the issue of cost to the economy, which is another one of the issues the Conservatives have been going big on on social media. Now, I understand the headline figure that's been published in the explanatory memorandum is arresting, but it's really not what seems. Now, we have to publish an estimate of costs and benefits, and we have to use the approach set out in the UK Treasury's Green Book for evaluating schemes. And we have to try and put a financial value to this, but, of course, there are some things you cannot measure: the grief to a family of a child killed on the street; the social value of meeting neighbours in the street and chatting; the absence of stress from engine noise that is louder in a street with a 30 mph limit. You can't measure those. Those things aren't captured by the Treasury Green Book, and it measures what it can. And it tries to put a monetary value on what it can measure, which, again, is arbitrary. And as the explanatory memorandum makes clear, there's a lot of uncertainty about these figures that they are claiming as fact, and Andrew R.T. Davies was even claiming an even higher, absurdly inflated figure this afternoon.

Now, in transport schemes, the way they try and measure this economic impact is around estimated value to the economy from journey times. Now, the approach generally assumes that the faster people get to places, it's better for the economy. Now, that will be true of some journeys, for example, just-in-time deliveries, but not true about others, like visiting your granny. Now, our analysis shows that individual journeys will, on average, be affected by one minute, and most journeys by less than two minutes. That's what the evaluation shows—very small and very hard to reliably monetise. But the Green Book requires us to add up every minute lost, to multiply it by 30, because this analysis has to cover a period of 30 years, and that's where this figure of a £4.5 billion impact on the economy comes from.

But, as the explanatory memorandum says:

'It is important to note that there are a number of wider benefits such as reduced noise pollution, broader impacts health impacts from active travel, increased social interactions, retail spending and land values that are not included in this calculation. Moreover the increases in individuals’ travel time are likely to be small and so there is uncertainty about the opportunity cost of that time.'

We spend more time being held up in customs than we are going to be held up on these journeys, and we don't measure that cost to the economy. I don't hear the Conservatives screaming about the cost of the UK Government's security policies on businesses. This does not bear scrutiny. They don't care, do they? They don't care about the facts or evidence-led debate, because all they want to do is to wind people up and press buttons because they don't have to govern, and the attitude and recklessness they're showing on this shows thank God for that.

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru 4:37, 12 September 2023


Thank you, Minister, for the statement. I congratulate you on the way that you responded in many ways to some of the points that have been made. We have to change the way in which we live if we want to take the risk of air pollution seriously, and the risk of suffering you have point out—the risk of deaths on the road. We have to act. And yes, that will mean making difficult changes, changing some of the things that we have become accustomed to. So, I support the need for a change in the speed limit in many places across Wales. That's why we as a party supported this policy. Of course, we need to make sure that we listen to communities and that councils do receive the support that they need to make sure that unsuitable speed limits are not introduced.

May I first ask, therefore, whether the Government will review the support that's available to local government, and set out what discussions they have had with local councils, to work out why so many examples of decisions made appear to be unsuitable and why that has happened? Public support is required, of course, for changes of this kind. And yes, the loudest voices do disagree with decisions such as these, but a great many people are in favour of making changes that will benefit our health, the health of our children and the health of our planet. What plans do you have to improve the dialogue between the public and those who make decisions to perhaps deepen the understanding of each other's perspectives? Because I think that doing something constructive like that would be very beneficial.

But I would just like to remind the Chamber that nuances are important. The aims underpinning this policy are to be commended. This will save lives. And yes, communication does need to be improved, support does need to be strengthened and we need to look again and adjust some decisions. But we can't carry on living our lives by pretending that air pollution doesn't exist, and we can't go on thinking that road accidents and children dying is just a price that needs to be paid. To do such a thing would be to neglect our duty to our children, and it would neglect our duty to forthcoming generations. 

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:40, 12 September 2023

Diolch. Well, I agree that local highway authorities do need to listen and they do need to consult, and that has been a mixed picture across Wales, I think, if we're fair about it. One of the clear conclusions of the pilot in Buckley in Flintshire was that not enough consultation was done in advance of the changes being brought in, and we have sought to learn from that. We had intended a wider and deeper consultation process. I'm afraid that COVID did have a real impact on the time available and the ability of local authorities to do this. Now, let's be fair to local authorities. These are small departments, they are working with a range of other pressures. It's one of the reasons why we've delayed the introduction of the pavement parking consultation, because it would be the same people involved in doing that change too, and they have done their best in difficult circumstances.

We know the culture in local authorities in some areas is not as open as it could be, and is not as engaging as it could be. Some local authorities have simply consulted local ward members. Others have also consulted community councils. Some have put it up on their website and had a small number of responses. I would freely acknowledge that the consultation has not been as widespread as ideally I would have liked to have seen, but I completely understand the pressures local authorities are under.

But this isn't the last word on the matter. What we're doing is changing the default. Local authorities now, as they were before, continue, as their local highway authorities, to decide the appropriate speed on the roads under their control. We've set out guidance of how that can be done, and, where there is a good case, they are able to change the speed. So, that is now the normal function of a local authority; all we've done is change the underlying default. We've not set this in stone, and it's for local communities, through the normal processes, to make representations to their local authorities where they think that can be changed. 

Obviously, there will be areas where they've got it wrong. It would be absurd to expect that not to happen, and I hope that they'll show the flexibility and humility to be willing to make that change, as we will as the trunk road agents for Wales. There's a balance to be struck, because we do want a consistent approach across Wales. We need to recognise that there are some people who will be opposed to this, but many people who will be supportive. So, for every exception there has been, there have been objections at a local level from people who don't want there to be an exception and want it to be 20 mph. So, these are difficult judgments, and, obviously, politics being politics, there are opportunists who want to take advantage of that, despite the evidence. I regret to say that Councillor Lindsay Whittle in Caerphilly has denigrated this policy as well, so we are finding people across all parties in all parts of Wales who are not doing as we would wish to see on this.

But I think the final point that Delyth Jewell made about committing to review the exceptions guidance I think is right, and we will do that. It'll be a light-touch review; we want exceptions to be tidying-up exercises, not wholesale changes, but I think it's absolutely right that we keep this under review.  

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour 4:43, 12 September 2023

We have a policy, which I fully support, that has been badly explained by the Welsh Government and wilfully misinterpreted by the Conservative Party. Put simply, it is not possible to drive at 30 mph safely, if at all, in areas with terraced houses, or on estates. Most effectively become single-track roads with passing points, due to parked cars on both sides of the road. In Swansea, as far as I can see, no A-roads will be limited to 20 mph. The only roads you can sometimes travel on at 30 mph are the B-roads, but in Swansea East these either have schools on them or houses coming out straight onto the road. So, this is something that is a big decision to make, if you are going to take them back to 30 mph, because there's a danger of coming into contact with people. 

I have two questions. Can the Minister again confirm that emergency vehicles attending emergencies do not need to follow speed limits? That's a misapprehension that's been spread fully by a number of people. And does the Minister expect traffic lights at some junctions to be turned off, because it will be easier to join B-roads from estate roads? And finally, the point I’d like to make is: if you want to know what really slows traffic down, drive towards somewhere all at a halt because there’s been an accident. If you have fewer accidents, you’ll move faster.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:45, 12 September 2023

Thank you. Yes, I think that’s a very commonsense way of looking at the situation. We shouldn’t underestimate what a significant change to the landscape this is, and it will have all sorts of ripple effects. So, for example, now that we are changing the default, the whole set of measurements used by road safety engineers as to when to put in railings and when to look at sight lines alters, because the traffic will be travelling at a slower speed, and therefore visibility and the ability of drivers to react will also change. So, this will have a wider impact that I think will be for the good in terms of our urban environment.

He is absolutely right that the idea that this is going to affect the emergency services is yet another false claim that is being made and supported by the Conservatives. Blue-light emergency services are not subject to speed limits and, as I mentioned earlier, the question of staff travelling to call-outs is something we’ll continue to monitor, but at the moment the police service and the other services are not telling us that they have any undue concerns. But I think it’s only reasonable for us to say there are a great deal of unknowns here, and we will have to keep this under review, and we will follow the evidence.

I know claims have been made about the impact on bus journeys, for example, and we’ve asked bus companies to provide us with data on that. I note that the average speed, for example, of a Cardiff bus is 8 mph. So, it seems unlikely to me this is going to have a significant impact, but if it turns out to be the case, then we want to look at that and we want to review and reflect on how we can make those changes. I think this can all be dealt with in a very sensible, grown-up, measured way, and the benefits, as Mike Hedges said, are very clear.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative 4:46, 12 September 2023

Deputy Minister, thank you for your statement this afternoon, and thank you also for acknowledging this hugely significant measure and the impact this will have on people up and down Wales. I believe one of your opening lines was that this is the biggest step change for a generation. You acknowledged also in your statement the work of local authorities with this roll-out, so thank you for doing that, and Delyth Jewell also acknowledged and outlined some of her concerns about the support for local authorities going forward. So, my first question is really about that ongoing engagement that you expect to have with those local authorities regarding 20 mph, and how you think that engagement may look, and how you’re going to be able to sustain it and share best practice—as you said, there are different approaches being taken across Wales, particularly in the opening months of this new policy being implemented—so we don’t see those local authorities potentially being left hanging dry with perhaps the fallout from some of this.

Additionally, Deputy Minister, I’m interested to hear what expectations you might have around people’s compliance with the speed reduction. You’ll be aware, although you may not particularly like the research, that research from Cambridge University and Queen’s University Belfast has shown that after a year of 20 mph being implemented in Belfast, traffic speeds fell by 0.2 mph. So, clearly, compliance may be an issue in some areas. You have acknowledged in your statement some of the enforcement activity that will take place, but I’m interested to know how that compliance, aside from enforcement, will be monitored by you, and how that approach will vary across Wales. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:48, 12 September 2023

Thank you very much for those questions. So, we absolutely continue to work closely with local authorities. I met with leaders again last week and was pleasantly surprised, I must say, by the positive response of the meeting. So, the officers obviously are meeting regularly. We are doing this in partnership, and absolutely there is good practice to share, not least from communications and engagement.

In terms of compliance, I think that is a very good question. The study from Belfast he’s quoting does not quite tell the story that he’s suggesting it does. That was a study of an existing 20 mph in an isolated network in the city of Belfast, and what that study concluded was that it would be better to have an area-wide approach, like we’re doing, which would be well-marketed, which is what we’re doing, and to enforce in an education-first way, which is what we’re doing. So, I think we’ve learnt from that Belfast study, so he quotes it in a way to knock down our policy, but I don’t think that is a correct interpretation of what it says.

Obviously speed limits, all speed limits, are not fully complied with now. We all know that as drivers, and we’re not going to suddenly see next Monday everybody driving at 20 mph. You know, let’s be realistic about that. But what we will see, I’m confident, because we've seen it elsewhere in the pilots, is that average speeds do fall. And one of the big wins of a 20 mph speed limit is that the number of people doing over 30 mph falls dramatically. So, just as at the moment, in many cases, in a 30 mph zone, people do 40 mph, we'll see in a 20 mph people doing more than 20 mph, but the extreme speeds will fall dramatically, and that's where one of the big road safety wins comes from. We also know that for every 1 mph drop in the average speed limit, there is a corresponding 6 per cent drop in casualties. So, even in cases where there is not great compliance, but the average does fall, that is still a win for community safety and for reducing deaths.

As I said in the statement, we're adopting, with the police, who we worked really well with through this process, I think a proportionate response, where we're not going to come down like a tonne of bricks on people doing between 20 mph and 30 mph as it beds in—we'll obviously tighten that up as time goes on. People who are doing over 30 mph will have points and they will have a fine, but below 30 mph where there are speed measurements in place, where there are roadside checks, people will be offered education. And certainly, where we've piloted it in Llanelli, in my own constituency, where schoolchildren have been involved with GoSafe in stopping motorists and giving them the choice, 'You can either have points or you can answer questions from the schoolchildren', it's been a very sobering and very effective process, where they've asked them, 'Do you realise that you're driving in a way that endangers my life?' And many motorists leaving that conversation have done so in tears and changed their behaviour in the future. So, I'd like to see more interventions like that, rather than simply slapping fines on people, but if people clearly are breaking the law, then they are liable to be punished for breaking the law. But I think what we'll see is it bed in.

We've certainly seen from Spain that many of the claims that were made in advance—many of them made here today—did not come to pass. We will see a lower average speed, we will not see full compliance in the first instance, but that is something, then, that we work on with GoSafe and with communities to bring that down over time.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 4:52, 12 September 2023

First, I'd like to congratulate the Minister on having the courage of his convictions and doing what needs to be done. We have a climate emergency and we need to reduce our speed limits and we need to ensure that we make that transition out of cars into active travel and ensure that we meet our 58 per cent reduction by 2030, which is not very far off.

So, I'd also like to disagree with Mike Hedges, because I think that this leaflet, which I assume is being delivered to all households—

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

—is really excellent in that it's really clear and you don't need to be a first-language English speaker to understand it, as the graphics tell you exactly what's happening and how to understand where it's 20 mph.

My main question, Minister, is really around the approaches that local authorities have made, because some have paid more attention to this than others. Certainly Cardiff haven't waited for 17 September to get on with implementing 20 mph zones. So, in my constituency, there won't actually be very much change in the road signage or in the roads that are already designated 20 mph, but there will be a progressive change in behaviour, as people realise that this is now the way we do things. So, I just wondered what action you plan to take with local authorities that really haven't paid as much attention to their responsibility to ensure that, for those roads that are not suitable for 20 mph—i.e. the roads that you wouldn't allow your child to play on—they are making the right changes, within the timescale, that are not going to undermine the law. 

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:54, 12 September 2023

Thank you for your comments. I must commend Cardiff Council for the leadership they have shown over a number of years in bringing in a large number of 20 mph speed limits across the urban areas of the city. They have led the way in that and they welcome the fact that the rest of Wales will now follow suit. Of course, the advantage of doing it the way we've done it—and this is a point that I remember John Griffiths, Joyce Watson and others making in the early debates we had, and David Melding too—is that this is a much more efficient and cost-effective way of bringing about change, by having a default change, because if you had to bring in a traffic regulation Order for each street—so, this is the Conservative recommendation approach, of only doing it where they perceive it's needed—that's a very expensive and very inefficient way of doing it. Doing it default-wise is a much cleverer and more cost-effective way of doing it.

I hope Cardiff will gain the benefit as this now becomes normalised behaviour. That, I think, is the big win of this, if we can change what feels normal, just as it no longer feels normal to light up a cigarette in a pub, even though at the time there were huge claims as to the damage that would cause—and, indeed, the Conservatives were on the wrong side of that as well. It is now normal behaviour not to do that, just as it is normal to put a seatbelt on, when it wasn't normal and there was huge resistance to that too. So, I'm hopeful that, over time, this will change what is considered normal in the way we travel around areas where people live.

One of the things about having a default approach is that people will know where they stand with the speed limits in their area, because people often say at the moment they're confused as to what the speed limit is. So, from Sunday, where you see street lights and there's not a 30 mph speed limit, it is 20 mph. So, see street lights, think 20 mph is the clear piece of advice we can give our constituents, and that'll be far easier to follow.

In terms of accountability, local authorities are sovereign in this regard: they are the local highway authorities. In law, they are responsible for local roads. We've set a national framework. So, it's not for us to hold them to account, it's for their local voters to hold them to account and for local councillors to hold them to account. We've set out a set of guidelines, which are freely available online, for where an exception would be justified. But, essentially, if you are within 200m of houses, schools, hospitals or community facilities, then 20 mph is appropriate, unless there is a good case to not do that, and that's a decision they're best placed to make. I daresay there will be some variability, but that's an issue of local accountability, not for us to try and micromanage. We've set a clear framework, we've set out a really clear evidence base behind it, and I think, over time, the demands for more 20 mph limits, to reduce the exceptions, will grow.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 4:57, 12 September 2023

Thank you very much for your statement this afternoon, Deputy Minister, and you may wish to note that 17 September is my birthday, so the best day of the year has now become the day that 30 mph died in Wales.

Now, in your statements and in Government communications, Deputy Minister, you seem keen to stress that this isn't a blanket programme. Well, I'm afraid it is, particularly in my constituency where the list of exemptions is pitifully low, leaving 30 mph arterial roads in the Vale of Clwyd, such as Rhuddlan Road in Rhyl, Marine Road in Prestatyn, the Meliden dip, the Roe in St Asaph and many more to the dismal prospect of travelling on straight, clear roads at 20 mph, leading to increased driver frustration and consequential economic issues in my constituency, where I've not spoken to one member of the public, service or business in Denbighshire who supports this draconian policy.

So, can the Deputy Minister describe the assessment process of reviewing and increasing the list of exemptions for main arterial roads? And what discussions have or will you conduct with Denbighshire County Council to gauge the reaction to the implementation in the following weeks and months after 17 September, to ensure that my constituents' voices are heard and we can establish a list of local exemptions in Denbighshire that are reflective of the public mood? We do live in a democracy, after all.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 4:58, 12 September 2023

He started by saying that 17 September will be the day that 30 mph died, and as Llyr Gruffydd correctly said, as opposed to children dying. I think that really does answer the force of the Member's contribution. He is entitled to his view, of course, but I disagree with him, as did Paul Davies, Russell George, Janet Finch-Saunders and Laura Jones when they voted in favour of a default speed limit approach on 15 July 2020.

To answer his only serious question, the exceptions criteria are set out in the document that is available on the Welsh Government website. Local authorities have applied those, we've not been notified of any significant problems, and certainly Denbighshire hasn't raised any concerns. If concerns emerge, local authorities already have the discretion to make those changes. That is why we've seen the changes in Buckley, that is why we've seen the changes in Caldicot, that is why we've seen the changes on the maps being produced elsewhere. So, the power and discretion are absolutely there, because if they weren't, how could they have done it? But if it does turn out that further changes are required, then we’ll have a constructive dialogue about that.

Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour 5:00, 12 September 2023

Minister, in my experience, people readily understand that if a child or another person is hit by a vehicle at 30 mph, the likelihood of death or serious injury is far greater than it would be at 20 mph. And of course, people know as drivers that it’s much easier to stop at 20 mph if somebody does step into the road in front of you than it would be at 30 mph. I think people readily understand that. But of course, what they want to see is 20 mph on the right roads, and that’s why I very much welcome what you’ve said about getting the policy right and making sure that the exceptions are on the right roads and that there is monitoring and that it is an ongoing process. I very much welcome that.

Just on the wider picture as we move forward—because I think 20 mph will have ongoing and building support as we go forward and it beds in—the wider picture for us locally in Newport, Minister, is around the Burns agenda and making sure that active travel and public transport, integrated transport, are strengthened and complemented by the 20 mph policy. I just wonder if you could say a little bit as we move forward about that wider picture and making sure that we make the necessary progress with the Burns recommendations.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 5:01, 12 September 2023

Thank you very much. Again, I just want to acknowledge the leadership that you have shown in this agenda from the beginning. In fact, as I’ve reflected before, the first meeting I had as a Minister some four and a half years ago was with you and Rod King from the 20’s Plenty campaign to make the case for this approach. I should also echo the tribute to Rod King and to the others—Phil Jones and others—who served on the steering group with us, to help us guide through this policy; their support has been invaluable.

He’s absolutely right about appropriateness on the right roads, and if councils are obdurate about it, we do risk discrediting the agenda and compliance will be low. And I think that’s the balance that needs to be struck. He’s absolutely right about the importance of this dovetailing the active travel agenda; we know this is probably the most significant thing we can do to encourage levels of cycling and walking. The evidence shows a significant increase in levels of cycling and walking where there is 20 mph—and that’s true in London, in Edinburgh, in Spain too, as well as in our pilot area. So, I think we can be confident that that will emerge, because it simply feels so much safer, and obviously the consequences of collisions occurring are lessened as well. But it changes the psychology of an area, and I think that is hard to measure and hard to prove, but I think we’ll all know it when we see it. I think this absolutely complements the Burns agenda, and we continue to take that forward.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 5:03, 12 September 2023

I’d better declare my interest as a member of several related cross-party groups, but also as a driver, as a cyclist, and as a man-about-town pedestrian in my local constituency regularly, and also as a father of three boys as well. I thank him for stressing in his remarks today the lives saved, the serious life-changing injuries that will be prevented by driving just a little bit slower. BCBC and RCT in my area consulted very publicly, very widely on this. I note they put forward some very sensible local exemptions. But will he confirm once again, so that everybody is clear in this Chamber, that there will indeed be an opportunity, when this has bedded down, for a light-touch review, so if there are much-needed sensible adjustments to be made, they will be made? This isn’t a blanket 20 mph, despite what the opposition say publicly; this is a sensible policy that will save lives, and the saving lives did not feature in the opening remarks of the frontbench spokesman.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 5:04, 12 September 2023

I do struggle to understand whether or not the Conservatives simply don’t understand the nuance of this policy, or they do understand it and choose to deliberately misrepresent it for cynical political ends. I oscillate between those two, if I’m honest. But what we do know is they’re wrong, and the evidence speaks for itself. Huw Irranca-Davies is absolutely right, and again his leadership role as chair of the cross-party group on active travel has been important in adding support and joining this with other agendas too. It will be appropriate for us to monitor how this works in practice; it is a very, very, significant change, and it would be naive of us to assume that it’s going to be flawless. We currently feel—and the pilots have demonstrated our confidence in this judgment—that the changes can be made at a local level. We feel there is sufficient discretion in the current exemptions criteria to allow that to happen. There is nervousness amongst some local authorities, and legal advice that makes them nervous about how far they're willing to stray from the exact letter of the guidance, even though we have built in discretion there. And as I say, in Flintshire, Buckley—

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

This is a statement, Joyce Watson. It's the first day back, so forgiveness—.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

—has demonstrated that. But if we find, and local authorities find, that they require greater reassurance from a change in the wording, then we will absolutely consider that, and I think we just need to apply common sense to the way this is implemented.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru


I thank the Minister