DOZENS of people gave up their time to stand outside the Senedd last Wednesday afternoon. Nearly half a million more, according to one banner, “stood with them in spirit”.

Protesters were in Cardiff Bay to hand over the online petition to "rescind and remove" the 20mph default limit on Welsh roads, which has closed with exactly 469,571 signatures.

The policy has proved controversial in Wales and raised eyebrows across the border. More than 26,000 signed the petition in England, while others chipped in from Australia (47), China (5) and the Vatican City (2).

The speed-slashing cost the Welsh Government around £33 million to implement - a price tag ministers believe will be offset by a fall in serious road collisions and, as a result, relief for NHS services.

Free Press Series: Nearly half a million people signed the petition to scrap 20mphNearly half a million people signed the petition to scrap 20mph (Image: Sam Portillo)

They also hope the change will encourage walking and cycling, reduce noise pollution and make streets safer for children.

Outgoing deputy climate change minister Lee Waters, who took the lead on 20mph, hailed a 4.1mph reduction on affected roads as proof “attitudes were beginning to change” last month.

His opposite on the Welsh Conservative benches - a vehement critic of the policy - argues the public are already entrenched in their views against it.

READ MORE: 20mph minister hails 'turning point' as data shows lower speeds on Welsh roads

“It’s not me who’s won the argument with 20mph, I think the public has,” says shadow transport minister and South Wales East MS Natasha Asghar. “People from every corner of Wales have hated this policy.

“When it comes to safety, we’re all on board. But there are a million other things the Welsh Government could have done instead of introducing this mad-cap policy.

“They have a lot to learn and they have to rescind this now.”

‘Will of the people’

Martin Turner took the train from Newport and met with other protesters in Cardiff Bay.

“You’re going to get casualties whether people are driving at 20mph or 30mph, so I am totally opposed to it,” he says. “It’s not good for the economy and it’s irritating the majority of the Welsh public.

“They’re advocating that people walk, cycle or get the bus to work but the infrastructure is not there for that. This morning, it was hammering down with rain. Who’d want to walk?”

Free Press Series: Martin Turner thinks Wales needs better transport infrastructureMartin Turner thinks Wales needs better transport infrastructure (Image: Sam Portillo)

The people behind the policy - especially Mr Waters and first minister Mark Drakeford - have become figures of ridicule in these circles, accused both of cowardice and imposing misguided agendas without a mandate.

While it is true many did not grasp the scale of the 20mph proposals, the pledge did feature in the last Welsh Labour manifesto - ahead of an election they won - albeit in a brief numbered list on page 31.

The move was also trialled and the legislation won cross-party support in the Senedd - not enough to stop murmurs of an “anti-democratic” and “uni-party” system on the Senedd steps.

An upside-down Welsh flag billows above the crowd. It means the country is in distress, they say. Other protesters brandish a slogan - “Wales says no to 20, no to 36 new AMs” - on their clothes, courtesy of Nicki Clarke.

“I make them for myself and my sister and if anyone asks, I’ll make one for them. But I don’t charge,” says Ms Clarke, from Cardiff. “I just want to get the message across.

“I, and I’m sure a lot of other people, didn’t race around those streets anyway. But to put it on some of the roads it has been placed on is absolutely ridiculous.

“There’s more pollution since doing this - you can smell it when you’re driving the car. That is not good.”


Like Covid, the 20mph policy has galvanised in two ways: it has brought people together, and showcased Wales’ ability to diverge.

Social media has allowed fans of thirty - on one side of that divide - to find each other. Every day, they have watched the online petition tick over, discussed news coverage and made each other laugh with political memes.

Group founder Annette Jones calls the rallies “gatherings”, not rallies -  herself a subject of gratitude and respect. Ms Asghar does not only speak to the group, but asks them what they want next. Three lucky winners get a private reception with Mr Waters inside.

In the final hours of their record-breaking, news-making, agenda-shaping petition, they insist it is just the beginning. The pivot to other issues - the Senedd expansion - has already begun.

Free Press Series: Group founder Annette Jones calls the protests 'gatherings'Group founder Annette Jones calls the protests 'gatherings' (Image: Sam Portillo)

“The petition’s come to an end, but the feelings in the protest certainly haven’t,” says Ms Jones.

“I thank Lee Waters directly for this. The vast majority of the people you see here have never been involved in a protest, have not been interested in politics. Now, they are.

“It’s opened a lot of people’s eyes. This is the start of something that’s not going to go away.”