Welsh First Minister defends controversial 20mph speed limits
Mark Drakeford said cutting speed from 30mph to 20mph would protect lives and claimed it would save the NHS in Wales £92 million a year
The controversial new 20mph speed limit in Wales will save lives and money, the First Minister has insisted, as he rejected calls to pause the rollout for residential roads.
Mark Drakeford said cutting speed from 30mph to 20mph would protect lives and claimed it would save the NHS in Wales £92 million a year.
On September 17, Wales will follow Spain, which made a similar change in 2019, and has since reported a fall in urban road deaths.
Most roads in Wales that are currently 30mph will become 20mph, although councils do have discretion to impose exemptions.
The Welsh Conservatives, who are opposed to the rollout, have tabled a motion in the Senedd this week to scrap the policy.
Speaking at a Welsh Government press conference, the First Minister defended the £32 million cost and said it would save the NHS three times as much a year.
“This is a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party, and it was in our election manifesto,” Mr Drakeford said.
“Politicians are very often criticised for not keeping their promises and this is a promise that we will be keeping here in Wales.
“We will invest around £32 million in one-off expenditure and that one-off money will save £92 million every single year in the NHS.
“We will be paid back many, many times over for the investment that we are making.
“I’m reinforced in my belief that it is the right thing to do from the experience we see elsewhere in the world.
“Spain, which has had this policy in place over recent years, have seen a 20% reduction in urban deaths on the roads.”
Mr Drakeford said Wales had led the way in delivering “progressive” policies and cited the example of introducing deemed consent for organ donation.
“While I understand that all change is challenging, I’m also confident that once it’s there and people get used to it, people will find the advantages of it,” he said.
“Just as other changes in the field of road transport – the breathalyser, seatbelt wearing, other speed limits controversial in that time – are completely accepted now.
“Wales has often led the way in progressive policies. We are used to them being controversial at the time that we introduced them.
“When we changed the law in relation to organ donation, no other part of the UK was willing to do the same thing. Now every part of the UK does so.
“I’m reconciled to a period of turbulence when you make a change but I also confident that once the policy is operating people will see that it is a sensible and progressive thing to do.
“It will prevent accidents, it will save lives, and it will be absolutely worth doing.”
There have been reports of the new signs being defaced in areas including Conwy, Gwynedd, Newport, Torfaen, Wrexham and Flintshire.
The Conservatives cited Welsh Government documents that estimate the cost to Welsh economy of increased journey times from lower average vehicle speeds at anywhere between £2.7 billion and £8.9 billion.
Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Senedd Conservatives, said: “Mark Drakeford said flippantly that the £33 million cost of blanket 20mph limits were a ‘small cost to pay’, but again failed to mention the up to £8.9 billion hit to the Welsh economy as outlined in his own explanatory papers, which is absolutely not a small cost given current economic pressures.
“As our unemployment numbers, NHS waiting lists and education outcomes languish at the bottom of the UK league tables, Mark Drakeford should be focusing on the day job and should cancel his distracting vanity projects.
“The Welsh Conservatives would rather see the money set to be wasted on pet programmes spent on our Welsh NHS to cut the cruel two-year waits that nearly 30,000 Welsh patients still have to face, that exist nowhere else in the UK.
“Why aren’t Labour ringfencing our Welsh NHS from their damaging cuts?”