Discounts and time extensions for some road users could be offered to make Birmingham’s charging clean air zone (CAZ) covering all types of vehicle, including cars, more palatable.
Consultation began this week on the Labour-controlled city council’s plan to introduce a class D CAZ in January 2020 covering all roads within the city’s A4540 ring road (formerly known as the Middle Ring Road). The zone would apply to buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, lorries, vans and cars.
The consultation proposes charge levels of £6 or £12.50 for private cars; £12.50 for taxis, private hire and light goods vehicles; and £50 or £100 for buses, coaches and lorries. Penalty charge notices for non-payment would be up to £120.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on the council have both criticised the plan. But Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appeared to give his backing to the proposal.
“Birmingham City Council has taken the bold step of proposing a clean air zone for the city, and residents and other groups have the opportunity to make their views known in the next few weeks on how we tackle the air quality challenge in Birmingham,” he said. “We have the opportunity to build a coalition of Government, councils, industry, universities and residents to lead the clean air agenda in the West Midlands, the UK and the world.”
The council is braced for legal action. Jonathan Tew, assistant chief executive, and Waheed Nazir, corporate director, economy, told the cabinet: “There is a high prospect of challenge with regard to any action the council decides to take, from either environmental interest groups who do not consider that the proposals go far enough or/and from specific individuals or groups that may be especially adversely affected by the proposals.”
An estimated 72 per cent of vehicles will be compliant in 2020 but this still leaves 60,000 vehicles that will not.
Discounted charges could be offered to vehicles registered to small and medium-sized enterprises that enter the CAZ on a regular basis, such as two or more times a week.
Disabled people and people living in or close to the CAZ area on “limited income” could be given extra time before being charged. Parents and guardians of patients at Birmingham Children’s Hospital could receive time-limited and/or means-tested discounts on the charge for visiting long-stay patients.
Tew and Nazir said analysis suggested that, even with 97 per cent of the vehicle fleet meeting CAZ standards, the annual mean NO2 limit value would continue to be exceeded in places. “This is due to the sheer volume of traffic using the worst sections of the road network,” they said.
A major contributor to the problem is the A38, which runs across the city centre, connecting the M6 and Sutton Coldfield in the north-east with the south-west of the city, which is home to the University of Birmingham and Queen Elizabeth Hospitals.
The council has explored what additional measures could be used to comply with the NO2 limit value. These include:
• retrofitting black taxis to liquefied petroleum gas and funding for additional electric taxis
• expanding on-street controlled parking across the city centre
• changes to the road network to encourage traffic to route away from the A38 and Digbeth, including banning through trips on Moor Street Queensway and Park Street, and discouraging through trips between Great Suffolk Street/Great Charles Street Queensway and Sandpits.
“Although these measures produce further reductions beyond a class D CAZ the modelling suggests that it will not be possible to deliver compliance at all locations in 2020,” said Tew and Nazir.
Consequently, further additional measures have been studied to reduce traffic on the A38 and A4540 ring road, including banning through trips by certain vehicle classes such as HGVs, and banning through trips on the A38 between Dartmouth Circus and Belgrave Middleway.
But Tew and Nazir said: “The impact of this closure reroutes additional traffic onto the ring road further increasing the levels of exceedance.”
They said improvements would be needed to the ring road. “The A4540 and its associated junctions are already experiencing capacity issues and queuing at peak times. Improvements are planned to some of the junctions, but modelling shows that these will not resolve the issues in the long-term. Additional improvements, which are unlikely to be deliverable in line with the timescales required on air quality, are required to enable the road to take the extra traffic which would be re-routed from the A38.”
An appraisal shows the package of a CAZ and additional measures has a negative net present value because the monetised health and non-health benefits are outweighed by costs to the public, council and Government. But Tew and Nazir said: “The High Court judgments [against the Government] resulting from the Client Earth cases sets out that simply balancing considerations such as cost is not a reason for rejecting effective measures. Rather, the approach is to secure compliance within the shortest time possible, consistent with constraints of the relevant legislation, its legal obligations and public law considerations.
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