Natasha Asghar: The blanket 20mph speed limit across Wales will do more harm than good
I have no doubt that Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay like to see themselves as trendsetters and trailblazers with their so-called “progressive” policies.
This is something I can quite confidently say having sat through countless hours of speeches, debates, and questions since becoming a Member of the Senedd 14 months ago. They have been churning out a vast array of bizarre and out-of-touch policies since coming into power here in Wales more than 20 years ago.
Now I am sure Labour with their rose-tinted glasses won’t agree with me that their policies are bizarre or out-of-touch, but that’s the sad reality of it.
Flirting with the idea of Universal Basic Income, looking to ban fizzy drinks, feeding the children of millionaires for free, exploring stopping the sale of coffee and tea to youngsters and freezing all road building projects. Banning non-essential items like clothes and books from being bought during lockdown, introducing a devastating tourism tax, and pushing ahead with £100m plans to expand the Welsh Parliament.
Those are just a few of the ludicrous pet projects sitting high on the list of Labour’s priorities at a time when our economy is struggling and NHS is crumbling, but the list goes on and on.
And now Labour ministers have lifted the lid on their latest hare-brained pipeline venture: rolling out a blanket 20mph speed limit across Welsh roads.
It has caused more traffic congestion, frustration for drivers and ill feeling amongst local residents
It is no secret that Labour ministers want to see people in Wales riding around in horse-drawn carts instead of modern methods of travel, but this latest scheme really does take the biscuit. By their own admission, this move could have a negative cost of £4.54 billion to the Welsh economy and cost more than £32 million to put in place.
Is that really money well spent at a time we are facing ever-growing cost-of-living pressures? I don’t think it is and I am sure residents across the country will be thinking the exact same thing.
Let me be clear, I am not against reduced speed limits in areas like playgrounds, schools, places of worship and busy highstreets, but a Wales-wide rule is utterly nonsensical.
At a time when it is already difficult enough to travel around Wales because of Labour’s inaction and mismanagement when it comes to our crumbling transport network - this is the last thing commuters, visitors and residents need.
Trials of 20mph zones have been taking place in various spots across Wales, and it is clear from my inbox it has gone down like a lead balloon with the public and businesses. It has caused more traffic congestion, frustration for drivers and ill feeling amongst local residents – the polar opposite of what Labour have set out to achieve.
Whether it is people trying to get to work, parents trying to pick their children up for school, or someone needing to get to an important appointment, journey times will be longer as a result of this. But as is often the way, Labour ministers have got tunnel vision and instead of listening to concerns they have decided to put their foot to the floor and drive ahead with their plans anyway.
There have been long-standing suspicions that the trials were nothing more than a smoke screen for what is already a done-deal, and sadly that still looks to be the case. As well as coming with a rather hefty price tag, 20mph zones will also prove to be a nightmare for police and road safety organisations to enforce.
And don’t even get me started on the environmental benefits. I fail to see how air quality will be improved by this as it will simply force higher fuel consumption, thereby creating more emissions. Vehicles today are designed for maximum efficiency and fuel economy at particular speeds, and it will not do the environment any good if cars are stuck on gridlocked roads pumping out pollution.
Sustrans, the active travel charity, have come out and said a default 20mph speed limit could save around six lives per year. We can do more though. It is a fact Wales has the highest percentage of drink-drive casualties in Britain with 110 to 130 in 2019-20.
As much as I believe each life is important, you do not need to be a mathematical genius to see how many lives would be saved if the Welsh government dropped their expensive 20mph scheme and provided more resources and guidance to combat drink drinking.
Colleagues in Westminster have invested nearly £20 million into the THINK! drink-drive campaign since 2007 – helping to save nearly 1,000 lives.
Surely instead of wasting taxpayer money making streets 20mph, the Welsh government would be better off focusing their time and effort on that instead?
My Welsh Conservative colleagues and I certainly made the case for the brakes to be put on the blanket rollout, but sadly our calls were rejected by Labour ministers, and their Plaid Cymru poodles who are constantly propping them up through their coalition deal.
In one fell swoop, the Labour government in Cardiff Bay has made motorists’ lives a misery all in a desperate bid to get some eco-friendly kudos. It really is a sad state of affairs in Wales.
Natasha Asghar is a Conservative Member of the Senedd for South East Wales and shadow minister for transport and technology.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.