First Minister defends 20mph rollout as speed limit petition hits record 175,000

Mark Drakeford has rejected calls to scrap the 20mph speed limit (PA)
Mark Drakeford has rejected calls to scrap the 20mph speed limit (PA)

The Welsh First Minister has rejected calls to scrap the controversial 20mph speed limit for residential roads in Wales after a record 175,000 people signed a petition against it.

On Sunday, Wales became the first country in the UK to drop the default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph for restricted roads.

Mark Drakeford said the decision had twice been approved by the Senedd and despite the record-breaking petition asking the Welsh Government to “rescind and remove the disastrous 20mph law” he would not be scrapping the policy.

The Welsh Government has said that cutting the speed limit would protect lives and save the NHS in Wales £92 million a year.

It is predicting the change would save up to 100 lives and 20,000 casualties in the first decade.

Not all 30mph roads will see their speed limits reduced as councils have the power to exempt certain roads from the scheme.

The project is costing around £33 million to implement and has proven controversial, with reports of the new 20mph signs being defaced in areas including Conwy, Gwynedd, Newport, Torfaen, Wrexham and Flintshire.

Mr Drakeford told Senedd members the cut in residential speed limits would save lives.

“That is why this Government will stick fast to the decision that we have made, endorsed twice on the floor of the Senedd, not by a simple majority, but by a super majority, because of the human stories that lie behind the decision we have made and will go on implementing here in Wales,” he said.

The Welsh Conservatives have opposed the scheme and cited Welsh Government documents that estimate the cost to the Welsh economy of increased journey times from lower average vehicle speeds at anywhere between £2.7 billion and £8.9 billion.

They want to see more “targeted measures” rather than the introduction of the default speed limit with exemptions, and likened it to the ultra low emission zone (Ulez) in London.

20mph speed limit sign
A petition is asking the Welsh Government to ‘rescind and remove the disastrous 20mph law’ (PA)

Mr Drakeford criticised Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Senedd Conservatives, for claiming the new limit was a “blanket ban”.

“Let me be clear once again because I heard voices on the Conservative benches once again claiming that this is a blanket ban,” he said.

“They know that it is not. It is a default speed limit, which is not the same as a blanket ban.

“I’m prepared to go on explaining this to the leader of the opposition but, as some people have already concluded, it’s not that he doesn’t understand, it’s just that he’s determined not to tell the truth, and that is a disgrace, an absolute disgrace, in someone who holds the office that he holds.

“The leader of the opposition appears to believe that by simply continuing to say something that is not true, he can make it true.

“It is a default 20mph speed limit, and then local authorities have the ability, and all local authorities have exercised this ability, to set other speed limits.

“If it were a blanket ban, they would not have been able to do that.

“That is why it is simply untrue to keep repeating, no matter how many times it is explained, no matter how many times the leader of the opposition knows that what he is saying is a distortion of the truth, the position is it is a default speed limit, with the ability of local authorities, which local authorities are exercising, to amend that speed limit on roads where they know that that is the right answer for their local populations.”

Conservative MS Tom Giffard referred to a number of people that had signed the petition and said he had received emails from constituents raising concerns about the impact upon their businesses.

“One of the reasons people will be opposing this scheme is because of the cost to our economy,” he said.

“The Government’s own figures show that it could be hit by up to £9 billion, and people know we can’t afford it, because after 25 years of Labour in Wales, we’re languishing at the bottom of league tables for economic prosperity.

“They used to want to aspire to bring us up to the UK average. Now, their only aspiration is stuffing 96 politicians in this place.

“People across the country won’t be able to receive the services that they rely on thanks to your Government’s actions.”

As more than 10,000 people have signed the petition, it will be sent to the Senedd’s petitions committee to consider for debate by members of the Senedd.