Wednesday, July 26, 2017

News: Rotherham in line for Clean Air Zone

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The Government could force Rotherham Council to implement a "Clean Air Zone" in the borough - including the prospect of charging polluting vehicles to use congested roads.

Consultation has recently completed on national plans to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide around roads within the shortest possible time - described as the most immediate air quality challenge.

The Draft UK Air Quality Plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide includes measures to invest in road improvements to ease congestion, accelerate the uptake low-emission vehicles, retrofit technology to vehicles, promote cycling and walking and invest in bus services.

The plan also includes the action to "Mandate local authorities to implement Clean Air Zones (CAZs) within the shortest possible time."

The zones involve "targeted action to improve air quality as well as being prioritised and coordinated in a way that delivers improved health benefits and supports economic growth."

Following an announcement that five areas where to have a Clean Air Zone, the new plan suggests that they should be expanded to "all areas of exceedance where they could feasibly be implemented, reflecting the latest evidence on emissions from diesel vehicles."

Rotherham (alongside Sheffield and Doncaster) is one of 38 English local authorities with one or more roads forecast persistently to exceed NO2 legal limits based on initial modelling. The analysis in the consultation looks at an expansion from five CAZs, plus London, to a further 21 by 2020.

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The zones fall into two categories, non-charging and charging. In non-charging CAZs, a range of local actions on any source of air pollution could be instigated, such as car sharing, cycling schemes, or park and ride schemes.

In addition to the actions above, charging CAZs place additional access restrictions on vehicles that do not meet the set standards of the zone by requiring them to pay a charge to enter. Charges are not a required part of CAZ proposals and would only be expected where equally effective alternatives are not identified.

Based on Euro standards for expected emissions, vehicles that are generally older and produced before tougher standards were brought in, would be expected to pay to enter the zones. Only certain zones would charge for cars and motorcycles alongside HGVs, LGVs, buses and taxis.

The consultation concludes that establishing Clean Air Zones is the most effective way to bring the UK into compliance with NO2 concentration levels in the shortest possible time.

Charging CAZs are expected to lead to a change in the composition of the vehicles entering the zone, resulting in high polluting vehicles operating within the zone largely being replaced with cleaner vehicles.

The consultation admits that the implementation of CAZs is "likely to have a significant effect on businesses, which may have an impact on economic growth, as indicative analysis suggests that CAZs will target buses, coaches and taxis in 27 cities, HGVs in 23 cities and LGVs in 20. These vehicles are principally owned by businesses.

"More specifically, the CAZ charge will primarily affect businesses who own older vehicles that would be subject to the charge, and who enter the proposed CAZs on a relatively frequent basis. Businesses' ability to respond will depend on a number of circumstances. The main factors are the availability of funds to upgrade their non-compliant vehicle or pay the charge; flexibility to change behaviour in another way such as switching to an alternative mode of transport (e.g. train); rerouting to travel outside the CAZ; or redeploying their older vehicles to other areas of the country.

"In general, larger businesses would be expected to have more capacity to manage the impacts both financially and operationally. In contrast, smaller businesses, particularly sole traders who are dependent on using their vehicle within a CAZ, may be less able to adjust behaviour and continue into the zone."

Transport for London (TfL), which operates a congestion charge found that the transport and storage, construction sectors and commuter services were those likely to be most impacted.

Measures to mitigate individuals and businesses affected by the charge include scrappage, retrofit, and grants for Ultra Low Emission Vehicles.

The consultation adds that: "CAZs should also deliver benefits to economic growth through improved air quality. This would reduce the number of absences from work, distracted performance or employee deaths, which all impact on business productivity. The policy would also stimulate demand for new vehicles, which will have a positive impact on vehicle manufacturers and therefore encourage economic growth."

The analysis of roads that exceed the pollutant levels does not include roads managed by Highways England, like the M1, where users are restricted to travelling at lower than 70mph during peak times in an effort to address air quality issues.

Rotherham Council has previously declared seven Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where polluntant concentration standards are not being met.

Images: SYPTE / ITM Power


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