Re-think recommendations means cars may not be charged in Clean Air Zone.

Looks like the huge public response to B&NES plans for a Clean Air Zone have brought about a re-think.

Recommendations to exempt cars from being charged to drive in the proposed zone in Bath are going to be being made to Bath and North East Somerset councillors.

The cabinet meeting on March 5th will consider two options for reducing high levels of air pollution in the city, which the Government says must happen ‘in the shortest possible time’ and by 2021 at the latest.

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The report says the Class D option – which would have charged all higher emission vehicles, including cars, to drive in the city centre and which was subject to consultation last year – would achieve compliance by central government’s deadlines.

However, following a request by cabinet in December after a record number of responses to the consultation, further technical work has continued. As a result, a Class C option, which would not see cars being charged and would also meet government compliance deadlines, has now been identified.

A Class C option would involve reducing the flow of traffic into Gay Street, which would otherwise exceed the legally permitted NO2 threshold. To address this, the recommended Class C option includes traffic management measures at Queen Square, with new traffic lights at the junctions with the A367 Chapel Row/ Princes Street and at Queen Square Place. The intention would be to remove the traffic management scheme once compliance is achieved and as vehicle emissions improve.

Councillor Bob Goodman, cabinet member for development and neighbourhoods, said: “Getting the right clean air plan for our city is crucially important and we needed the community’s views to help us make the right decision. Following the unprecedented response to the consultation, we were right to delay our decision so that we could properly consider people’s views and continue to undertake further technical work.

“This has been a significant task and has now resulted in officers being able to recommend a scheme that exempts cars from charges, safeguards the long-term health of people and meets the needs of our busy, vibrant city.”

Mark Shelford, cabinet member for transport and environment, added: “Previously our forecasts for a Class D zone showed two areas, Gay Street and Walcot Parade, exceeding the NO2 legal thresholds, albeit by small amounts. Local people asked us to check again whether a Class C zone was possible, and our technical advisers have worked extremely hard on this. Refinements to the baseline air quality modelling to improve how gradients are represented, along with the traffic management measures, mean we are now able to consider a Class C CAZ.”

Public feedback has shaped a number of changes to the original zone boundary. The Pulteney Estate area is now recommended for inclusion and members are also being asked to consider including the junction of Oldfield Road and Wellsway, the Bathwick Estate and Sydney Gardens areas, as well as a proposal to monitor roads in the Bathampton area.

Map of proposed zone extensions (common to both Class C and D CAZ proposals)

Charges for higher emission vehicles to drive in the zone remain consistent with the original proposal: £100 for buses, coaches and HGVs and £9 for LGVs/vans, private hire vehicles and taxis.  

In response to public feedback, the proposal includes a firmer commitment to financial assistance in the shape of interest-free loans to help businesses upgrade pre-Euro 6 commercial vehicles (older than approx. 2015). Businesses with Euro 4 or 5 diesel commercial vehicles unable to obtain a loan would be able to apply for a concession to 1 January 2023.

The council also remains committed to securing central government funding to speed up the move to cleaner, more sustainable transport. For example, the council is asking the government for funds to support grants of £2,000 to help households upgrade pre-Euro 4 cars (older than approx. 2006). Other measures identified in the report include extended opening hours at the park & ride sites, anti-idling and weight-restriction enforcement, support for revisions to residents’ parking zones and better walking and cycling facilities.

Depending on the decision made by cabinet, more detailed information on the scheme including bids for funding will be sent to central government. After receiving approvals and funding needed, the council would then begin the formal processes for implementing the scheme including any required consultation, with the aim of the scheme starting in December 2020.

The cabinet will meet at 10am on Tuesday March 5 at the Guildhall in Bath to make its decision.

Meanwhile, Lib Dem group spokesperson on Air Quality, Councillor Richard Samuel, commented:

“Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for action to improve air quality in Bath. We believe any measures must effectively reduce emissions but must not have an unfair impact on those who are least well-off.

“It’s welcome that the new proposals will not tax the poorest local residents for access to the city centre and we are glad that concerns have been heard.

“However it remains to be seen if the benefits of the clean air zone can be fully realised without cars being included. Once the detailed background papers are published, a clearer assessment will be possible.

“Bath’s toxic air threatens our health and must be taken seriously. On the face of it, the Conservatives are ducking an unpopular decision just before the local elections. Residents deserve better from the Council than this.”