20mph speed limit change: Deputy Minister says “we got it wrong in Buckley”
The Welsh Government minister spearheading the 20mph speed limit change due to come into force in Wales later this year, has admitted they got it wrong in Buckley.
Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS has said it was a mistake to impose a blanket 20mph speed limit change to all roads in Buckley and the surrounding area.
From September 2023, Wales will transition the majority of its 30mph speed limits to 20mph, making the country one of the first globally to establish a default 20mph limit.
In the lead-up to the new legislation, eight communities were selected for the first phase of the national programme, where 20mph speed limits were introduced between July 2021 and May 2022.
Buckley, Mynydd Isa, New Brighton, Drury, Burntwood, Bryn y Baal, and Alltami were among the areas where the reduced speed restrictions were introduced on 28 February 2022.
However, the ‘trial’ sparked a fierce backlash in Buckley, with residents arguing that it has led to road rage incidents, as well as an increase in pollution and fuel costs.
Calls have been widespread for the main arterial roads through the town to return to 30mph after the blanket 20mph limit was imposed.
Following feedback, Flintshire Council reviewed several roads in and around Buckley, identifying ten that either meet an ‘exception’ criteria to the 20mph speed limit restriction or qualify for reassessment as 40mph zones.
These roads are now scheduled for a statutory consultation period in July.
Depending on the results, revised limits will be implemented on sections of those roads under review which include B5127 Liverpool Road, A5119 New Brighton, A549 Brunswick Road Chester Road, A549 Mold Road, and others.
After taking a drive through Buckley last week, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, spoke with Deeside.com.
He said, “Buckley was one of eight pilots. The whole purpose of a pilot is to test things and learn from them.”
“With Buckley, the decision was made not to have any of what we call ‘exceptions.’ So, the 20mph speed limit was applied to the whole area, rather than only some parts.”
“Now, I think that was a mistake. In a sense, it worked because we applied that approach, and that approach didn’t work.”
“It’s been a useful learning experience, and that’s the point of the pilot. However, we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that it didn’t work, we got it wrong, and we are going to change.”
Mr Waters said: “We are not going to get this right the first time. This is a massive change coming in September, and there are going to be little bits here and there that won’t be quite right.”
“It’s not about making every road 20mph. Instead, the default will be 20mph. Currently, the default is 30mph and one can make a case for 20mph. We’re simply reversing this: the default will be 20mph, but one can make a case for 30mph.”
“We have included in the guidance, as a result of the Buckley experience, strong advice for local authorities. We’ve made it clear that where they have a strong case, they can revert a road back to 30mph.”
“I’ve just driven through Buckley. We’ve brought in some experts to help the local authority, Flintshire County Council, interpret the guidance pragmatically.”
“It doesn’t make sense to have a 20mph limit when you go through hedged areas without pedestrians or pavements.”
Widespread criticism has been levelled at Flintshire Council over the lack of consultation with communities before the 20mph speed limit pilot was implemented in Buckley.
However, during the first 12 months of the pilot, the council said it has been “collecting the views of local residents to help inform a review and understand concerns about specific roads.”
Aware of the concerns raised locally, discussions between Flintshire County Council and the Welsh Government took place over several months.
These discussions resulted in the Welsh Government conducting a review of the scheme and developing exception criteria for the main arterial roads.
An online household survey was also conducted, with 9,426 properties located within the 20mph restriction areas receiving a letter to participate, and 2,712 responses received.
Mr Waters said: “The programme hasn’t worked exactly the way I would have liked. I wanted to see more upfront consultation before we started drawing lines on maps and discussing what we think the roads should be like in a certain area.”
He said local authorities are struggling with manpower, “they have small teams juggling multiple tasks. We’re asking these same teams not only to implement the 20mph limit but also to tackle issues such as pavement parking, among other things.”
Mr waters said: “In Flintshire’s case, they haven’t had the capacity to conduct the level of consultation we would have liked.”
“Moreover, there’s been a real hesitation in local authorities, a common occurrence where they prefer to err on the side of caution to avoid facing challenges themselves.”
“If the guidance suggests one thing, they’d (the Council) rather stick to that to the letter, rather than demonstrating flexibility.”
“I can understand that because, as you know, they’ve been legally challenged numerous times by local experts in this area who have a lot of time on their hands.”
“I can see why they (local authorities) are apprehensive about it. We’ve been trying to encourage them to adopt a more flexible approach, and to be fair, they have come along with us on this journey.”
“To be fair to local authorities, this is a massive change, the biggest single road safety change in a generation, and it impacts nearly every street in Wales.”
Mr Waters added: “It’s not going to be perfect on day one, but from experience elsewhere, it settles down pretty quickly. But, I dare say, there will be sections of road where we haven’t got it right.”
- The Welsh Government is introducing a default 20mph speed limit on restricted roads across Wales, from 17 September 2023, you can read more about it here: https://www.gov.wales/introducing-default-20mph-speed-limits
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