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Could 50mph Speed Limits Become More Common?

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The Welsh government have announced plans to introduce 50mph speed limits on five stretches of motorway from June. New speed cameras will be installed in a bid to tackle harmful Nitrogen Dioxide emissions, pollution critics believe has been swept under the carpet in recent times. The announcement has received mixed reviews to put it kindly and ignited fierce debate nationwide.

Back in February the High Court ordered ministers to act after failing to meet EU targets for air pollution. This instruction followed hot on the heels of a legal challenge by activists ClientEarth, themselves incensed at a perceived indifference towards the issue. Now - backed into a corner - a Labour-led Assembly have earmarked the following roads for reform:

  • A494 at Deeside
  • A483 at Wrexham
  • M4 between junction 41 and 42 Port Talbot
  • M4 at Newport
  • A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd

Praise stemming from the likes of the AA and British Lung Foundation has though been drowned out by a cacophony of dissatisfaction. Indeed social media has been set ablaze with incensed motorists fearful their daily commute will be impacted.

The already congested M4 is being cited as one road almost certain to fall foul to a build-up in traffic, while the irony of neighbouring steelworks has not been lost on hordes of protestors. For them, heavy industry has been afforded a free pass. They may have a point.

For the government’s part the new 50mph routes are said to be temporary, this as longer-term measures to encourage low carbon vehicles are readied. Indisputable though is the fact something had to give...

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Road transport contributes to 1/3 of the UK’s NO2 emissions and air pollution is believed to result in as many as 2000 deaths in the valleys every year. Only smoking is deadlier.

Wales’ most polluted road is the A472 Halohydrins – a stretch which exceeded the air quality objective for hourly mean nitrogen dioxide concentration on as many as 60 occasions last year. To put that into context, the EU’s permitted figure was set at a lowly 18.

It is hoped this new legislation will cut emissions by as much as 18%, a target many believe to be fanciful. Amongst those doubting the sheer maths is Nicholas Lyes, head of the RAC. He felt the impact would be ‘questionable’ while, less surprisingly, the Conservative and Plaid Cymru parties lambasted the government for appearing painfully reactive.

50mph zones are but one strand of a £20m Clean Air Fund – one facilitating clean air zones from which the biggest, baddest cars will be denied entry, improved reporting from Local Authorities and a central hub for national air quality assessment.

The aforementioned was all promised at the conclusion of February’s court hearing, along with the re-launch of an air quality website – inviting locals to assess NO2 levels in their towns and cities.

Environment Minister Hannah Blythn has hit back at sceptics and said new initiatives were the ‘right thing’ for both the environment and healthcare as a whole.

He can point to an AA synopsis which states 80% of motorists are concerned about air quality. Their recommendations however encouraged the targeting of older trucks, taxis and poorly serviced cars as a priority.

Maybe that will come but right now the feeling that a sticking plaster is being applied to a gaping wound persists. A suspicion this may be little more than a cash grab also lingers.

Indeed the only certainty is tackling harmful emissions is no easy task. Westminster, itself long torn on how best to proceed, will have its gaze fixed west as Wales seeks make headway on the most complex of issues.

If successful those 50mph speed limits may become less of a rarity.

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