In 2018 the Welsh Government, struggling to manage air pollution levels in certain areas, imposed a temporary 50mph speed restriction on parts of the M4 and surrounding A-roads. At the start of 2019 Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh government’s energy, environment and rural affairs minister, said the trial speed limits on two parts of the motorway and three A-roads would stay in place as long as the department felt it was necessary. However, the transport sector is now shocked by the news that these speed limits are to be kept in place permanently. The affected roads are M4 Newport, M4 Port Talbot, A494 Deeside, A483 Wrexham and A470 Pontypridd.
Lesley Griffiths made the announcements to her fellow MPs as follows: “I am pleased to announce that 50mph speed limits will be in place on a permanent basis across all five sites by the middle of July. We will be enhancing communications around the reason for the speed restrictions and providing new permanent traffic sign layouts at all sites so that the public is aware of the importance of these measures.”
The FTA have reacted with concern, with Sally Gilson – the FTA’s Head of Skills and Welsh Policy – commenting on their Twitter feed: “The 50mph zones were introduced as a temporary measure to help ease the air quality issues along the 5 areas identified by the Welsh government. FTA’s concern is that the Welsh government have now announced that the zones will be permanent. Previous data has shown that target levels will be achieved without any additional measures due to fleet replacement and the increase in Euro 6 vehicles. The A48 was projected to achieve target levels by this year with the A494 the latest to achieve target in 2022.
FTA would like to see the relevant data from the trial year that explains why these speed limits have now been made permanent.”
Of course, one serious concern raised by this story is that other devolved governments or even local authorities may follow suit. Air quality is quite rightly a hot topic at the moment, but with the transport industry being stretched to upgrade engines and comply with Clean Air Zones across the country, a reduction in speed limits on key routes could be a step too far for the removals industry. Increased journey times, especially on longer distance moves, would potentially increase the number of man hours needed to complete jobs, and in a sector with such intense competition that struggles to achieve even modest rate increases from customers, this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some companies. We’ll keep an eye on the situation with interest.