Speeds are down - the 20mph petition debate

Speech in Senedd on May 22nd 2024

Llywydd, a protest of this size should make us pause and reflect. And it has.

Though the petition itself is unfortunately full of misunderstandings and misinformation petition itself is unfortunately full of misunderstandings and misinformation, that’s not really the point. Hundreds of thousands of people put their names to it, and it made us sit-up and take notice.

Of course we expected push-back, but the intensity of it was greater than we anticipated.

Thankfully, things have settled down.

And we now know that 97% of the people who signed the petition did so in the first two weeks after the speed limit changed, when the the signs were still going up in some places.

But we listened to the protest, and we acted.

We launched a review, earlier than planned, into how the speed limit was being implemented.

And far from ‘marking our own homework’, the initial report from the review panel initial report from the review panel was pretty blunt.

It said there were things the Welsh Government should have done differently, that I should have done differently, and that local Councils should have done differently. And I accept that.

The review said the communications campaign came too late; there wasn’t enough support and buy-in from across the Welsh Government to prepare for the change; and there was poor consultation by local councils with their communities.

I agree with all that. And I don’t think it's a coincidence that the areas where most people signed the petition were areas where the Councils made the fewest exceptions.

In his letter to Council Leaders last week the Cabinet Secretary said that it has become clear to him ‘that in many areas only a handful of changes will be made, whereas in other places, more roads are likely to revert to 30mph’.

I expect we’ll see most changes in north Wales where Councils implemented the fewest changes the first time round.

And that’s despite the now infamous pilot scheme in Flintshire which highlighted the importance of genuine consultation and a flexibility of approach.

It is no surprise that nearly a quarter of the people who signed the petition are from north Wales.

But listening and learning is not failure. It sometimes takes more than one go to get things right.

As I said at the outset, a change of this scale, of this complexity, implemented across 22 different local authorities – in an era of austerity and hollowed-out staffing – was always going to be tricky.

And perhaps the trickiest part was the cultural change this represented, which we definitely underestimated.

We have a deep-seated culture of car dominance in our country. What researchers from Swansea University’s Psychology Department have called ‘Motor Normativity’; where people have an in-built acceptance of the harms from motor vehicles that they would not accept in other parts of life.

That makes any challenge to car dominance very hard to do, and that’s why it is usually avoided.

Lowering the speed limit challenged the sense of entitlement some drivers had developed over decades that they should be able to go fast, regardless of the impact on the people living on those streets, and children playing on them - or more accurately, not playing on them because it didn’t feel safe.

We’ve seen culture warriors, here and elsewhere, seize on the issue to create conflict in communities

And we’ve seen deliberate misinformation, and false descriptions like ‘blanket’, designed to deliberately sow confusion.

Our evidenced-based, modestly funded, information campaign, was simply drowned out. We lost the comms war.

It has been rough on everyone on the frontline of this bold and ambitious policy.

So to everyone in a public facing role who has faced the wrath and abuse that has come with this big change; to local government officers, local councillors, community campaigners, Senedd Members and MPs, to the police and fire service. Can I say thank you.

We should all be proud of the fact that the policy is working.

Speeds are down. People are driving slower.

Despite the criminal damage, the misinformation, the aggressive driving and tailgating, the protests, and the petition. Average speeds are down - 4mph slower in the first few months in the last data 4mph slower in the first few months in the last data we have.

And for every drop in the average speed limit of 1mph, casualties are estimated to fall by 6%.

That’s fewer heartbroken families. Fewer lives destroyed. Fewer people filling A&E and consultant waiting lists . And fewer who feel unsafe in their own communities.

I’m not sure what price you can put on that really?

Has the implementation been perfect? Of course it hasn’t. It was never going to be.

The reality is that there just was not enough capacity and resources at the Welsh Government end, nor at the local government end, to do everything we wished to.

Has it been universally welcomed? Of course it hasn’t. It was never going to be.

But while we hear from the objectors we tend not to hear as much from the supporters.

I think it is significant that Councils were telling us all along that they received very few examples of people who thought the speed on their own street was too low.

Llywydd, mistakes were made, particularly in not doing genuine consultations in communities, and in the uneven and inflexible way the guidance was interpreted in some parts of Wales.

I am prepared to accept my part in all that.

But let the ⅔ of Member of this Senedd who supported a default 20mph speed limit remember:

There are people alive today because of this law.

Together we will have saved lives.



Helen Davies said…
Very brave and honest man. Well done Lee

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