Clean Air Zones coming to a town near you
By Graham Harker, Air Quality Team Leader
Following the government’s defeat by ClientEarth in the High Court, Clean Air Zones (CAZs) are likely to be coming to a town near you.
The government’s original plan was to mandate CAZs for Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham, Derby and London. The government’s defeat means that new plans need to finalised by 31 July 2017 and these plans will need to be based on a more realistic view of future vehicle emissions, as well as requiring compliance with EU Limit Values in as short a time as possible. The upshot is likely to be that many more CAZs will be required, possibly covering most of the major urban areas of the UK, even if they are only required for a short period of time.
The plans will still need to concentrate on major road corridors where the EU Directive applies, and therefore will still not necessarily align with Air Quality Management Areas which to date, have defined the areas where air quality is poor.
DEFRA published its consultation on the implementation of CAZs before the result of the ClientEarth case became known. For the original five cities mandated to have a CAZ outside of London, the target of the zones was buses, taxis, heavy goods vehicles and some diesel vans. The private motorist was spared from the inconvenience of paying to enter an area with an old car, presumably on the basis that private motorists vote and the policy would be unpopular. It remains to be seen if the new plans take the same approach.
What is clear from the publicity generated by the case is that air quality is slowly moving up the public’s agenda. Planning applications involving large increases in traffic are likely to come under greater scrutiny, potentially increasing development timescales and costs if the issue is not appropriately handled. Even before the court case, there has been a move by local authorities towards Low Emissions Strategies whereby specific air quality mitigation is required regardless of the air quality impact of the development. These strategies involve the implementation of Travel Plans, promoting public transport and increasingly the provision of electric vehicle charging points.
CAZs and Low Emissions Strategies reflect the increasing desire to ‘do something’ about air quality, whether as a result of concerns regarding public health impacts, or in the case of the government, being forced to comply with EU Legislation. Even with Brexit, the former is unlikely to go away, with the focus switching to Air Quality Management Areas once EU Limit Values no longer apply.
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