Posted: Sat 25th May 2024

Former minister admits ‘mistakes were made’ introducing Wales’ controversial 20mph limit

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A former minister has admitted mistakes were made introducing Wales’ controversial default 20mph speed limit.

Lee Waters, who left his post as transport minister in March, told MSs a record-breaking petition, signed by nearly half a million people, made the Welsh Government sit up and take notice.

During a Senedd debate prompted by the petition, he said the Welsh Government had expected pushback, but the intensity of opposition was greater than anticipated.

He said: “Mistakes were made, particularly in not doing genuine consultation in communities and in the uneven, inflexible way the guidance was interpreted in some parts of Wales and I’m prepared to accept my role in all that.

“But let the two-thirds of members of this Senedd who supported a default 20mph limit remember this – people are alive today because of this law, together we have saved lives.”

‘Unprecedented’

The Labour MS criticised “deliberate misinformation” from opposition members “designed to sow confusion”, raising the example of the incorrect depiction of a “blanket” policy.

Jack Sargeant led the debate on the petition, which was submitted by Mark Baker and signed by 469,571 people – the most of any in the Welsh Parliament’s 25 years.

Mr Sargeant, who chairs the petitions committee, told the Senedd more than 17,000 people in his own Alyn and Deeside constituency added their names in support.

“There has been an unprecedented response to this petition,” he said. “And I congratulate the petitioner for amassing the highest number of signatures the Senedd has seen.”

Mr Sargeant welcomed a change in direction from the Welsh Government which will see some roads revert to 30mph – with 20mph targeted at schools, hospitals and nurseries.

‘Foolish idea’

The Labour backbencher said the petition has inspired many more, with twice as many submitted in the week that followed than would normally be submitted in a month.

In his petition on the “disastrous” policy, Mr Baker said: “The Welsh Government was put there by the people of Wales. We are your boss! We demand this foolish idea be stopped.”

Natasha Asghar said the sheer number of people who signed the petition in such a short space of time shows the strength of feeling among the public.

The Conservatives’ shadow transport secretary criticised the “draconian, divisive” policy, calling for it to be scrapped and claiming it will deal a £9bn blow to the Welsh economy.

Ms Asghar, who represents South East Wales, said the policy is hampering the emergency services and public transport as she warned Wales is being brought to a standstill.

‘Disastrous’

Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru’s shadow transport secretary, agreed that many roads were wrongly designated as 20mph, eroding public support for the policy.

Ms Jewell told the chamber or Siambr: “While the implementation of this plan was flawed, the idea behind the policy itself was not.”

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader recalled how a little girl, who lived in a nearby village while she was growing up, was killed in a car accident.

Ms Jewell said the policy will save lives and stop avoidable disasters ruining people’s lives.

The South Wales East MS said: “We talk about disastrous, surely that is more fitting for the pain inflicted on a family that loses a child … the pain inflicted on a driver?”

‘Pig’s ear’

Caerphilly MS Hefin David praised the “political bravery” of Mr Waters for bringing forward a policy that will leave a legacy of saving lives.

John Griffiths, a fellow Labour backbencher, who represents Newport East, said people increasingly want to see greater road safety.

Meanwhile, Peter Fox welcomed a rethink by Welsh ministers but warned: “As my father used to say, it’s difficult to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.”

The Conservative criticised the default 20mph policy for “wreaking havoc” in his Monmouth constituency, saying air pollution has severely increased.

Gareth Davies, a fellow Tory, said the speed limit is similarly causing chaos in north Wales.

‘Polarising’

Ken Skates, who has met the petitioner since coming into post, recognised the range of voices speaking out in favour and against the policy.

Wales’ transport secretary said: “We cannot escape the fact that 20mph has served to polarise communities. That’s why I have placed such an emphasis on listening.”

Mr Skates, who represents Clwyd South, vowed to learn the lessons from the roll-out of 20mph, stressing the importance of ensuring citizens’ voices are at the heart of policy.

He said: “There are differences in opinion but we have much more in common than divides us and I’m determined to continue that conversation in the weeks and months ahead.”

Vowing to follow the evidence and defuse “polarising culture wars”, Mr Skates said evidence around the world shows reducing speed limits leads to a reduction in accidents.

‘History books’

Peredur Owen Griffiths, a member of the petitions committee, said the policy has frustrated a great many people as he reassured the petitioners that their voices have been heard.

Closing the debate on May 22, he said: “Yesterday, in this Siambr, Jack Sargeant spoke in praise of a petition from 2012 that had finally achieved its aim – CCTV in slaughterhouses.

“It is not always immediately clear what the impact of a petition has been and the influence it has had.

“It will take a few more months and maybe years for the dust to fully settle on this policy and for the kinks to be ironed out.

“But I am sure in the future when history books are written looking back on the Sixth Senedd, this policy and the petition that emerged to challenge it, will be more than just a footnote.”

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter



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