20mph review finds ‘most roads don’t need reassessing’


Steve Duffy,BBC Wales News

Getty Images 20mph roadGetty Images

The review said the guidance would have to be a “trade-off between benefits and disbenefits” of switching back some roads to 30mph

A review into guidance on 20mph speed limits in Wales has concluded that most roads will not need to be reassessed.

But it suggests 30mph exceptions might apply to main roads outside urban centres or high streets, and on bus or key transport routes which have seen journey times rise significantly.

Transport Secretary Ken Skates said proposals would be published before the summer although it is “likely to take several months” before we see results of changes.

A default 20mph speed limit came in last September, covering 37% of the Welsh road network, but has proved controversial.

The review found a “broad consensus” that 20mph was the right speed limit for residential roads which were not of strategic importance.

But it admitted difficulties on main roads which were shared by buses, freight and delivery drivers.

That was set against roads which had housing, shops and schools and were used by cyclists and pedestrians.

This would “inevitably mean weighing different obligations and priorities the highway authorities have”, the report said.

Already on Welsh roads, some highways authorities have brought in more 30mph exceptions than others.

In Swansea, 10.5% of the old 30mph network remained at that speed limit instead of defaulting to 20mph.

But that happened on only 1.3% of similar roads in Wrexham.

The review team, led by transport consultant Phil Jones, has been looking at the experiences in a mix of urban and rural UK areas with extensive 20mph limits, including Edinburgh, Bristol and Witney in Oxfordshire.

It has also looked further afield at examples in Switzerland and Spain.

It found Swansea had brought in 20mph in a similar way as the patterns found in Edinburgh and Bristol.

Smaller towns in Wales were similar to those it had seen in market towns in England and the Scottish borders.

The review team said it wants the guidance to offer flexibility to consider local circumstances.

Highways authorities needed the guidance to help them “strike the right balance” between the risk of increased casualties, noise and discouragement to cycling and walking and reducing travel times and economic benefits on important routes.

Factors to consider include providing low cost, suitable segregated facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, bus priority lanes and changing entrances to schools away from main roads.

As well as strategic routes, exceptions might also apply to areas such as industrial estates.

The Welsh government, under new First Minister Vaughan Gething, last month promised that some roads would go back to 30mph – but the final decisions would rest with highways authorities.

The policy has proved controversial since it was first introduced and produced a backlash.

The review team acknowledged the difficulties in writing the guidance and the range of views it received from organisations in a questionnaire were “varied and often opposing”.

It found a “fairly modest” impact on travel time for the Welsh ambulance service but some effect on “amber” calls in urban areas.

There had been a “noticeable difference” in community first responders’ travel times.

Ken Skates

Ken Skates said the Welsh government was “committed to refining this policy”

It said a further issue to “potentially be included” in the guidance was the maximum distance or time anyone needed to travel on 20mph roads until they reached a higher speed limit road, regardless of their point of departure and arrival.

One stretch of an A-road in the Vale of Glamorgan had eight changes of speed limit in less than two miles (2.9km).

Since January, around 1,750 motorists have faced enforcement action for breaking the speed limit across Wales.

Meanwhile, early monitoring of air quality impact has so far proved inconclusive.

In response, Mr Skates said the report recognised the need for balance between “safety concerns and potential benefits of higher speeds” on key strategic or main roads.

“From September, we will continue to support highway authorities in assessing roads, making traffic regulation orders, and implementing changes on the ground,” he said.

“It is likely to take several months before we begin to see the results of this work.”

Mr Skates added: “The primary goal of the 20mph default policy is to save lives and reduce casualties on our roads.

“By listening to what people want for their communities, we are committed to refining this policy and ensuring appropriate speed limits on the right roads.”

Conservative transport spokeswoman Natasha Asghar said the report was “heavily stacked” to support the Welsh government’s position.

“This report is nothing more than a Welsh government smoke screen designed to strengthen their own position on 20mph,” she added.

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