What are the speed limit cuts doing to pollution levels?
Written by Gavin on 7th October 2019
Pollution has been cut at five spots in Wales where new, lower speed limits have came into force within the last year, the Welsh Government has said.
The 50mph limits were brought in to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide on the M4 by junction 41 and 42, in Port Talbot , and junction 25 and 26 in Newport , as well as the A470 between Upper Boat and Pontypridd and trunk roads in Wrexham and Deeside.
The changes were introduced to help the Welsh Government hit EU and Welsh rules on air quality as nitrogen dioxide levels on those locations exceeded legal limits.
“Air quality remains a complicated issue and further evidence is needed to prove the speed limits have had an impact on NO2 limits,” said the government report. “But initial findings are positive after the first full year of the speed limits being introduced.”
Transport Minister Ken Skates said he was encouraged by the findings. He added: “It is vital we continue to reduce emissions in order to save people from the risk of developing potentially serious health conditions.
“I would hope most motorists would agree that helping to save people from illness or even death is more important than saving a minute or so on their journey.”
A report published last year by the Welsh Government , exploring the different options to reduce pollution , proposed to make the temporary 50mph speed limits permanent to achieve legal limits for NO2 within the shortest possible time.
This came after a report earlier in the year had suggested closing junction 41 of the M4 to cut pollution, but the idea was heavily criticised by politicians from the Port Talbot area, who feared a repeat of the “chaos” of four years ago when the junction was closed as part of a trial .
The new speed cameras on the M4 near Port Talbot went live in September after the permanent 50mph speed limit came into force on July 24 .
Monitoring of speeds on the M4 in Newport is being undertaken by spot speed cameras installed as part of the variable speed limit system.
The Welsh Government statement continued: “An interim data report on the first 12 months of the 50mph speed limits being introduced, which is published on Monday 7 October, has shown a reduction in NO2 levels at all five locations.
“Further data will be required to assess if this improving air quality trend can be confirmed.
“A further report is due to be published in March 2020, with the speed limits remaining in place until the levels of nitrogen dioxide drop and remain below the legal limit.
“To highlight that the cameras are monitoring speed limits provided for environmental and not road safety reasons, green coloured camera shields have been added to them as an alternative to the standard yellow shields.”
Welsh Government environment minister Lesley Griffiths said it was vital urgent reductions in nitrogen dioxide emissions were achieved.
She added: “The actions taken on our road network to support driver compliance are an essential component in ensuring that required emissions reductions are achieved.”
Joseph Carter, chair of Healthy Air Cymru, said air pollution was a growing public health concern.
He said: “Just because these are the only areas where speed limits have been introduced, doesn’t mean the problem isn’t more wide-spread.
“Ultimately, reducing speed limits can only go so far in tackling Wales’ toxic air crisis, which is attributed to over 2000 early deaths each year.
“We need to see a major shift in the way we think about travel in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.”
Earlier this month, figures obtained by WalesOnline through a Freedom of Information request revealed the location of speed cameras along the M4 and the number of tickets issued by each camera .
The figures showed more than 8,500 drivers were caught speeding on a stretch of the M4 over a 12-month period, among others.