Critique of the anti-20mph Senedd petition

A petition to the Senedd was made and has attracted 21,920 signatures. The Senedd petitions committee has agreed that the petition should be debated by Senedd and this is to be done on 28th June 2023.

We explore how the setting of the national 20mph limit for Wales has followed all required legislative procedures and included extensive involvement of politicians, local authorities, stakeholders, NGOs, government agencies and the public. It has also had 5 years of detailed investigation of its benefits and is in line with UK and International best practice. 

Members of Senedd should be congratulated in approving this important legislation which will bring wide benefits to the country.

We believe that Members of Senedd should reject this petition when it is debated on 28th June 2023, and here we explain why.

The petition states that :-

“This decision is not representative of the broader public opinion and as such, it is not democratic to implement the changes. An alteration to road laws on this scale should be subject to much more extensive polling or possibly as part of a Welsh referendum on the matter.”

Regarding “public opinion”

Of course “public opinion” is important with any behavioural change based on a change in the law. The petition is based on a premise that “the decision is not representative of broader public opinion”. However, it presents no evidence to back up its claim of what “public opinion” is. Several initiatives have sought to determine "public opinion" in an accurate manner as possible, and all have shown positive support.

Across the UK

Over many years the UK Government has conducted British Social Attitudes Survey and, more latterly National Transport Attitude Surveys, that have asked for attitudes to “Speed limits of 20mph on residential roads”.  The latest of these concerning this subject is the 2019 publication which reported that between 2006 and 2019 there has been consistent support for 20mph speed limits and in 2019 was 71% of respondents. 14% were not in favour. See National Travel Attitudes Study: 2019 Wave 1 Page 10

National Travel Attitudes Survey

Note that these are highly sophisticated surveys by NatCen Social Research which are designed to eliminate bias and accurately reflect public opinion. The full methodology is discussed in the Technical Report to the Survey.

In Wales

The Welsh Government conducted a survey entitled “Traffic Orders & 20mph Public Attitudes Survey” published in November 2020. The survey was conducted by Beaufort Research and asked the question “What’s your view on the plan to reduce the speed limit to 20 mph in residential communities across Wales?”. 80% of Welsh adults surveyed said that they were in favour of the plan with over half (54%) strongly in favour. Fewer than 1 in 5 were against the plan.

Beaufort 2020

In 2022 the Welsh Government commissioned a further survey by Beaufort Research which asked the question:
The Welsh Government is planning to reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph in residential communities across Wales. What’s your view on this idea?

The survey showed that 60% were in favour of the proposal and 39% were against.

Note that both Beaufort surveys were conducted (as were the UK Government Surveys) with respondents selected in order to reflect a representative sample of the public. In this respect they are the most reliable assessment of public opinion.

Whilst there have been petitions against the 20mph plans for Wales these suffer from all the usual problems of both bias in the statement and self-selection. Regardless of the number of signatures, these really have no credibility as an assessment of public opinion. In particular we have deep reservations about the Buckley petition which are detailed in our Critique of the Buckley ant-20mph petition from August 2022. 22,000 signatures in the Senedd petition may seem a large number. However when considering that the NTAS survey shows that 14% of the public disagree with 20mph limits, and that there are 1.6 million driving license holders in Wales, then an objection by 1.4% of the driving population is neither surprising nor significant. Petitions, polls or surveys which have no measure of whether the sample of responders represent the general public have little value in representing that public opinion.

Hence we would maintain that the central claim of “the decision is not representative of broader public opinion” is not credible. In fact there is ample evidence that the plans for a national 20mph default limit is representative of broader public opinion as demonstrated by multiple professional standard surveys using representative samples and detailed above.

Regarding “Democracy”

The next claim in the petition is that  “it is not democratic to implement the changes.” Having established that the petitioners views on public opinion are not valid then this claim must be dismissed.

However, there is good evidence that the process of legislation for a national 20mph limit have been an excellent example of parliamentary democracy in action. An examination of the timeline associated with setting a nation speed limit for restricted road will demonstrate this:-

Date Event Observation
7th June 2016 First reading of Wales Act 2017 which amongst other matters devolves the setting of a national limit to Welsh Ministers. Sponsored by the Wales Office (Alun Cairns MP, Conservative) 
31st January 2018 Wales Act 2017 after having been passed by both houses of parliament gains Royal Assent. This specifically devolves setting of this national limit to Wels Minister subject to an affirmative procedure in the Welsh Assembly (Senedd).
20th September 2018 NNMDM6800 Member Debate in Senedd "Calls on the Welsh Government to introduce legislation so that a 20mph speed limit becomes the standard speed limit in Welsh residential roads" Sponsored by David Melding AS, Welsh Conservative, with co-submitters from Welsh Conservative, Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru, Lib-Dem and Independent assembly members.
May 2019 Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport for the Welsh Government sets up a "Welsh 20mph Task Force Group" to "identify the outcomes which would be expected from changing the default speed limit for restricted roads in Wales to 20mph, and the practical actions needed to implement this change in law". This involved a wide range of members, including local authorities, government agencies, Public Health Wales, stakeholders (including motoring, public transport and freight transport), NGOs and emergency services.
July 2020 Task Force Group publishes its final report. This includes 20 recommendations for implementation. Within this is the methodology for identifying appropriate exceptions.
15th July 2020 Senedd debates NDM7355 supporting the Welsh Government's intention to set a national 20mph limit for restricted roads subject to subsequent approval by resolution of Senedd This was passed by 45 votes to 6 (86%) with cross-party support and approval by leaders of all main parties at the time.
6th May 2021 Senedd elections Both Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru made specific mention of the national 20mph default limit in their respective election manifestos. These parties combined received 60.2% of the constituency votes and 56.9% of regional votes, with a combined majority of 43 out of 60 Senedd seats.
11th May 2022 UK Secretary of State indicates no comments on on the proposed order and Statutory Instrument.  
12th July 2022 Senedd debates NDM8054 the Statutory Instrument to set a national 20mph limit for restricted roads. Senedd passed the Statutory Instrument by 39 votes to 15.
8th November 2022 Welsh Government issues guidance on setting exceptions by local authorities to the national 20mph default. Note that this has not change substantially from that within the Task Force Group final report.
17th September 2023 National default speed limit for restricted roads changes to 20mph with exceptions decided by local authorities.  

The democratic process involved in bringing in the legislation for the national 20mph limit has had widespread support across all mainstream political parties in Wales, as well as institutions such as Public Health Wales and the Institute for Welsh Affairs. The policy was also specifically mentioned in the 2021 election manifestos of both Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru parties. We have published the full history of the democratic process which may be viewed as one of our FAQs at 

What is the democratic mandate for a national 20mph default limit in Wales?.

It has had extensive scrutiny, cross-party debate/support, and wide involvement of stakeholders and local authorities over a period 0f 5 years. It is our belief that he legislation for the national 20mph default speed limit has therefore fully followed and surpassed all the democratic procedures required.

Regarding “polls and a referendum”

The petition further claims that “An alteration to road laws on this scale should be subject to much more extensive polling or possibly as part of a Welsh referendum on the matter.”

This may be a wish of the petitioner, but there is no precedent that would require such a process. Indeed the Wales Act 2017 and the subsequent change to the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 make it very clear that :-

81 General speed limit for restricted roads.

(1)It shall not be lawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a restricted road at a speed exceeding 30 miles per hour.

(2)The Welsh Ministers may by order increase or reduce the rate of speed fixed by subsection (1) above, either as originally enacted or as varied under this subsection.

(3)An order under subsection (2)—

(a)if made by the Secretary of State, is to be made by statutory instrument and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament;

(aa)if made by the Welsh Ministers, is to be made by statutory instrument and approved by a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales;

(b)if made by the Scottish Ministers, is subject to the affirmative procedure.

(4)Before making an order under subsection (2) the Secretary of State must consult with the Welsh Ministers

(5)Before the Welsh Ministers or the Scottish Ministers make an order under subsection (2) they must consult with the Secretary of State.

Hence there is no reference to polling or a referendum. The devolution of the power to set a national speed lies with Welsh Ministers. This has duly been done by the necessary Statutory Instrument which was passed in an affirmative vote by Senedd in July 2022 and has approval of the Secretary of State. Regardless of the opinion of the petitioner and signatories  the due democratic process has been explicitly followed by the Welsh Government and Senedd.

Other petition detail

The petition then goes on to detail other opinions regarding “road rage” and “revenue stream” which are unfounded. Furthermore the claim that “I am yet to see an opinion supporting the changes” suggests a lack of awareness of not only events in Wales but across the UK and world where 20mph/30kmh limits are routinely implemented across whole communities and nations.

In conclusion

Its is a credit to Senedd and its members that despite recent withdrawal of support by some Members there has been so much unanimity across the political spectrum for this important initiative. We would suggest that Members of Senedd should soundly reject this petition.

See our Press release 

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