SIXTEEN months after the 50mph average speed cameras on the M4 around “went live”, and it is still not clear how we can assess what impact they have had.
The cameras were installed as part of the Welsh Government’s approach to tackling congestion in the area, as recommended by Lord Burns’ report, and to address air pollution levels on that stretch of the motorway.
As revealed exclusively by the Argus in April, the cameras – between junctions 24 and 28 – have not yet been switched on.
“Due to the advent of digital technology and the demands upon IT departments to install several camera types, we have reached a point where significant development and investment in systems is required before we can make these schemes live and absorb the extra demand which will arise as part of these schemes,” a spokeswoman for GoSafe said at the time.
“To that end, we have approved additional resourcing in the IT staff team to assist with the backlog of development work to bring all schemes online.
“To date, our recruitment attempts have been unsuccessful and have meant that we are unable to secure the staff to deliver the IT solutions required.”
The Argus understands that progress has been made in terms of recruitment, but this is yet to lead to any progress in getting the cameras online.
When asked about the cameras in April, the Welsh Government said it would be publishing an updated Air Quality Plan in May, but this has been delayed to an unknown later date.
The updated Air Quality Plan was due to include the annual average air quality data for the 2021 calendar year – giving us a clearer idea of whether the cameras are succeeding in that area of their remit.
According to data published in September by the Welsh Government, the levels of air pollution on the M4 at Newport had fallen by 6.77 per cent in the first year that the 50mph speed limit was introduced – from 2018 to 2019.
The levels of air pollution fell from 63.5 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre (µg/m³) to 59.2µg/m³, according to the figures.
In 2020, that figure fell to an average of 38.4µg/m³ – 39.53 per cent lower than in 2018.
Of course, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – and subsequent lockdowns – needs to be factored in to the reduction in air pollution.
That’s not to say the 50mph limit isn’t working – the fall in nitrogen dioxide levels in the first year it was enforced shows it has had an effect – but that headline figure for the 2020 levels does need to be put into context.
Again, 2021’s figures will not tell the full story – with coronavirus restrictions in place for much of the first half of the year – but it will prove a useful tool to compare to the 2020 figures, and to assess whether the lower speed limit is making a marked difference to air quality in the region.