'Clean air zone' to be considered for Stoke-on-Trent

Published: Friday, 10th September 2021

A ‘Clean Air Zone’ (CAZ) is to be considered to tackle air quality within the city.

The news comes following agreement given to Stoke-on-Trent City Council from government that a CAZ could be looked at as an alternative to a bus gate to tackle air quality exceedances on Victoria Road in Fenton, which was a legal requirement.

A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is where a daily charge could be put in place for some diesel vehicles older than September 2015 or petrol vehicles that are older than 2006 driving in the area and is intended to improve air quality.

In Stoke-on-Trent, a CAZ C is now being considered. This would look at the possibility of a daily charge for older buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles and light goods vehicles that have higher emissions to travel in a defined area.

Cars would not be included in the charges and all vehicles that meet emissions standards would also be exempt from any charges or restrictions. *

This means that ideally no privately-owned car should pay a charge in Stoke-on-Trent. The charge would only apply to older vans and commercial vehicles (before September 2015 for diesel vans or before 2006 for petrol vans) and also for buses and taxis.

A review will now be undertaken by the council to look at whether the Clean Air Zone could achieve the requirements set legally by government for air quality in the area and what it would mean for residents and businesses. It follows recent modelling that has demonstrated that a CAZ C area that encompasses Victoria Road and the city centre should be capable of delivering air quality compliance. 

This will also consider the financial requirements of the scheme including potential charge levels. Local authorities are only able to set charges at levels designed to reduce pollution, not to raise additional revenue beyond recovering the costs of the scheme. The scheme would be removed once it’s proven that NO2 levels are below the statutory limit – probably at the start of 2029. This could be earlier if more cleaner vehicles are rolled out faster.

Engagement will be underway in coming weeks and months to hear the views of local people. The latest start date for the scheme is likely to be the second half of 2024. Once proven that air quality complies, probably around the start of 2029, the CAZ C would then be removed. The faster the roll out of cleaner vehicles, the earlier the CAZ would be potentially removed. 

A full business case is expected to be submitted to government and to Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Cabinet for approval. The bid would include requests for additional funds ‘scrappage to support local businesses, bus companies and taxi and private hire operators to upgrade their vehicles if they have older non-compliant ones that would be affected by a CAZ C.

Cllr Abi Brown, leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council said: “Serious reservations had been raised about the former bus gate proposal for Victoria Road, around the impact on residents and businesses so I am pleased that a CAZ C solution has been shown to be technically viable. It would deliver the required improvements in air quality so I am pleased that Government have agreed that we can pursue this as an option for consideration. 

“As the city recovers from the impacts of the pandemic, it is important that we balance the need to improve public health with the need to protect the economy, jobs and people’s livelihoods. The city council and the three city MPs all support this approach and we will be working hard to deliver the Full Business Case and then implement the CAZ C in the shortest possible time. 

“We believe that a CAZ C solution will offer the best opportunity to deliver this balance whilst also providing wider health benefits across a much wider area, when compared to the bus gate proposal which only provided air quality benefits in a very small area and had many negative impacts for the local economy and arguably for road safety as well.”

Cllr Carl Edwards, cabinet member for the environment at Stoke-on-Trent City Council and chair of the cross-agency Joint Advisory Group for air quality, said: “The CAZ C would only see the most polluting, commercial, vehicles facing a penalty and ideally no private car being liable to charges. This is opposed to all vehicles being restricted from driving down Victoria Road in peak hours, as would be the case with a bus gate. 

“We’re also looking at what impact a Clean Air Zone would have on businesses in the area. Our hope is that the majority of businesses won’t be affected as they have newer vehicles than those that would have to pay a charge. 

“Where it is necessary to support local businesses and stakeholders in making the changes required, especially those who wish to upgrade their vehicles or choose more sustainable modes of travel, our proposals will include a significant request for funds to government from the Clean Air Fund, to support such measures.

“We’ll be undertaking extensive public and stakeholder engagement, work which we have already begun by writing to businesses and residents in parts of the city most affected by the air quality problems.”

“It is also important to mention that any changes put in place are not forever. They only need to be in place until air quality is within legal limits. This means any changes could be removed once we are certain that air quality is at safer levels. This is why it’s important we get this right now. It is also known that more people owning low emission and electric vehicles will naturally bring better air quality from around 2027.”