Councillors to confirm air quality proposals

Potential measures for tackling air pollution and improving public health are due to be considered by councillors.

Cabinet members at Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils will meet next week to confirm the proposals that will go out to public consultation.

The measures are aimed at tackling poor air quality, which is linked to around 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK, including hundreds in our area.

A legal order from government had demanded action from the three councils, and many others across the country, to improve air quality in certain areas in the shortest time possible by 2021.

By far the biggest cause of poor air quality is road transport. All vehicles cause some pollution, including those with low emissions, but those that run on diesel fuel and older vehicles are the biggest source of nitrogen dioxide emissions. It is these emissions which government has told councils they must reduce.

Councils are keen to ensure that any measures that are introduced not only improve air quality, helping to make the area cleaner and healthier for those living, working and visiting here, but also avoid a negative impact on the local economy, business and those on lower incomes.

The options people will be invited to comment on will include a potential charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) – which the government has told the three councils they must consider.

When councils tested different levels of charging clean air zone, to assess the likely impact on air quality and traffic movements, the results suggested that even the highest level of CAZ would not be enough on its own to address the problem.

Councils are therefore keen to consult people on other options.

These could include potential tolls on the three main road bridges over the Tyne – the Tyne, Swing and Redheugh bridges.

In a charging CAZ, charges would apply to all vehicles that do not meet the government’s minimum emissions standards.

Under a system of tolls, charges would apply to all lorries, vans and cars regardless of their emissions. Buses and taxis would not be required to pay.

Under a charging Clean Air Zone charges would be per day and could be around £50 for lorries, buses and coaches and £12.50 for vans, taxis and cars.

Any tolls on bridges would be charged per journey and could be around £3.40 for lorries and £1.70 for vans and cars – in line with the charges people are already used to paying to use the Tyne Tunnel.

The level of any charges has not yet been determined and those included in the consultation reflect charges consulted on by other areas – including Leeds and Birmingham – or those in use on existing Tyne crossings. People will be asked to comment on the level of charges as part of the consultation.

Money paid by drivers through charges would be used to cover the cost of running the CAZ or toll system and any surplus would be reinvested in highways and public transport improvements.

Other measures being considered include a Low Emission Zone where lorries, buses and taxis that do not meet minimum emissions requirements could be banned from entering Newcastle City Centre at certain times.

The consultation will also ask about possible restrictions to reduce traffic on Central Motorway, which has some of the highest levels of pollution that need to be tackled.

A series of additional non-charging measures are also set out in the cabinet reports and, subject to cabinet approval, people will be given the opportunity to comment on these as part of the consultation.

Measures to support people and businesses affected by potential charges are also being considered. This could include financial support or scrappage schemes to help people upgrade their vehicles or help for people on lower incomes to switch to public transport.

The consultation will be open to all residents, workers, students and businesses in and around the area from 6 March 2019 until 17 May 2019. Details of how to take part will be published nearer the date.