As we prepare for the arrival of Bath’s Clean Air Zone on 15 March, we take a closer look at what will change, how our city’s businesses will adapt and whether the scheme will in fact be a breath of fresh air for us all
The first of its kind to be introduced outside of London, Bath’s Class C Clean Air Zone (CAZ) will come into being at midnight on 15 March. It will see high-emission vehicles, including taxis, private hire vehicles, minibuses, vans, buses, coaches and lorries incur charges for driving through certain areas of the city.
The zone is designed to help reduce Bath’s dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide, which make heart and lung conditions worse and, over the long-term, can reduce lung development in children. In the months leading up to the launch of the CAZ, however, both residents and businesses have celebrated its arrival and criticised its timing in equal measure. Small businesses and local independents have questioned the council’s decision to press ahead with the measures despite the year-long Covid-19 restrictions severely impacting business.
This month, we spoke to some of the city’s key voices who were able to shed light on how the CAZ will affect us, why it is so important that it is introduced now, and when we will all be able to breathe easy.
Why is the Clean Air Zone being introduced?
In 2017, the government directed local authorities across the country, including Bath & North East Somerset, to take action against their high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which in places exceed the UK’s legal limits. The council’s technical work showed that diesel vehicles and older petrol cars were the biggest contributors to the city’s poor air quality and it was decided that a charging zone for traffic was the only measure that would ensure the city met compliance in the required time frame.
Charges and exempt vehicles
The CAZ will operate in the city centre seven days a week, 24 hours a day, all year round. Charges will not apply to private cars or motorbikes, but lorries and buses that are non-compliant with emissions standards will be charged £100 per day while minibuses, taxis, and vans will have to pay £9 per day.
Certain vehicles will be exempt from the measures. For example, you will not be charged if you have a vehicle that has ultra-low emissions such as Euro 6 diesel vehicles, Euro 4 (or newer) petrol vehicles, fully electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or hybrid vehicles; you have a disabled passenger tax class, military or historic vehicle; or you have a vehicle retrofitted with technology accredited by the Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme.
While the city is not charging private cars, the council is looking at ways to improve walking, cycling and public transport to encourage people to choose more sustainable ways of getting around. It will be up to drivers to check whether their vehicles comply with the new measures – go to beta.bathnes.gov.uk for more information.
The council has contacted thousands of businesses across the city that will be regularly affected by charges, offering financial support in the form of grants and interest-free finance. Businesses will have to decide whether they will use the money to replace or adapt their non-compliant vehicles or pay the daily charges.
Cllr Sarah Warren
The Councillor for Bathavon North, Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency and Neighbourhood Services gives her perspective on the Clean Air Zone
Why the Clean Air Zone is an important policy for Bath
Air pollution is a real problem in Bath, with certain hotspots exceeding the legal limit for nitrogen dioxide pollution (NO2), which we know is mainly caused by vehicle emissions. Some of these hotspots still exist, despite the reduction in traffic last year as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
We have pressed ahead with the zone, despite the pandemic, because air pollution is also a public health issue. This situation is not fair on those that live or work here, especially those that are vulnerable or have asthma.
We’ve been mandated by the government to improve air quality in the shortest possible time, and by the end of 2021 at the latest. Other cities are also introducing charging zones and some, like Bristol and Birmingham, will charge private cars.
While it’s a tough adjustment, we need to recognise that this is a one-off chance to quickly bring NO2 pollution under control, with significant financial help from the government. So we’re embracing this opportunity and we’re confident that we’re doing the right thing for our health, our children’s health, and the environment.
The government is providing all the funds required to install the zone including funds to mitigate the effect on our economy. This includes grants and interest-free loans for local businesses to replace their non-compliant vehicles with cleaner, compliant ones (so they don’t need to pay). The government has also provided the funds required to upgrade all of Bath’s scheduled bus services so that they’re compliant in the zone, with no need to pass the significant cost of retrofitting engines on to the customer.
Without this level of funding, we would not be able to bring this problem under control quickly enough to protect the public. Once the zone has paid for itself, any additional revenue must be invested in cleaner, greener transport for the city, including better walking and cycling facilities.
We’re embracing this opportunity and we’re confident that we’re doing the right thing for our health, our children’s health, and the environment.
How the zone will be monitored
We need to achieve compliance by the end of 2021. The target is to reduce nitrogen dioxide to an annual average of below 40 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter of air) at all hotspots.
We have collected baseline air quality and traffic data and will continue to monitor progress. There are now 120 monitoring locations across the city. Four of these are automatic analysers that collect hourly average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. Three of these also measure particulate matter. The rest are diffusion tubes that are dispersed around the city and collected monthly (they are then sent to a laboratory where they are analysed). Additional monitors have been installed recently to ensure that the council has good baseline data against which to measure the effectiveness of the Clean Air Zone.
Data gathered from monitoring stations is reviewed at the end of each year, to allow annual average nitrogen dioxide concentrations to be calculated. This information is set out in reports available at the Council’s Air Quality web page.
Why the Class C category was the right approach
We engaged extensively with the public before reaching a decision on a Class C Clean Air Zone. The overwhelming opinion was that while something needed to be done about pollution, charging cars would penalise the most vulnerable in the city, and that retail and hospitality in the centre of the city would suffer. We opted for a Class C zone to protect the economy, with an accompanying financial support package to help local businesses replace their non-compliant vehicles. More than 750 vehicles are currently being assessed for the scheme, and we hope to replace upwards of 1,500 over the course of the year.
We have extended our financial support package since the pandemic so that local businesses regularly entering the zone don’t fall through our net. Our message to businesses that are worried about the effect of the zone is to talk to us. Details are on the website: bathnes.gov.uk/BathCAZ
Voices from the city
Owner, San Francisco Fudge Factory
I feel that the Clean Air Zone and the new measures are too much too soon for small businesses. We’ve been through three lockdowns – if the council could just wait until we’re back up and running, we’ve re-established ourselves and then bring in the measures, that would’ve been better for retailers.
Some of our vehicles have been upgraded but some haven’t, so we would have to pay the £9 charge. We wouldn’t feel comfortable passing it on to our customers so we would just have to take the hit.
I have been here for 26 years but we are all in a precarious situation trying to stay afloat right now. In a nutshell, we need our retail community and we don’t want to lose any more shops. It would have been better if they had just deferred the Clean Air Zone.
I’m totally behind the greener society, but I feel as a business going through the challenges of Brexit and Covid, this is one challenge that may have been wiser to defer. We are in the process of updating our fleet of vehicles; we’ve been here since 1915 and survived two world wars so we will adapt to our situation, but I do worry about a lot of the shops in Bath, especially the independents, which are what makes shopping in our city so special.
We will live in a greener city, which is good, but pollution is a global issue and unless the powerhouse manufacturing (polluting) economies do anything about it, our little bit will have a minimal effect.
The future is a mystery and sadly the high street’s battle against the internet is being increasingly tilted in favour of online. Unless the government and local councils get behind retailers our high streets will be deserted, and sadly this will have a huge impact on jobs and the economy. I wonder if it will all be too late before people in power realise this.
Before we start lets get something straight – pollution from cars, lorries and buses, whether NOX or CO2 or particulates big and small – kills. And if the pollution is not busy shortening our lives it is giving us and our children asthma now and lung problems, an increased possibility of heart attacks and dementia to look forward to in later life – that’s not me saying that; that’s from the council’s own website.
So why, when the opportunity turned up did the council not go for the super healthy option of CAZ D? Instead after a ‘public consultation’ and some jiggery-pokery around the world heritage Queen Square (consisting of three sets of traffic lights and some interesting queues of cars), we have adopted the watered down CAZ C.
And to be safe you had better hold your breath when you go down the London Road – site of some of Bath’s world-beating pollution levels – because the zone doesn’t extend very far down there either.
It would all be a lot easier to persuade us to leave our cars if we were blessed with an affordable and comprehensive public transport infrastructure. It would all be better if we were not subject to the massive whingeing that goes on when a new cycle lane is installed, a pavement widened or people asked to drive a little slower. But sadly we are where we are. As a council we could’ve shown the UK how things could be done, been leaders in pollution reduction and made the air cleaner for us and our children – but we didn’t. So, welcome CAZ C, hopefully they will promote you to a D soon.
Environmentally speaking, Bath makes a little bit of civic history on 15 March as being the first place outside of London to introduce a Clean Air Zone.
For some, it marks B&NES out as a ‘car-hating’ council even though this is a national directive – ordered by the government – in an effort to get all local authorities to clean up their air quality.
On top of that, private cars and motorbikes will not be charged – regardless of emissions – though when other local authorities elsewhere come on board they may not be so lenient.
Commercial vehicles – if they don’t meet emission standards – won’t get off so lightly. Though grants and loans have been made available for businesses to replace older, non-compliant vehicles.
It’s going to be a case of heads down for a bumpy ride as far as public reaction is concerned but those complaining should maybe remember that some of their children – the citizens of tomorrow – may have been amongst those who skipped school to protest outside Bath Guildhall – back in March 2019 – in support of the Youth4Climate Global Strike. Hundreds of thousands of young people joining an international action against climate change in an effort to save the planet.
Change IS coming in the way we must view the future prosperity of humankind AND the damage we are doing to planet Earth. I is starting to become WE – whether we like it or not.
In 1965, Adlai Stevenson – US Ambassador to the United Nations – made a famous speech in which he said: “We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”
Bath takes a small step in the right direction but l hope for bolder action in the future. There are many reasons why – post pandemic – the world must never be the same again.
All the nationwide haulage companies that we deal with are way ahead of the public as far as emissions are concerned. They may have large lorries but they are all very low emissions, so our deliveries coming in and out are not going to be affected. The concern I have more is about the people travelling in to Bath and finding parking to come shopping. Parking has always been a problem and it has been squeezed and squeezed all the time, we’ve already lost a lot of spaces and the cost of car parks are very high for short periods of time. The council really need to expand on the park and ride options and put more energy into affordable public transport coming in to the city centre.
The simple fact is that we do live in an incredibly polluted city so something needs to happen. Bath is the sort of city that you need to walk around and if you’re going to enjoy it then you don’t want to be walking around a polluted bowl. The Class C zone is much more palatable. If you look at the type of vehicles being targeted, I don’t think the high street is going to be hugely affected by this, I think it will all be ok.
The issue here is not whether we want cleaner air, but crucially how best to achieve this. What is surprising is that both central government and local councils seem extraordinarily blinkered in their approach and appear to think the only answer is to turn the clock back 50 years. Being 73 now I clearly remember spending my Coventry childhood in the 1950’s when everyone rode bikes, walked or caught buses to get anywhere…and we were all poorer. We had no central heating, a pantry rather than a fridge, an outdoor back loo and nobody had heard of pizzas!
Prosperity results from the ability to move people and goods around quickly and cheaply. There is no doubt that the global prosperity seen in the past 50 years has been brought about by the extraordinary developments in propulsion technology on land, sea and air and the technology continues to improve and adapt to the environmental issues now being faced. More efficient power units and fuels, cleaner brakes and tyres are all areas which technology can address and continue to improve upon. Walking, buses and cycling simply cannot hope to meet modern time efficient demands, but embracing modern technology can and will help our economy recover from the effects of the Covid pandemic more quickly.
Following the launch of the hop-on hop-off Voi Technology e-scooters, The West of England Combined Authority has also introduced long-term e-scooter rentals that can be stored at home and used by residents across Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire, giving residents unlimited access to environmentally friendly and cost-effective transport.
First West of England is geared up and ready with a fleet of buses on the road already compliant with the new legislation. This is part of a £30-million investment programme to ensure the company is at the forefront of cleaner, greener travel. They are committed to operating a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035.
B&NES are working to combat air pollution across the area, monitoring roadside emissions, setting up air-quality management areas and introducing cycle hire schemes, installing more electric vehicle charge points, and supporting bus operators to retrofit buses to lower their emissions. They are also working closely with employers, schools, colleges and universities to encourage more sustainable travel.