We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Labour's latest air quality plans may not be legally compliant - and may not work either

September 6, 2019 5:40 PM

Bus station NewcastleThe Liberal Democrats Opposition believes the revised plans to tackle air pollution from traffic on Tyneside merely a case of delaying possible charges for driving in the city centre rather than scrapping them. They continue to be concerned the council's plans are neither legally compliant with air quality legislation nor likely to tackle growing citywide problems. (The press statement by the Labour councils is below, including daily charges of up to £50 a day for some non compliant vehicles including buses)

The Opposition will submit alternative proposals for a more intelligent approach to improving air quality to the council's consultation, and we will be asking the council Cabinet to consider adopting these at its meeting later in September.

The Opposition's alternative approach includes:

- Setting a date of 2025 for transition to low emission bus / taxi public transport on key corridors

- Extending the city's air quality sensor and signage network

- Developing "school clean air zone" pilots to reduce school run air quality problems

- A feasibility study on implementing the "Nottingham model" including a workplace parking levy for larger employers providing on site car parking - the Nottingham equivalent generates more than £10m a year to support additional public transport provision

- Reviewing the sustainability of Live After Five free parking with a view to substituting public transport fare offers

Cllr Anita Lower, Leader of the Opposition, said :

"This is not so much a comprehensive plan for improving air quality in the city as a frantic last minute back of an envelope bare minimum.

"There is still no clear strategy for a smart city approach to clean air, and we are sceptical as to whether this plan will comply with national targets. In many parts of the city air quality levels are consistently running well in excess of the 40 microgram safe level target and the council is unlikely to be able to demonstrate that this scheme is compliant. It remains to be seen whether the council will face prosecution over this.

"This plan only tackles the immediate city centre and Tyne Bridge and does nothing to address problems experienced on major routes like Gosforth High Street, the Coast Road, West Road and the A1 Western Bypass. Nor does it identify practical solutions to improving air quality in the vicinity of schools. We would like to see monitors and mini clean air zones in the vicinity of primary schools."

"The bottom line is that if the council doesn't get the £40 million it is seeking from Government for works on the Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge, these plans are undeliverable."

Cllr Greg Stone, Opposition spokesperson on transport and air quality, said :

"We welcome the fact that the council has at least partially listened to the Opposition's call to focus its efforts on larger diesel vehicles, which generate far greater emissions than private cars. The council will need to work hard to engage with taxi drivers and van users who are set to be hit too. We think more needs to be done to implement low-emission public transport corridors in and out of the city centre on routes like the Coast Road and Gosforth High Street.

We particularly welcome the council's support for delivery hubs outside the city centre to allow for "last leg" deliveries by electric vehicles. This was something piloted by the previous Lib Dem administration but activity ceased under the current Labour one.

"We are sceptical of the council's ability to deliver major highways changes based on their recent record, and we will look carefully at whether the Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge proposals simply push queuing traffic further back towards the Cowgate roundabout.

"In terms of the city centre, the council appears to have decided to kick the can down the road for a bit longer on whether private car users should be charged , presumably after bowing to pressure from business and retail. As it stands, the financial burden of this plan will fall on bus passengers, so it is difficult to see it incentivising people to leave their cars and use the bus instead."

The full statement for the 3 councils reads :

Three Tyneside councils are set to agree their final plan to improve air quality across the region in response to government's legal direction.

Cabinet meetings to be held this month will seek the approval of councillors in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Gateshead to consult on proposals for a Clean Air Zone and a range of supporting measures to be implemented in 2021.

Under the plans, private car drivers will not initially be subject to the charge - though once public transport and mitigation measures have been agreed the councils will consider introducing charges for polluting private vehicles at a future date. Such a charge for private vehicles would be subject to a separate consultation and is likely to depend on the level of resource committed from government to providing reliable alternatives.

Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils developed the revised proposals following consultation feedback, which highlighted concerns about the potential impact of charges in the first year on individuals, businesses and the local economy.

Councillors will be asked to agree the final package of measures, which includes:

· A smaller charging Clean Air Zone covering only Newcastle City Centre affecting non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis (Hackney Carriages and private hire vehicles), heavy goods vehicles and vans from 2021.

· Changes to the road layout on the Central Motorway, that will prevent traffic from merging on and off the slip lane between the New Bridge Street and Swan House junctions.

· Lane restrictions on the Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway. These restrictions will be put in place to support air quality work but the councils are asking government for £40m funding to ensure essential maintenance works take place at the same time, minimising disruption by aligning these much needed roadworks to update the ageing bridge with the need to implement lane restrictions.

· changes to the local road network in Newcastle and Gateshead to reflect the Tyne Bridge restrictions and ensure public transport can run reliably.

· New delivery hubs for smaller goods vehicles outside of the charging zone, from where 'last-mile' deliveries can be made by electric vehicle or cargo bike.

· Supporting measures, including grants and other help for people to upgrade vehicles, grace periods where some drivers would not be charged when measures are first introduced and exemptions for certain vehicles that would not be charged at all.

The legal order the councils have been given by government means they had to identify measures that will bring pollution to within legal limits as quickly as possible.

They believe this package of measures would achieve this aim while also taking into account the feedback from the first stage of consultation, which attracted over 19,000 responses, earlier this year.

Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality said: "Simply charging everyone for driving into Newcastle city centre or over our bridges isn't going to clean up air quality on its own. That's why we've developed a package of measures to address many of the issues the public and businesses raised with us during our first consultation.

"It's a very uncertain time for the country's economy for a lot of reasons and we're trying to avoid adding disruption to our local economy just to satisfy a narrow focus from government that we've consistently argued isn't comprehensive in what it's trying to achieve.

"Our proposals include targeting the heaviest single vehicle polluters first, such as old buses and large HGVs. Our proposals to government include mitigation and grant provision to upgrade or replace old dirty vehicles to more compliant models as well as ways of making bus services more affordable and practical for everyone.

"At the same time, we want to improve our key roads and reduce congestion to keep traffic moving and prioritise public transport. We're trying to take the opportunity to do essential works to the Tyne Bridge, subject to government funding. This will play a key role in not only addressing air quality but ensuring the public recognise we are joined up in our approach."

Cllr Martin Gannon, leader at Gateshead Council said: "Working across local authorities we have developed a Clean Air Zone in Newcastle's city centre that will initially focus on non-compliant buses, coaches, HGVs, vans and taxis. We believe this will improve our air quality as quickly as other options but will be less damaging for our region's economy.

"At this stage, we will not be looking to charge private vehicles as we firmly believe that there have to be credible alternatives in place for people to get out of their cars, such as better walking and cycling infrastructure and cheaper and more reliable forms of public transport which will be our primary focus.

"We may need to look again at private cars in the future which will require further consultation, but we believe our proposals should - if the supporting measures are funded adequately by government - bring our air quality to legal levels and protect the health of our population."

Cllr Carl Johnson, cabinet member for transport and environment at North Tyneside Council said: "We are committed to working together to tackle air quality in our region and have developed a package of measures to help us do this. However, as local authorities we can't do this on our own and need a firm support from government on mitigation funding to make this happen.

"We need to support businesses and public transport operators in making the shift to cleaner, greener vehicles as well as looking at the affordability of public transport as this will be key to cleaning up our air."

The charges that are proposed for vehicles that do not meet emissions standards are as follows:

· HGVs - £50 per day

· Buses - £50 per day

· Coaches - £50 per day

· Taxis (Hackney Carriages and private hire vehicles) - £12.50 per day

· Vans - £12.50 per day

· Cars - £0 per day. Any future charges after 2021 would be determined after further consultation once the other measures had been agreed and implemented.