Clean Air Zones - driving the wrong way?

Clean Air Zones - driving the wrong way?

By Graham Harker, Dan Griffiths & Tim Allen

The first five local authorities that had to develop Clean Air Zone (CAZ) plans to reduce roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations should, by now, be consulting on their plans. However, there seems to be a lack of consistency in approach and some are moving faster than others.

Derby has yet to issue its plan and Nottingham has concluded that a CAZ is not necessary. Leeds and Southampton do plan to charge non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis and HGVs but, whereas Southampton applies this across the whole city, the proposed Leeds CAZ only covers 55% of the city centre. Meanwhile, Birmingham proposes a zone for buses, coaches, taxis, HGVs, LGVs and private cars for an area that includes the inner ring road.

The envisaged charges are broadly similar - Leeds are proposing £50 per day for buses, coaches and HGVs (down from the previously proposed £100), and £12.50 for taxis. Birmingham proposes to set the charge for non-compliant vehicles at between £50-£100 per day for buses, coaches and HGVs and between £6-£12.50 per day for taxis, LGVs and private cars.

Whilst the different approaches may legitimately relate to local circumstances, they will lead to a patchwork of different requirements in different places. This will be confusing to users, and inevitably lead to claims and disputes. Leeds are suggesting that vehicles should only be charged once per day regardless of the number of zones they enter, but this will require national co-operation to an extent not currently envisaged.

Birmingham has no choice but to develop a CAZ (government has mandated that they must), but has calculated that the cost will outweigh the quantified health and non-health benefits. In addition, the effect may disproportionally impact residents in the CAZ and surrounding area, including disabled people, children, people with religious beliefs, small/medium enterprises and taxi drivers. Mitigation measures for these groups are being investigated – but this will add further costs to the CAZ proposals and make them much more complex in terms of monitoring those who enter the zone.

Depressingly, modelling forecasts of the impact of the Birmingham CAZ proposals show that even with the highest charges, the city will still be non-compliant with EU Limit Values in 2020 and further measures will be required. The problem is that there is simply too much traffic in the city centre; a consequence of too little cross-city public transport provision. The forthcoming Metro extension and Sprint bus schemes will help to address this, but, as they are already in the forecasts, more radical solutions will be required to have the desired impact.

The current focus on CAZs is about changing the emissions profile of the traffic on the road, rather than reducing demand. Somehow, the demand for travel must be met in a different, and more sustainable, way. This is likely to mean much more public transport, and maybe punitive limitations on private car usage, with fewer parking spaces and much higher costs. All this will require difficult decisions to be made; decisions that balance economic opportunity and ease of access against the health and wellbeing of residents, the workforce and visitors, both in Birmingham and other cities across the UK.