‘Outrage’ at clean air zone cash going to government
A councillor is outraged that £500,000 a year in income from Bath’s clean air zone could be “clawed back” by central government. Liberal Democrat Richard Samuel said Whitehall had imposed the restrictions on local authorities after its own failure to improve air quality. Bath and North East Somerset Council is looking to introduce a clean air zone that will see drivers of high-polluting cars, vans and taxis charged £9 and non-compliant buses, coaches and lorries charged £100 from late 2020. The income is expected to average £5.6million a year over a decade. The clean air zone could cost £12 million to set up but a Government spokesperson said no decision had been made on recouping the costs. Cllr Samuel told the communities, transport and environment scrutiny panel last week: “We have the most extraordinary situation. Central government has imposed these restrictions and said we must do it. They’re giving us the opportunity to charge the public and clawing back 10 per cent. “This is outrageous. The Government has failed to comply with the European directive and now they expect residents to subsidise it. “We’re paying for our own funerals. “The very least you would expect is that the Government would pay for it after the cuts over the last eight years. This is really shocking economics.” The charges will apply once in every 24-hour period (midnight to midnight) when entering or driving in the zone. They will apply seven days a week, 365 days a year. The income will be used to repay a Government loan to set up the clean air zone and green infrastructure like improvements to park and ride facilities and cycle to school schemes. A Defra spokesperson said: “Tackling air pollution requires collective action, which is why we are working with towns and cities across the country. “We have published a £3.5 billion plan to reduce harmful emissions with local authorities receiving technical support and nearly £500million in funding for air quality improvements. “As these plans develop, we will continue to support local authorities to improve local air quality. However, there has been no decision made on recouping costs.” The introduction of clean air zones was triggered by legal action against the Government by campaign group Clientearth. The legal limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 microgrammes per cubic metre but in some areas, such as London Road and Lower Bristol Road, it is as high as 68 microgrammes per cubic metre. Environmental protection and licensing manager Cathryn Brown told the meeting: “There are significant health issues around air pollution. “We’ve had a directive from Defra because of ongoing exceedances of nitrogen dioxide levels. We aren’t alone. “There were 28 other local authorities, now there are 61. We need to comply in the shortest time possible.” Ms Brown said the exact consequences of not complying were unclear but it could, along with any other council that fails to meet the target, face a class action lawsuit. She said it could be fined or struggle to get Government funding in future if it does not bring nitrogen dioxide levels within the legal limit. The proposals were closely scrutinised by the panel. Public speaker Chris Beazley said charging cars as well as all other high-polluting vehicles was like “using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut”. He said the council’s own outline business case showed nitrogen dioxide could be brought within legal limits by only charging class C vehicles - buses, coaches, taxis and HGVS and LGVS. Ms Brown said the council’s modelling - which has been independently verified - showed the target could only be hit by charging non-compliant cars, taxis and vans £9 and imposing a £100 charge on the worst polluting coaches, buses and lorries. B&NES Council is running a consultation until November 26 on the clean air zone proposal. The results will be considered by cabinet members on December 18.