The UK’s first charging clean air zone (CAZ) outside of London has launched in Bath as part of plans to drive down harmful pollution and protect public health.
Polluting vehicles are now be charged £9 or £100 a day to drive in the centre of Bath, but private cars and motorbikes will not be charged.
The scheme is designed to tackle Bath’s air pollution problem which is chiefly caused by vehicle emissions. Several areas in the city regularly exceed the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution – even during lockdown.
Daily charges will apply seven days a week, midnight to midnight, all year round for chargeable vehicles with a pre euro 6 diesel or pre euro 4 petrol engine.
Bath is the first of several charging clean air zones to be introduced across England over the next few years. Funding for the clean air zone has come from central government. A similar scheme already operates in London, known as the Low Emission Zone or LEZ.
The council secured £9.4 million of funding from government to help residents and businesses, including coach companies and taxi drivers, to replace polluting vehicles with cleaner, compliant ones. The council has set up a scheme to help owners upgrade their vehicles and already more than 500 businesses have applied. A further £1.58 million has helped local bus operators to retrofit fleet not already compliant in the zone.
Automatic number plate recognition cameras are installed on all roads leading into the zone. Vehicle number plates will be checked against a DVLA database. Motorists with non-compliant, chargeable vehicles – including those from outside the UK – must declare and pay for their journey at GOV.UK or they will receive a penalty charge notice.
Motorists are also advised to check Bath & North East Somerset Council’s website for a list of local exemptions, and to find out about the grants and interest-free finance available to help those regularly affected by charges to replace or retrofit their vehicles.
Councillor Dine Romero, Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “This a landmark day for the city. We’ve put up with unacceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide for too long. This is unfair on residents, particularly vulnerable older people and children. We want to reduce NO2 pollution in Bath to within legal limits by the end of 2021 at the latest, and a charging clean air zone is the only way we can achieve this.
“We know this is difficult time for businesses, but we’ve gone ahead with the zone during the pandemic because this is a pressing public health issue. However, we are working with residents and businesses to help them replace polluting vehicles with cleaner ones and there is significant financial and practical help available.”
Dr Bruce Laurence, Director of Public Health in Bath and North East Somerset said: “You can’t see it and you can’t smell it, but nitrogen dioxide is a hidden killer, contributing to as many as 36,000 early deaths in the UK each year. The high levels that we have in Bath can irritate and inflame our airways and this is particularly dangerous for people with asthma and lung conditions such as bronchitis and emphysema.
“Research has also shown that exposure to high levels of NO2 over a longer term can affect children’s lung development. And there is evidence that children who grow up in highly polluted areas are more likely to develop asthma.”
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation welcome action to clean up the air in Bath.
Sarah MacFadyen, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said “Air pollution is bad for everyone, but it disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable in our society including children, older people and those with a lung condition such as asthma and COPD. Road transport is the biggest cause of harmful emissions in our cities, which can cause breathing difficulties for people with lung conditions and put them at risk of life-threatening asthma attacks or COPD flare-ups.
“It’s vital that urgent and immediate action is taken to protect people most at risk from the effects of toxic air in Bath, and this must include reducing the number of polluting vehicles, which are a major part of the problem. We know that clean air zones are an effective way of doing this.”
Mike Crane has run his own heating and plumbing service in Bath for 25 years and is due to get a new van next month using the scheme’s financial support. He said: “I’ve lived and worked in Bath all my life. I’m driving an eight-year-old diesel van for work, but I’m determined to get a better, cleaner vehicle. I’m doing it for my 11 grandchildren, who also live here, because I hate to think of them breathing in all this polluted air.”
Salam Hussein is a taxi driver and one of the first businesses in Bath to replace his vehicle using the financial support. He has recently traded in his seven-year-old car for a second-hand vehicle which is compliant in Bath’s CAZ as well as London’s ULEZ. He said: “I am pretty happy about this despite the year we’ve had. Because of lockdown I’ve only done school runs, but things will soon get back to normal and I hate the idea of us all sitting at the taxi rank polluting our lungs.”
Councillor Sarah Warren, Joint Cabinet Member for Climate Emergency and Neighbourhood Services, said: “The Clean Air Zone is just the start of a concerted effort to promote more sustainable travel. We’re also looking at developing liveable neighbourhoods, supporting businesses to use e-cargo bike deliveries, improving our public transport and encouraging more active travel, such as walking and cycling. Any revenue from the zone, over and above the operating costs, must and will be reinvested in sustainable transport for the area.”