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‘Mistakes made’ over 20mph limit, former minister admits



A FORMER minister has admitted mistakes were made introducing Wales’ controversial default 20mph speed limit.

Lee Waters, who left his post as transport minister in March, told MSs a record-breaking petition, signed by nearly half a million people, made the Welsh Government sit up and take notice.

During a Senedd debate prompted by the petition, he said the Welsh Government had expected pushback, but the intensity of opposition was greater than anticipated.

He said: “Mistakes were made, particularly in not doing genuine consultation in communities and in the uneven, inflexible way the guidance was interpreted in some parts of Wales and I’m prepared to accept my role in all that.

“But let the two-thirds of members of this Senedd who supported a default 20mph limit remember this – people are alive today because of this law, together we have saved lives.”

The Labour MS criticised “deliberate misinformation” from opposition members “designed to sow confusion”, raising the example of the incorrect depiction of a “blanket” policy.

Jack Sargeant led the debate on the petition, which was submitted by Mark Baker and signed by 469,571 people – the most of any in the Welsh Parliament’s 25 years.

Mr Sargeant, who chairs the petitions committee, told the Senedd more than 17,000 people in his own Alyn and Deeside constituency added their names in support.

“There has been an unprecedented response to this petition,” he said. “And I congratulate the petitioner for amassing the highest number of signatures the Senedd has seen.”

Mr Sargeant welcomed a change in direction from the Welsh Government which will see some roads revert to 30mph – with 20mph targeted at schools, hospitals and nurseries.

The Labour backbencher said the petition has inspired many more, with twice as many submitted in the week that followed than would normally be submitted in a month.

In his petition on the “disastrous” policy, Mr Baker said: “The Welsh Government was put there by the people of Wales. We are your boss! We demand this foolish idea be stopped.”

Natasha Asghar said the sheer number of people who signed the petition in such a short space of time shows the strength of feeling among the public.

The Conservatives’ shadow transport secretary criticised the “draconian, divisive” policy, calling for it to be scrapped and claiming it will deal a £9bn blow to the Welsh economy.

Ms Asghar, who represents South East Wales, said the policy is hampering the emergency services and public transport as she warned Wales is being brought to a standstill.

Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru’s shadow transport secretary, agreed that many roads were wrongly designated as 20mph, eroding public support for the policy.

Ms Jewell told the chamber or Siambr: “While the implementation of this plan was flawed, the idea behind the policy itself was not.”

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader recalled how a little girl, who lived in a nearby village while she was growing up, was killed in a car accident.

Ms Jewell said the policy will save lives and stop avoidable disasters ruining people’s lives.

The South Wales East MS said: “We talk about disastrous, surely that is more fitting for the pain inflicted on a family that loses a child … the pain inflicted on a driver?”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David praised the “political bravery” of Mr Waters for bringing forward a policy that will leave a legacy of saving lives.

John Griffiths, a fellow Labour backbencher, who represents Newport East, said people increasingly want to see greater road safety.

Meanwhile, Peter Fox welcomed a rethink by Welsh ministers but warned: “As my father used to say, it’s difficult to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.”

The Conservative criticised the default 20mph policy for “wreaking havoc” in his Monmouth constituency, saying air pollution has severely increased.

Gareth Davies, a fellow Tory, said the speed limit is similarly causing chaos in north Wales.

Ken Skates, who has met the petitioner since coming into post, recognised the range of voices speaking out in favour and against the policy.

Wales’ transport secretary said: “We cannot escape the fact that 20mph has served to polarise communities. That’s why I have placed such an emphasis on listening.”

Mr Skates, who represents Clwyd South, vowed to learn the lessons from the roll-out of 20mph, stressing the importance of ensuring citizens’ voices are at the heart of policy.

He said: “There are differences in opinion but we have much more in common than divides us and I’m determined to continue that conversation in the weeks and months ahead.”

Vowing to follow the evidence and defuse “polarising culture wars”, Mr Skates said evidence around the world shows reducing speed limits leads to a reduction in accidents.

Peredur Owen Griffiths, a member of the petitions committee, said the policy has frustrated a great many people as he reassured the petitioners that their voices have been heard.

Closing the debate on May 22, he said: “Yesterday, in this Siambr, Jack Sargeant spoke in praise of a petition from 2012 that had finally achieved its aim – CCTV in slaughterhouses.

“It is not always immediately clear what the impact of a petition has been and the influence it has had.

“It will take a few more months and maybe years for the dust to fully settle on this policy and for the kinks to be ironed out.

“But I am sure in the future when history books are written looking back on the Sixth Senedd, this policy and the petition that emerged to challenge it, will be more than just a footnote.”


Pembrokeshire airport lease expected to be completed by end of year



HAVERFORDWEST’S council-run airport, which had a circa £119,000 deficit last year, is expected to be leased out by the end of the year following “reasonably complex” negotiations, councillors heard.

Back in May, members of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet supported the leasing of Withybush Airport as part of plans to make the facility cost-neutral to the authority.

Last year, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members heard the financial position at the council-supported Haverfordwest/Withybush airport deteriorated in 2022/23, with an out-turn position for 2022/23 of £238,000.

That loss has been reduced to an expected £119,000 for 2023/24 “following an extensive review of the operations of the airport”.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s full council, a series of submitted questions on the airport were heard.

Merlins Bridge councillor John Cole asked: “With the council leasing out the Haverfordwest airport, can members be assured that the lease is at comparable rent with similar airport facilities, and the airport being offloaded purely as a cost savings measure?”

He also asked a second related question: “Are current users protected and assured that their tenancy and rents currently payable to the authority are taken into consideration?”

Responding, Deputy Leader Cllr Paul Miller said the proposed letting was considered to be “best letting,” with restricted private documents detailing the figures available to all members.

On the second question, he said existing tenants had been involved throughout the process, and once the new overall lease was in place tenants would be protected through legislation.

However, he stressed the new leaseholder would be able to change conditions in the future and the council would “not dictate terms” in the future.

A further question was asked by Saundersfoot South councillor Chris Williams: “On a recent services meeting back in 2023, we had a productive meeting at Withybush Airport to look at the impact regarding costs to PCC and to consider options with regards to its future operation.

“Can you please clarify if the airport is still owned and operated by Pembrokeshire County Council and if so at what cost since April 1, 2024?”

Cllr Miller said the airport was still currently owned by the council following the Cabinet decision, with “reasonably complex” negotiations ongoing, complicated by land ownership issues and the need to obtain the civil aviation licence.

“Hopefully by the end of the calendar year we will have completed that transaction,” Cllr Miller said, adding that £25,000 had been spent since April 1.

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More than 19k animal lovers call to end greyhound racing in Wales



IN RSPCA open letter signed by an astonishing 19,715 people which calls for the end of greyhound racing in Wales has been delivered to the First Minister’s office.

The open letter, addressed to Vaughan Gething MS, the First Minister of Wales, stated that the thousands of signatories wish to see a phased end to the “outdated practice” in Wales in order to protect the welfare of countless dogs at risk of injury – or worse.

The RSPCA is part of the Cut the Chase coalition – which includes the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, Hope Rescue and Greyhound Rescue Wales – who have long expressed concern about the negative welfare consequences that racing and the greyhound industry has on the dogs involved. The regulated sector’s own figures show that between 2018 and 2023, 2,751 greyhounds died or were put to sleep for reasons other than natural causes or illness. (data covering England and Wales).

Meanwhile, more than 26,500 injuries were recorded from greyhound racing over the same time period*. The latest statistics from the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) – which regulates Wales’ only track – show that the number of dogs involved in racing who died increased by 47% in 2023, further adding to the coalition’s concerns.

Wales could be the first nation in the UK to phase out the activity. Earlier this year, the Welsh Government carried out a 12-week consultation which is considering the future of greyhound racing. The consultation closed in March.

The Welsh Government has yet to publish the outcome of the consultation – and in the meantime dogs at the Valley Greyhounds Stadium in Ystrad Mynach continue to risk death or serious injury due to being knocked over or falling at speeds often in excess of 40mph.

Published results from races and trials at the Valley track, analysed by Greyhound Rescue Wales, shows that, between 3 March and 29 May this year, nine dogs were recorded as “fell” and 15 more were recorded as “knocked over”.

But these stats don’t show the full picture. Injury data from individual tracks and veterinary reports aren’t released publicly, so the exact welfare impact of the dogs who have fallen in races remains unknown.

Billie-Jade Thomas, RSPCA Senior Public Affairs Manager in Wales said: “Greyhound racing is inherently dangerous for the dogs involved. Running at speed around oval tracks causes significant injury to many dogs, and in some cases, the injuries are so severe that it is necessary for dogs to be put to sleep.

“There are only 10 countries in the world – including all UK nations – where commercial greyhound racing still goes on in 2024. But the Welsh Government now has a golden opportunity to commit to phasing out greyhound racing in Wales once and for all, sending an important message to the rest of the UK that they need to act to deliver a better life for greyhounds.

“We’d like to thank everyone who signed our open letter – we were delighted to have such a strong response and have more than 19,000 people support this cause. It really does show the strength of feeling there is about ending greyhound racing, and what we can achieve together for animal welfare.”

At its peak, there were 250 licensed tracks in the UK. Today, only 20* remain, with only one that is unlicensed in Great Britain.

The Cut the Chase coalition has called for greyhound racing to be phased out over the next five years, and remains committed to the welfare of the dogs involved in the industry during this time.

Phasing out greyhound racing in Wales is a major campaign priority for the RSPCA, as the charity marks its landmark 200th anniversary this year. Since its formation in 1824, the RSPCA has changed more than 400 laws for animals.

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Senedd Chief demands evidence from Gething on Blythyn sacking



IN an unprecedented move, the Senedd Chief Executive has issued a formal request to First Minister Mark Drakeford, asking him to provide the evidence that Vaughan Gething relied upon to sack Hannah Blythyn. This request comes in response to a motion put forward by the Welsh Conservatives, demanding transparency from the Welsh Government.

Andrew RT Davies MS, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, emphasised the gravity of the situation, stating, “This notice to the First Minister is unprecedented. We are facing unprecedented circumstances and hope the First Minister will comply with this notice. The people of Wales deserve answers regarding this saga.”

Davies also raised concerns about the potential existence of other undisclosed communications relevant to the ongoing COVID inquiry. He remarked, “The next important question is how many other sets of messages that may be relevant to the COVID inquiry are lurking around.”

The Senedd Chief Executive, Manon Antoniazzi, has given the First Minister until 5pm on 1st August to respond to the motion. The letter detailing this request has been made public and is expected to increase pressure on the Welsh Government for greater transparency.

The Welsh Conservatives’ push for accountability highlights a significant moment in Welsh politics, with the potential for broader implications on the management and oversight of governmental decisions during the pandemic.

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