Clean Air Zone – Time for the Government to Cough Up! Martin Stride
As most of you are aware, Birmingham (along with 5 other cities in England) has been required by the government to submit a scheme for a clean air zone (CAZ) to tackle levels of air pollution specifically nitrogen dioxide which exceed legal limits in a number of parts of the city. This damaging the health of people and ecosystems.
To tackle the pollution properly, various air modelling scenarios indicated that the most stringent class D charging zone would be necessary in which all non-compliant vehicles including cars would be charged to enter the CAZ.
Birmingham City Council held a public consultation on its proposals which BFOE responded to. Unsurprisingly the majority of respondents were against the proposed charging scheme, but as Councillor Waseem Zaffar Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment said, it was a consultation, not a referendum. However the feedback did identify that a number of individuals and groups would experience some difficulty in coping with the charge, such as those on low incomes working in the CAZ who are unable to switch to public transport and unable to afford a new vehicle.
During the consultation period, BFOE ran a petition in which we supported councils charging scheme to include cars as an essential first step but noted that this was just the start. We were asking for more emphasis on attractive and viable alternatives to driving such as a network of safe cycling and walking routes and quick clean and reliable public transport with low fares. Further, we were calling for a city-wide clean air zone by 2020.
We held a number of street stalls where people were only too happy to chat to us about their concerns on air pollution and sign our petition. We collected over 800 signatures of support in the space of a couple of months. We handed our petition over to Councillor Fred Grindrod on 10th September to bolster our consultation response.
We were pleased to see that the council had not back-pedalled on its commitment to tackle air pollution seriously and has stuck to its position of charging all non compliant vehicles including cars. Given that Birmingham is one of the most car-dependant cities in Europe, this was a nettle which had to be firmly grasped.
Having said that, even with the charging regime and all the proposed additional measures such as restricting free car parking within the CAZ, the modelling indicates that pollution levels of NO2 would not be reduced to below the legal limits until 2021. The council line was that compliance could not be achieved before 2021 without adversely affecting the economy and jeopardising jobs.
The city council submitted its business case to central government by the September 15th deadline.
Time for the Government to cough up the money!
After several months of number-crunching, discussions with DEFRA, further consultation with directly affected groups and additional air quality modelling, in early December, the council issued its Full Business Case in which it has specified the actual charge for non complaint vehicles entering the CAZ (£8.00 for cars, £50.00 for buses, coaches and Hg Vs). And has drawn up a package of mitigation measures and exemptions. These are far too numerous to list here, but exemptions will include not charging non-compliant cars registered to addressses within the CAZ for the first two years of the scheme. Mitigation measures will include financial help for taxi drivers to upgrade or renew their vehicles, and financial help for key workers and those on a low income who work in the CAZ.
The council has submitted its Full Business Case to the government in which it outlines the costs of it’s scheme (including the mitigation and end exemption measures) and has made a bid for the funding which will total around £68 million. The ball is now in the government’s court and it rests with them to cough up the required funds! It will be interesting to see how much the council will manage to secure.