Welsh government may reverse 20mph limit on hundreds of roads – but denies U-turn

<span>A minister says revised guidance on 20mph roads will be published in July.</span><span>Photograph: Phil Rees/Shutterstock</span>
A minister says revised guidance on 20mph roads will be published in July.Photograph: Phil Rees/Shutterstock

Hundreds of roads and streets where a 20mph speed limit was introduced under a controversial law could be returned to 30mph, as the Labour-led government admitted mistakes had been made over the policy.

The Welsh government denied it had performed a U-turn and insisted the default 20mph for roads in built-up areas would remain to prevent deaths and save the NHS money.

The Welsh transport secretary, Ken Skates, said: “It’s not a U-turn. This is about refining and finessing a policy that will help make Wales safer. I think it’s important to be able to listen to people and show humility and accept where errors have been made.

“I don’t think it’s embarrassing for us to have pursued a policy that will make Wales feel safer, reduce collisions, hopefully save lives and save the NHS valuable time and financial resource. I don’t have a problem at all in saying to people, I’m sorry if we’ve got elements wrong, we will correct them.”

Related: Wales to change guidance on 20mph speed limits, transport minister says

Asked if there would be hundreds of changes, Skates said: “It could well be. It will vary quite significantly across Wales. For example, in Cardiff there may only be half a dozen changes because it lends itself so well to 20mph, whereas in other parts of Wales that are more rural and semi-urban, we may see far more changes.

“Overwhelmingly, though, what I hear is that outside schools, outside hospitals, in built-up areas, outside of playgrounds and so forth, 20mph is the right speed. But there are some routes where 30 is more appropriate.”

Skates said revised guidance on 20mph roads would be published in July, with councils expected to start detailed consultation on changes from September.

He admitted that the cost of revising roads back to their previous speed limits could be up to £5m.

The shadow Welsh secretary in Westminster, Labour’s Jo Stevens, said: “The practical changes Ken Skates has announced represent a pragmatic, welcome response to the concerns that have been raised over the last few months.”

But Natasha Asghar, the Tory shadow transport minister in the Senedd, said the policy had been a “complete shambles”.

“The bottom line is that after all of Labour’s talk about listening to the Welsh people, the default speed limit across Wales will remain 20mph. Nothing has changed,” she said.

“Instead of making councils clean up the mess of this daft, divisive and destructive policy, it should be scrapped in its entirety, so commonsense can prevail and 20mph remains where it is needed such as outside schools, play areas, high streets, places of worship, etc.”

The Welsh secretary, David TC Davies, said: “I think it’s disappointing. Half a million people have signed a petition calling for the blanket 20mph limit to go and it sounds like the blanket is still going to be pretty well there.”

Delyth Jewell, who speaks on climate change for Plaid Cymru, said: “I don’t want us to lose sight of how radical this policy is. There will be loud voices who tell us that it’s only outside schools where children need to be kept safe, forgetting that children don’t live at school.”

The campaign 20’s Plenty accused the Welsh Conservatives of stoking discontent. It said: “It is entirely correct to review the guidance and the way that it has been interpreted and used by highway and local authorities. This should be done with the aim of making it clearer rather than having any pre-conceived idea of diluting the guidance to allow greater freedom to set higher limits.”

Meanwhile the new Welsh first minister, Vaughan Gething, continues to come under fire for taking £200,000 for his leadership campaign from a company run by a man convicted of environmental offences. Gething has said there was “no conflict of interest” in accepting the money from Dauson Environmental Group, a subsidiary of which owes the Welsh government-owned Development Bank of Wales £400,000.

Gething said former first minister Carwyn Jones would chair a review into leadership campaigns, including campaign finances. The Tories and Plaid Cymru have called for an independent investigation.