Cars escape Bath clean air zone charges but vans still face burden
The city of Bath is to implement a Class C charging clean air zone that will exempt cars but not vans from charges for non-compliant vehicles.
It comes after Bath & North East Somerset Council, along with 27 other authorities, was told by the Government to take urgent action to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels caused by vehicle emissions in the shortest possible time and by 2021 at the latest.
The council was legally bound to reach a decision by the end of December and ran a six-week consultation from 16 October on people’s views of the proposed Class D zone, which would have brought charges of £9 per day for non-compliant cars, taxis and LGVs/vans, and £100 per day for non-compliant buses, coaches and HGVs,
However, as a result of a claimed record-breaking response, the council delayed a decision while further technical work continued. As a result, a Class C option, which would not see cars charged while still meeting government compliance deadlines, was identified.
The scheme will see the reduction of traffic into Gay Street, which would otherwise exceed the legally permitted NO2 threshold. 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 will be introduced. The intention is to remove the traffic management scheme once compliance is achieved and as vehicle emissions improve.
Charges for non-compliant vehicles remain consistent with the original proposal: £100 for buses, coaches and HGVs and £9 for LGVs/vans, private hire vehicles and taxis.
Mark Shelford, cabinet member for transport and environment, said: “This has been a crucially important decision and I believe we have the right clean air plan for our city that exempts cars from charges, safeguards the long-term health of people and meets the needs of our busy, vibrant city. Our immediate step now is to write to government confirming our decision and to seek the funding we need to deliver this plan.
“Levels of pollution we know will drop as cleaner vehicles come onto the market, already First Bus is retrofitting vehicles, which means this is an ever-changing picture and one we will continue to monitor to ensure the zone meets the city’s needs.”
The cabinet also approved a package of measures to assist businesses and vulnerable people manage the impact of the charging zone. This includes interest-free loans to help businesses upgrade pre-Euro 6 commercial vehicles while 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 is also asking for funds to support grants of £2,000 to help households upgrade pre-Euro 4 petrol cars. 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.
However, the Freight Transport Association said the amended plans present a burden to local businesses and has slammed the decision to drop cars from charges.
Chris Yarsley, policy manager for the South West at FTA, commented: “A Class C charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is the very worst option for local businesses in Bath and the regional economy; FTA is perplexed as to why Bath & North East Somerset Council decided to exclude private cars and place the heavy financial burden of improving the city’s air quality on commercial vehicle operators. This decision is tantamount to a stealth tax on the hard-working local businesses and vehicle operators which already contribute so much to the public purse and help keep Bath functioning by delivering the goods and services supermarkets, schools, and other businesses need operate. FTA is also disappointed that the size of Zone will be extended to encompass areas within the east of the city, bringing even more businesses under its scope. This Zone will not just affect those delivering into Bath, but any operators using the A36 to go west or south.”
Yarsley continued: “CAZs are not the most effective way to improve air quality; other solutions can deliver a better outcome in a quicker time frame, without damaging the local economy. The Bath & North East Somerset Council would be better placed to concentrate on traffic management and encourage the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, instead of implementing a scheme that would cost businesses and damage the local economy. However, if it is convinced that it must implement a charging Zone, the Council must take all steps available to mitigate its damage to local business, for example, by ensuring the size of the Zone is as small as possible, and major industrial areas exempted.
“FTA is also dismayed that while several measures are being considered to help private drivers reduce their need to drive into the city – such as improved park and rides and cycling facilities – commercial vehicle operators will be left picking up the bill for this investment, as private car drivers will not be contributing to the funding that will be made available via the CAZ charge.”