IT’S A move that will please petrol-heads and some of their fast-moving Tory friends, writes Clive Betts from the National Assembly press gallery.
Ieuan Wyn Jones, the transport minister and Deputy First Minister, is bringing in new speed limits for roads which are HIGHER than for the same sort of roads in England.
Mr Jones first told us about the impending changes a short while ago. Some of us wondered at the time where this idea originated; where, for instance, was the preliminary consultation among road-users, which might have led to the idea.
But the publication of the Assembly coalition government’s half-term report – entitled One Wales 24 (because we are talking of 24 months of governmental activity) – gave a chance to raise the issue again.
The reason for placing one’s voice into gear and ask Mr Jones a question was that some English organisations – such as, no doubt, the AA among them – are complaining that the result of changes being introduced by the Department of Transport for England could result in considerable confusion on English roads.
This will be because on any particular road speed limits could change frequently – in accordance, you understand, with the character of the road.
The question which arose in my mind was whether Mr Jones’s statement of some months ago was merely a copycat reaction to what England was doing. This thought was heightened by the apparent absence of any separate Wales-only consultation process.
Well, indeed, there were some elements of copying the English, Mr Jones admitted to Cambria during the cabinet press briefing. The department in London had apparently decided to relax the normally-strict rules on speed limits.
Which means Wales can do the same.
Of course, Scotland has rather more power, and that country is on its way to gain the power fundamentally to change speed limits. Perhaps they could even copy the Germans and drop them entirely on motorways …
When Mr Jones spoke this week to the press on what what will happen in Wales, he focussed on pressure for lower limits around schools. Nice and liberal – except in the opinion of petrol-heads.
“There are different issues,” in Wales, Mr Jones said. But he let the cat out of the bag when he started talking about the what these “different issues” might be, where they concern main roads.
In England, he said, main roads between towns were usually dual carriageways or motorways. He didn’t need to tell us that, in Wales, they usually aren’t.
Wales would, from now on, be able to decide on speed limits in such locations. To suit the character of the country.
In Mr Jones’s words, “A lot of Welsh roads are single carriageway, and therefore there is a different relationship, and how you take is forward … “
And what does that mean ? Does it mean you would be able to drive faster on a Welsh road than on a equivalent road in England ?
The answer from the transport minister was unequivocal – “Yes, we will be able to.”
But Mr Jones refused to say by how much that would reduce his travelling time from his Anglesey constituency to Cardiff Bay. Of course, usually Mr Jones travels by either train or plane, to he wouldn’t want to emulate a former Plaid candidate in Denbigh who boasted of how quickly he could easily manage his trip to Cardiff – at least half-an-hour faster than I could ever manage in a newspaper office car.