Can Welsh Local Authorities set a 30mph limit on main roads?

I understand that the national limit for streets in most cities, towns and villages will change from 30mph to 20mph. Can local authorities set exceptions where the speed limit will remain at 30mph? 

Yes, the national default limit for "restricted" roads (those with lighting at frequent intervals) will change from 30mph to 20mph on September 17th 2023. And there is "guidance" from Welsh Government regarding what factors could justify keeping the speed limit at 30mph. The primary consideration is whether there are significant numbers of pedestrians and cyclists travelling along or across the roads. This is all detailed in the Welsh Government Exceptions Guidance. We have created this flowchart diagram to show you how this works :-

It is our opinion that even if the road is used by pedestrians and cyclists then a well segregated cycle and pedestrian path with controlled crossings may provide a basis for setting a higher speed limit than 20mph. However any "robust and evidenced application of local factors" would need to take into account other pertinent characteristics such as road width, traffic volumes and presence of housing, community buildings, schools, etc. But note that the "guidance" is only "guidance". The need to fully take into account the needs of vulnerable road users was part of the previous guidance on setting local speed limits. 

The needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account in order to further encourage their mobility and improve their safety. Setting appropriate speed limits is a particularly important element in urban safety management, with significant benefits for pedestrians and cyclists. Similarly as vehicle speeds are generally higher on rural roads, collision severity and the risk to vulnerable road users are also greater. In both situations
speed management strategies should seek to protect local community life.

The absolute responsibility and authority for setting a different limit for a street from the national speed limit lies with the local highway authority. They are well placed to consider the needs of all road users including those who are most vulnerable and the need to preserve local community life. Local authorities in Wales are setting exceptions to the national 20mph limit for some main roads and these may be viewed at the Welsh Government website.

Note that it is important to recognise that its is often "main" roads which pose the biggest risk to vulnerable road users due to the volume of interactions. Hence lowering the speed will disproportionately reduce the likelihood and outcome of any collisions. 

Update - 21 July 23

We have now see several local authorities issue Traffic Regulation Orders for the exceptions so that specific roads can be set at 30mph. As described above it is important that local authorities do follow correct procedure for doing so. However we were troubled by one such TRO from Vale of Glamorgan Council which failed to provide in its' "Statement of Reasons and robust evidence of why specific roads being accepted. We therefore lodged an objection as follows :-

It is important that the Statement of Reasons in any TRO provides adequate information as to why the change should be made. In the case of setting a speed limit 50% higher than the national limit for such a restricted road then this is especially true to ensure correct duty of care for vulnerable road users and meet the requirements of the The Local Authorities' Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996. In Schedule 2 2(d) this requires "a statement setting out the reasons why the authority proposed to make the order".

The Statement of Reasons within this TRO fails to adequately give reasons why the restricted roads in question should have a 30mph limit. The statement merely says "The Council as Local Highway Authority considers that these roads are strategic routes with higher volumes of daily traffic compared to urban residential streets and as such do not meet the criteria or the nature of a road with a speed limit of 20 mph. The Council considers that the existing 30 mph speed limit is an appropriate speed limit in order to maintain a reasonable traffic flow on higher traffic volume strategic routes."

Whilst the status of being "strategic routes with higher volumes of daily traffic" is dubious in not being evidenced in any way, this is a status of a route rather than a section of a road. Regardless of such a classification, many of the sections of road where an increase to 30mph is being sought are short stretches at the periphery of settlement which will have a 20mph limit throughout. On a logical basis if a settlement has a 20mph throughout its roads, including the so called strategic route, then allowing increased speeds on short sections at the periphery will not make any difference to traffic flow. The benefit within the "reason" of maintaining traffic flow is not a deliverable outcome.

Traffic Authorities only have the ability to set a local speed limit to vary it from the national speed limit. As 20mph is already the national limit for restricted roads then the only roads where a 20mph limit may be set are where there is a national 60mph limit which applies to non-restricted (unlit) roads and the Traffic Authority wishes to set it lower than 60mph.

The Statement of Reasons should also provide evidence of the resultant  balance between the benefits of the change and the status quo. As the status quo after 17th September is a 20mph limit for such roads then no inclusion has been made of the disbenefits of a change to 30mph on so many of the other responsibilities in setting speed limits. These include a taking full account of the needs of vulnerable road users as referenced in both the Circular 24/2009 3.10 "The needs of vulnerable road users must be fully taken into account" and the guidance on setting exceptions (2.1.3) to a 20mph limit which requires "robust and evidenced application of local factors" that indicate a speed limit other than 20mph is appropriate. This has not been provided in the Statement of Reasons. Furthermore the guidance states  (2.2.11) that Where their decision deviates from this guidance highway authorities should have a clear and reasoned case"

The foundation of the guidance on setting exceptions also states that it aspires for "a maximum road travel speed of 30km/h (20mph) in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner, except where strong evidence exists that higher speeds are safe".

Whilst we agree with the concept of exceptions to the national speed limit of 20mph and setting a higher limit, the requirements of both the guidance specifically in the Exceptions Guidance and also generally in the 24/2009 guidance require evidence, sound reasons and full account of the needs of vulnerable road users. These have not been provided within the Statement of Reasons for the TRO. The consequence of this is both a potential misdirection of council members in approving such a TRO and also the potential subsequent challenge of the legality of the TRO.

There are also further implications regarding meeting Nolan Principles (in particular "Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias."). How can this be done if evidence is lacking and the lack of  consideration of vulnerable road users discriminates against them.

In addition a consideration should be made of the legal liabilities in event of any speed limit being set inappropriately higher than the national 20mph limit for restricted roads.

We therefore believe that the TRO is flawed and fails to meet the duty of care required when setting alternative and higher speed limits as indicated in the above laws, regulations and guidance referenced. It should be withdrawn and re-considered.

We are also aware of an objection on a specific road at St Nicholas. This has an objection sent by Harrison Grant Ring, London, on behalf of St Nicholas with Bonvilston Community Council. This concludes also references the lack of evidence for such an exception and concludes :-


48. On any proper scrutiny of the Proposed TRO within the framework which an exception to the new default speed limit can be made, an exception in relation to the St Nicholas (A48) area is not appropriate or justified.

49. The Guidance is clear. The two pivotal tests to make an exception, which are supplemented by additional criteria in PPW, are not satisfied. St. Nicholas (A48) clearly comes under the place criteria on the basis of the proximity of the school, and access to the school, other demands and potential demands, as well as the number of residential dwellings within the required proximity.

50. A 'robust and evidenced application of local factors' further fails to offer any support to the proposed exception.

51. Additionally, the Guidance requires that where there is a deviation from the 20mph default, highway authorities should have a ’dear and reasoned case' (paragraph 2.2.11). The Proposed TRO, with its justification for the exception based only on traffic volumes but without any elaboration or evidence cannot be considered a ’dear and reasoned case'.

52. Finally, policy support for the 20mph Order itself is such that exceptions to the default should be robustly justified or risk undermining the many policy reasons for its introduction as well as setting an inconsistent precedent.

53. Based on the above, if the Proposed TRO in respect of the St. Nicholas (A48) Area was made, the Council would fail in its duty to make ’evidence-based decisions on setting exceptions to the default speed limit of 20mph' and should therefore be refused.


It is our conclusion that local authorities should take care to adequately consider and make the case for exceptions to the national 20mph default limit. That should include a robust and evidenced application of local factors that apply to those specific exceptions. We would urge all local authorities setting local speed limits as exceptions to the national 20mph default speed limit to take not of the above.


Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Rod King
    published this page in FAQs 2023-02-16 22:26:21 +0000