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Call for clarity on Clean Air plans for Central Motorway

July 26, 2017 5:01 PM
Tyne BridgeResponding to the Government announcement on clean air, Newcastle's Lib Dem Opposition has challenged the city council's Labour leadership to publicly state its intentions on addressing air quality concerns on the Central Motorway East and Tyne Bridge approach, which has been identified by DEFRA as an air quality hotspot for NOx (nitrous oxide) pollution from traffic congestion emissions
The city council has been critical in its response to Government consultation, with some justification, over slow progress on introducing a national Air Quality Action Plan in response to tougher EU clean air targets, but the Opposition has drawn attention to Newcastle's own lack of progress on this front, including a decision in 2013 not to introduce a low emissions zone plan for the city centre.
The Government is requiring Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Derby and Nottingham to introduce Clean Air Zones to tackle air quality in these cities, and is encouraging other cities to take action to tackle identified hotspots. It is understood that Newcastle air quality levels are only just above the level of the cities required to act. The city was recently visited by the deputy director of DEFRA to raise concerns over air quality levels in congestion hotspots, and it has been urged to consider implementing a Clean Air Zone centred on the Central Motorway East and potentially including the Quayside. However, the council has yet to make a public statement on this.
London's Mayor has recently introduced a Clean Air Zone programme in the capital which requires high-emissions freight vehicles to pay a £10 daily charge, although Clean Air Zone guidance does not automatically require introduction of restrictions or charges on private cars.
The council's existing policies for air quality date from 2006 when under Liberal Democrat control. In 2013 the council commissioned a report by Capita Symons and Newcastle University which recommended against introduction of a city centre low emissions zone on the grounds that costs would exceed revenue, and that "natural replacement" would soon lead to reductions in emission levels. The report also noted that introducing a Low Emissions Zone in the city centre would be contrary to the council's commitment to free parking in the city centre after 6pm.
The council's existing transport policies seek to reduce vehicle use in the city centre, but the Lib Dems are concerned that this is now contributing to increased congestion and emissions on edge of centre routes like the Central Motorway and Boulevard. They are calling for the city council to clarify its intentions in light of today's Government announcement, and are calling for it to make progress towards restrictions on HGV use in the city centre together with a target for transition away from use of high emission diesel-based public transport such as buses and taxis by 2025 and an environmental impact assessment of the extent to which the council's policies are increasing congestion on the Central Motorway. The party wants to see air quality measures included in a joined up climate change strategy for the city.
Lib Dem Opposition transport spokesman Cllr Greg Stone said
"The Labour council leadership boasts of having introduced a new Cabinet position for Transport and Air Quality, but it takes more than a new job title to make progress, and to date, it's done very little.
We know that DEFRA have challenged the city council on the Central Motorway hotspot, but there has been no public statement of intent on whether the council will act on the Clean Air Zone suggestion. We believe it is in the public interest for the council to set out what it proposes to do in response. The Labour administration has already turned down one opportunity to bring in a low emissions zone in the city centre, and is seemingly blaming poor air quality levels on the Tyne Bridge approach on regional through traffic rather than local traffic. It has also suggested that these levels are not a concern given that there is not a large residential population nearby. This seems strange at a time when they are approving more student accommodation blocks alongside the motorway.
Technological change will bring benefits over time, but it takes political leadership to move the agenda forward. The Lib Dems have been calling since 2014 for phasing out of petrol and diesel engines by 2040 and both the UK and France are now adopting this target. We invite the council's Director of Public Health and Head of Transport to back our approach to address the harmful effects of poor air quality on public health by requiring the council to act on HGV and public transport diesel emissions. If we don't start this process now, tougher restrictions will be harder to avoid in future."