Councillors in Basildon have passed a near-unanimous resolution to tell ministers that they will not implement a ‘congestion charge’ to tackle illegal levels of toxic air pollution.
It follows a Ministerial Direction from environment minister Therese Coffey requiring Basildon Council and Essex County Council to introduce a lower speed limit reduction on the A127 and improve their plan to reduce levels on nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
Ms Coffey suggested that the councils should consider ‘a small charging Clean Air Zone’ (CAZ), which might be needed to ensure that pollution levels come down within legal limits in the shortest possible time.
At an extraordinary council meeting last week, Basildon councillors voted 39 in favour, with one abstention, for a motion that committed the council to immediate action to implement a 50mph zone on the Basildon stretch of the A127, ‘establishing a Clean Air Zone and to support businesses to move to sustainable transport solutions for the future’.
The council claimed that introduction of a charging CAZ ‘would be incredibly detrimental to the borough’s businesses and the local economy [and] put incredible pressure on the Basildon stretch of the A13'.
Basildon said the two councils had identified levels of NO2 exceeding ‘guidelines’ in one area and in March 2019, had announced proposals to introduce a non-charging CAZ in this area.
However, Ms Coffey said the council should model either ‘a small charging Clean Air Zone around the … exceedance location or a suitable access restriction (charge or ban) for HGVs to determine whether compliance can be brought forward from 2023’.
Despite refusing to consider a measure that could bring pollution levels within legal limits earlier, council leader Gavin Callaghan claimed he was ‘absolutely committed to improving the environment in which our residents live’ and that the council would ‘act quickly to do what is in our power, and within our influence, to improve our air quality, reducing emissions and bringing them within legal limits’.
He said: ‘We reject utterly the notion that a charging zone is an appropriate solution. We want to work with our businesses, not against them.’
The council said it will bring forward to 31 March 2020 implementation of a speed reduction on the A127, from 70mph to 50mph, with statutory consultation on the measure this summer.
The case represents a further blow to the Government’s widely criticised strategy of initially leaving local authorities to determine how to meet legal pollution limits and follows Bristol City Council’s decision to drop plans for a charging CAZ on the basis that such a move would adversely affect low income residents.
The Government had set a deadline of 2020, which it believed that councils could meet, but this was overturned in the courts in favour of an approach that required faster action if possible based on the EU Air Quality Directive.
On Monday (1 July), Bristol launched a consultation on two alternative proposals, which it expects will not achieve compliance with legal limits until 2024.
Separately, Sheffield City Council has launched what it calls a ‘conversation’ on air quality that includes a possible CAZ that would exempt private cars and would not be implemented until 2021.
A spokesperson told Transport Network that the council was in the 'second tranche' of CAZs, for which 2021 was seen as the shortest possible time.
The council stated that its proposals were aimed at the 20% of vehicles in the city that cause 50% of NO2 emissions.