After a model showcased that parts of the A167 Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge would remain above the legal levels of traffic-related pollution unless further action was taken, in 2017 the UK Government issued a legal direction which required both Newcastle City Council and Gateshead Council to deliver a response.
Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK and has been linked to around 40,000 deaths, including an estimated 360 deaths each year in areas of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Clean Air Zones (CAZ) have been introduced in other locations such as Portsmouth, Bristol and Bath, with the aim of improving the air quality and creating a healthier environment.
Each zone is given a different classification from A-D which dictates the type of zone and associated restrictions. Tyneside’s CAZ will be a Class C which means that private vehicles and motorcycles are not required to pay the daily charge to enter the zone, however, taxis, vans, buses and heavy goods vehicles which don’t meet the minimum standards required, will be charged from January 30 2023.
We spoke to Jonathan Wallace, Senior Director at Lichfields about whether he thought the implementation of CAZ in the region would be a benefit or a burden.
There is little doubt that there is a need to improve air quality in Newcastle City Centre. The targeted action being introduced in January next year should be warmly welcomed, not least because it seeks to strike a balance between improving air quality in the City Centre, and maintaining the accessibility to the Urban Core.
This is important in terms of the economic health of both the city and the wider region. Indeed it aims to deliver a variety of socio-economic and environmental benefits including significantly reducing traffic-related pollution, improving health and quality of life and encouraging the
growth of electric vehicles. Additionally, it will also encourage more environmentally friendly modes of travel such as walking and cycling and the use of public transport – all of which are obvious benefits.
The CAZ will obviously present challenges for some users of the city centre road network – not least the logistics and construction industries who need to access the centre on a regular basis. Others have also suggested that the CAZ could lead to a reduction in city centre business revenues. However, these claims have not been clearly evidenced to date, and the reality is that there needs to be change if air quality standards are to improve.
Over the long term, it seems likely that the CAZ will evolve, with more vehicles being caught by the charging regime. However, over time, it can also be expected that people will continue to move towards ‘cleaner’ vehicles including EV and Hybrid models – so the initiative should continue to drive improvements in air quality over time.
As outlined in the Air Quality Public Consultation (2019), longer term measures may propose
investment into intelligent traffic signals to regulate traffic flows and public transports on key routes. Coordinating new parking facilities as well as ensuring a safer environment for footfall and cycling will also be critical. With this in mind, it is to be hoped that the Clean Air Zone will work in harmony with plans to transform the pedestrianisation of Blackett Street and Grey Street.
Park and ride facilities, and improved cycle links from park and ride car parks into the city centre, is another area where there is a need for further, related infrastructure investment to run in parallel with the CAZ initiative. Cycle links into the city centre remain poor in general terms and much more needs to be done to promote cycling into the centre as an alternative to driving by car – and this in itself has real potential to support the broader objective of reducing air pollution / improving air quality.
There is no doubt that the introduction of the CAZ will gradually improve the air quality within the highlighted areas, however in order to take this further, there must be future-proofing and thought-led investment into the surrounding infrastructure within the city centre to ensure these restrictions only encourage more positive change.
Will your business be affected by the CAZ? Share your thoughts with the Developing Consensus team by contacting [email protected]