Air quality update January 2019

What is happening?

Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils have been ordered by the government to prepare a plan about what additional actions are required to address pollution caused by vehicles.

This is in response to levels of roadside nitrogen dioxide on certain roads, which are expected to remain above legal limits in 2021. This includes part of the A167 Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge and a section of the A1058 Coast Road.

The three councils are carrying out a joint feasibility study to identify what measures are needed to tackle the problem.

Councils were required to submit an outline business case to government by the end of 2018.

A draft outline business case, setting out the options which have been tested and the findings from those tests, has been submitted.

View the outline business case submitted to government:

What are the findings from the options testing?

A number of different options were tested in our transport and/or air quality models. These included:

  • Do Minimum – only committed investment and schemes;
  • Charging Clean Air Zone Class B ‘Outer’ – a Class B charge in an area between the A1 & A19. This was tested only in the transport model and it was quickly concluded that the level of traffic that stopped using the city centre routes was so small that it would not deliver compliance.
  • Charging Clean Air Zone Class B ‘Inner’ – a Class B charge focused on Newcastle & Gateshead Town / City Centres stretching onto the A1058 Coast Road;
  • Charging Clean Air Zone Class C ‘Inner’ – Class C charge focused on Newcastle & Gateshead Town / City Centres stretching onto the A1058 Coast Road; and
  • Charging Clean Air Zone Class D ‘Inner’ – Class D charge focused on Newcastle & Gateshead Town / City Centres stretching onto the A1058 Coast Road.

Our modelling shows that on our local roads, with only our committed investment (Do Minimum) the Central Motorway East, approach to the Coast Road, approach to Tyne Bridge and roads approaching Central Station would be above the legal limit in 2021.

Our modelling shows that on our local roads, with a CAZ B (Buses, Coaches, Taxis and HGVs): the Central Motorway East, approach to Tyne Bridge and roads approaching Central Station would be above the legal limit in 2021.

Our modelling shows that on our local roads, with a CAZ C (Buses, Coaches, Taxis, HGVs and LGVs): the Central Motorway East, approach to Tyne Bridge and roads approaching Central Station would be above the legal limit in 2021.

Our modelling shows that on our local roads, with a CAZ D (Buses, Coaches, Taxis, HGVs, LGVs and private cars): the Central Motorway East and roads approaching Central Station (A186) would remain above the legal limit in 2021. Our transport modelling also indicates very significant re-routing onto (particularly) the A1 and A19 as well as some local roads.

Further work is required in January 2019 to analyse these findings and discuss the best way forward with government and local stakeholders.

How are the options tested?

The options are tested using models which seek to anticipate the impact of different measures on traffic movements and pollution levels.

How reliable are the findings from the testing?

As with any modelling analysis, option testing is underpinned by a series of assumptions which result in a margin of uncertainty of the final results.

For this study, the transport model used was designed for a different purpose and as such is not the most appropriate for this type of work. The deadlines imposed for conducting the feasibility study also meant that there was a constrained time period to undertake additional analysis.

What happens next?

Further work to analyse the potential impact of the different options on residents and businesses, and to look at possible alternative measures is needed before councils can determine the option that will be taken forward for consultation.

How much would a charge be?

We have not yet determined what type of charge will be required, which vehicles may have to pay or how much any charge would be.

Using the government’s framework, if a charge is introduced it would only apply to the most polluting vehicles which do not meet emissions standards.

For the purposes of our options testing we had to include an assumed level of charging in our modelling. We have used the same levels as Leeds and Birmingham did for their modelling (£50 for a bus or HGV to enter a clean air zone and £12.50 for other vehicles).

These assumed charge levels are purely based on other cities’ modelling and it is important to stress that we have not made any decisions in terms in relation to charging here.

Other background FAQs

What causes air pollution?

Air pollution is caused by many factors but by far the largest contributor is road transport, with diesel fuel the biggest source of pollution in many towns and cities across the UK.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and tiny invisible particles from exhaust fumes, tyres and brakes are present in the air we breathe, with some areas having very high levels.

What is the effect of pollution on people’s health?

Nationally, poor air quality is responsible for around 40,000 early deaths a year, including hundreds across Gateshead, Newcastle and North Tyneside.

Evidence from the World Health Organisation shows pollution is particularly dangerous to the health of the very young and very old, as well as people who are already living with long-term health conditions like asthma.

There’s no safe level of exposure to air pollution, the effects of which build up over time. Air pollution is linked with cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. We are learning more about the impact on our health of these invisible pollutants all the time.

New research suggests that people who live in areas where there are high levels of pollution may be more at risk of developing dementia, although there is not a definitive causal link at present.

In the North East the legacy of heavy industry, coupled with historically high rates of smoking, mean that many people are more susceptible to the effects of poor air quality, most notably in the form of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Is the problem bad in the North East?

In many areas of the North East air quality is generally good.

Councils have been monitoring NO2 and very small particulates (PM2.5) levels across the area for many years and know where the worst affected areas are.

Some places have faced challenges with levels of pollution being higher than legal limits and there are a number of Air Quality Management Areas – two in Newcastle and one in Gateshead – where steps have been taken to try to improve air quality.

However, the problem is not restricted to ‘pollution hotspots’. There is no safe level of pollution and the effects on health build up over time.

Why has the government told councils to act?

Recent government modelling shows that air quality on a section of the A167 Tyne Bridge and Central Motorway and part of the A1058 Coast Road will still be above legal limits by 2021 unless further action is taken.

Following a court ruling against the government, it has placed a legal requirement on councils to address this problem.

This legal requirement not only applies to Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside. A number of other areas across the country are also affected and are also looking at ways to improve air quality in their areas.

Why are councils looking to implement measures outside of the immediate areas identified by the government?

We have to look at the wider area in order to really improve air quality. Simply looking at local issues can just move the problem of pollution on to other areas, rather than solving it.

If a charge is introduced, who would have to pay it?

We have not yet determined whether a charge would be needed, however we do know that a charging clean air zone would not affect all drivers.

Charging clean air zones target only the most polluting vehicles which do not meet emissions standards. Therefore, newer vehicles and those with zero emissions would not be affected by a charge.

There are four different levels of charging clean air zone which target different types of vehicles, which include taxis, buses, HGVs, vans and cars.

The categories and vehicles that would be charged under each one are:

Would drivers have to pay a charge every time entered the Clean Air Zone?

Any charge is paid per day, not per visit.

What other measures are being looked at?

We are already working on a number of initiatives to improve air quality. 

These include:

  • creating more efficient bus routes and upgrading vehicles with cleaner engine technology
  • improving cycle networks
  • improving our own fleet by introducing cleaner vehicles
  • upgrading traffic signals to keep traffic flowing and prevent congestion by co-ordinating movements through junctions
  • promoting initiatives such as car sharing and car clubs
  • providing more charging points for ultra low emissions vehicles.

How are councils deciding what the proposed measures should be?

We are currently looking at a range of potential measures to see what impact they would have on air quality and on traffic movements.

We are also speaking to key stakeholders – businesses, transport providers, community groups, environmental organisations, experts in public health and groups which represent vulnerable people – to find out their views on different measures and understand how they might be affected.

Councils are taking into account the economic, social and health impact of potential measures and this will be reflected in the proposed measures that are eventually put forward to government.

Will people be consulted before changes happen?

Yes. There will be full public consultation before any measures are introduced. This consultation will take place in early 2019.

When would any measures, including a charge, be put in place?

The government legal directive requires pollution levels to be brought within legal limits in the shortest possible time and before 2021.

This means councils would be expected to implement measures by the end of 2020.

How will measures be funded?

The government has set up a number of different funds which councils can apply to for money to implement clean air measures and other improvements to cities.

These funds are:

  • Implementation fund, to get the measures in place - £255 million
  • Mitigation fund, to protect business from the economic impact of measures - £220 million
  • Transforming Cities Fund, to support economic growth through investment in sustainable and public transport - £1.24 billion

We intend to apply for funding from these pots of government money to help pay for any measures which are implemented and where possible support businesses which are affected.

What can people do themselves to help improve air quality?

There are lots of things we can all do – the main thing being to reduce the number of journeys we make by car.

Using public transport, walking or cycling instead of driving, even just once or twice a week, will make a big difference.

Other things that will help include not leaving your car engine running when stationary for a long period of time and choosing a low or zero emissions car when changing your vehicle.

There are lots of other tips and advice online at

What can employers do to help improve air quality?

Employers can help by setting up car sharing schemes or initiatives which offer incentives for staff to use public transport or cycle to work.

Changing to staggered start and finish times will also help to reduce the amount of cars on the roads at the same time which will help to keep traffic moving.

Will there be any support for upgrading/retrofitting vehicles?

We know that this is something other areas are looking at and we will also consider any options for this.

We already have funding in place through the government’s Clean Bus Technology Fund for bus engines to be upgraded to reduce their emissions. This is seeing improvements made to vehicles on routes across Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside.

People can also get a discount on the price of some brand new low-emissions vehicles through a grant the government gives to dealerships and manufacturers. The discount is automatically applied by dealerships on eligible vehicles, which are listed at

Will there be any improvements made to electric vehicle infrastructure?

There are already plans to improve electric vehicle infrastructure.

The regional transport team, which covers seven North East authority areas, and Newcastle University have been awarded £4m funding from the European Regional Development Fund to create two new electric vehicle rapid filling stations, one of which will be in Newcastle.

In addition, the regional transport team is currently speaking to taxi drivers about the need for more charging points in the area, including charging points specifically for taxi and private hire vehicles.

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