Further analysis of air quality options needed

Work to develop measures to improve air quality in the Tyneside area is continuing following the submission of an initial report to government.

Councils in Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside have been looking at a range of options for tackling roadside pollution, in line with a legal directive from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The directive stated that councils had to prepare a plan to tackle high levels of nitrogen dioxide on certain roads.

It also made clear that any measures had to be compared against putting in place a charging clean air zone and that any alternative proposals had to be at least as quick in addressing the problem of pollution as those charges would be.

Councils were required to identify measures that will bring air quality levels to within legal limits in the shortest possible time and to submit their draft proposals by the end of 2018.

The draft outline business case submitted by the Tyneside authorities sets out a series of the charging options that have been tested to evaluate and predict the likely impact they would have on traffic movements and on levels of pollution.

  • The authorities have consistently focused on whether the proposals would meet four key criteria:
  • That the measures were deliverable on time and would impact positively on air quality;
  • That the proposals would improve public health; • That they would enable future economic growth and sustain jobs; and
  • That they would not detrimentally impact on vulnerable populations in the area.

The options under consideration, which have been discussed with targeted stakeholders, include both non-charging and charging measures but no decisions have been made in relation to a final proposed option that would be put to the public in a consultation.

The transport and air quality modelling work suggest that none of the potential measures tested, even those that charged all vehicles with engines that do not meet government’s criteria, would result in compliance with the air quality legal standards by 2021.

They also suggest that some of the charging measures, particularly those that included private vehicles, would result in traffic being moved onto other routes, away from the charging zone, including some residential areas. (Please see notes to editors for further details on the results of options testing.)

Further work and analysis will now be carried out to help identify the package of measures that will be taken forward to public consultation.

Cllr Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality at Newcastle City Council, said: “We know the city has issues with air quality caused by traffic and that some of the options we have had to consider could have a big impact on residents and businesses in our area.

“It is a particular concern that one impact of the measures could be to increase traffic, and related air pollution, in residential areas rather than keeping traffic on roads like the Central Motorway. That is something that is just plain wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Cllr Carl Johnson, cabinet member for environment and transport at North Tyneside Council said: “The scope of the legal directive we have been issued is limited in that it requires us to address pollution on specific roads – but just doing this is not enough.

“We have been clear that any measures we introduce must also meet our priorities to improve public health, support business and growth and avoid a detrimental impact, both in terms of health and economic wellbeing, on the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Cllr John McElroy, cabinet member for environment and transport at Gateshead Council, said: “We should be acting at a national level, by looking at things like scrappage schemes. Instead we are being asked to take this significant decision in such a short timescale with a limited opportunity to develop a full understanding of the options and their impact.

“We are expected to use modelling which even the Government itself agrees has accuracy issues. We need time to develop a proper plan, based on accurate evidence, that can be implemented over a number of years and which has public support across our areas.”

Councils will continue to carry out work to look at the impact of the proposed measures, including on the local economy, before agreeing what option they will consult on.

View the outline business case submitted to government:

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