‘Out­rage’ at clean air zone cash go­ing to gov­ern­ment

Bath Chronicle - - NEWS - Stephen Sum­ner Lo­cal democ­racy re­porter @stephen­sum­ner15 | 07741 295876 stephen.sum­ner@reach­plc.com

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.

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