Labour councils let us down again on air quality

July 18, 2019 4:48 PM
Tyne BridgeThere should be little surprise that the majority of people are opposed to the council's road charging proposals. The £12.50 proposal for driving on the Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge was clearly unpalatable to most people, but the council's alternative suggestion for tolls on the Tyne Bridges seems equally unpopular. And many people fear that charging drivers on major routes (such as Coast Road, Central Motorway, Gosforth High Street)), the Council could push them into inner city neighbourhoods and stimulate new "rat runs"
The Liberal Democrats Opposition does not have confidence that the council administration has a viable strategy to tackle the crisis after years of inaction, and it now appears that the council Cabinet doesn't have the courage to sign off its own draft strategy. Labour's plans seem to be as toxic as the air on Percy Street, the Central Motorway, and the A1 Western Bypass. Their approach has been a comprehensive failure and a full scrutiny investigation is now needed.
That said, there is undeniably an air quality crisis in Newcastle. Action to improve air quality and protect public health is essential. Levels are in excess of safe limits in many parts of the city. Monitoring of NO2 levels at the Corner House on the Coast Road has recently shown levels as high as 267 microgrammes, far in excess of the 40 microgramme limit. Only a few days ago the Government warned the three councils that they face legal action for missing a second deadline to introduce a coherent plan. The government has set a deadline of November 12th to come up with a viable approach or face prosecution.
We stand ready to work with the administration to bring forward a robust strategy which seeks to emulate the "Nottingham model", where the council has successfully avoided the need to introduce charges by pursuing significant improvements to low emission public transport funded by the introduction of a Workplace Parking Levy on employers providing more than 10 on-site parking spaces. Nottingham have offered us the opportunity to visit and learn from their ideas. So far, the Newcastle Labour administration hasn't taken up this offer.
We believe the Nottingham approach is viable. The consultation responses strongly support better public transport alternatives, including increasing park and ride from the east and west, a more reliable Metro system, and low-emission buses, as we have been campaigning for at local elections and since. Clearly better walking and cycling provision is important too. The Liberal Democrats Opposition has consistently called for the council to adopt this approach over many months and we repeat our call on the council to work with us to progress this. We are willing to work on a cross-party basis to introduce low-emission bus corridors to reduce diesel emissions on key routes, and to identify a deliverable solution to ensure clean air and a pedestrian friendly environment in the city centre.
Time is running out. There are only weeks until the Government's November deadline. The Labour council leadership must now hand over control of this crisis to a cross-party commission tasked with rapidly identifying an alternative approach that commands the confidence of the public.