by Richard Samuel on 12 April, 2018
I am pleased that the Conservative administration has finally begun to recognise that Bath needs to be covered by a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) if it is to tackle the poor air quality many residents experience on a daily basis. The Liberal Democrats on the Council made this formal council policy last July with all party support and we are now inching our way towards something better. The Council’s staff and DEFRA have worked hard to produce a plan proposal that is a reasonable starting point and I thank them for that effort. However a lot more thought and detail needs to go into the plan by the end of the year as currently it is light on some details and other aspects will not in my view work.
I think it is a given that HGVs, LGVs, buses and taxis will either have to be low emission vehicles or must face charges for entering the zone itself. The thorny question is what to do with private vehicles. Where they are non-compliant should they be charged for entering and leaving the zone, if so how much? It is clear from the Council’s own report that the greatest impact will be achieved from a charging zone of some description. This raises questions about how residents who currently live in the proposed zone will be impacted. Here I declare an interest I will be. Will residents be charged each time they leave and re-enter the zone? I assume they will. And if your area is covered by an existing residents parking zone for which you already pay an annual charge is that a double tax? I have a simple solution. Redraw the residents parking zones to make them coterminous with the final boundary of the Clean Air Zone and link the permit cost to the emission value of the vehicle. A non-compliant vehicle attracts a higher annual charge and a ‘cleaner vehicle’ a rebated charge. Therefore allow these vehicles to move in and out of the zone without further charge in the knowledge the cost they pay has already been accounted for once. The burden of compliance then transfers to inward commuters who are responsible for much of the emissions.
The second issue I want to highlight is more fundamental. If we accept the principle of a CAZ and I do, then where should the boundary be drawn? It is clear that those preparing this plan know the difficulties. The plan currently on the council website now differs from the version submitted to DEFRA. It differs because it has been recognised that motorists will stop at nothing to avoid a charging zone. The current plan is leaky in that respect. Take Camden, Larkhall, and Fairfield Park as an example in Walcot and Lambridge wards. A lot of commuter traffic is associated with schools or the RUH to the west. Commuters use convoluted routes through north west Bath already to avoid the London Road. If both London Road and Camden Road fall within the CAZ, then can commuters find another way round to go east-west. They can. They can take routes through Fairfield Park and Lansdown that avoid the zone. So these options need to be worked through otherwise there will be significant undesirable traffic displacement. The same is true to the east, south, and west of the City. Work out the routes and let the Council know. I think it is inevitable that the zone boundary will have to grow to some extent for it to be effective.
This leads me to my third point. Apart from the very specific CAZ powers and objectives what else can the Council do? As an example take residents parking zones. In Walcot at the edge of zone 16 the parking is currently unregulated. Residents in the streets off London Road want to see a permit zone brought in because they are plagued with commutters who arrive in the morning, park up and block the streets until the early evening. The creation of a CAZ will undoubtably encourage that behaviour to increase. Unfortunately the plan is only a narrow clean air view of traffic management in Bath. What is really required is a comprehensive joined up package that considers in totality what measures are needed alongside a CAZ. For example was it sensible for the council to introduce a new parking strategy that cut parking charges for residents only weeks before the CAZ was floated. No of course it wasn’t showing the lack of joined up thinking.
I have criticised the Conservatives for failing to share their plan before it was submitted to DEFRA and I stand by that criticism. If they had done so then many of these wrinkles and difficulties might have been ironed out. Instead because of the desire to gain narrow political advantage the plan is flawed in detail even though the principle is sound.
I have always said I am prepared to take an active part in the development of the plan unfortunately some councillors have preferred to operate beneath a veil of secrecy.
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