Bath’s clean air zone is just the beginning of aspirations to make the city an “exemplar for sustainable transport”, the new cabinet has said.
Councillors described the Government-ordered measure as a missed opportunity that will do nothing to address congestion or climate change.
They said the clean air zone planned for Bath is “not perfect” but they are hopeful it will bring nitrogen dioxide levels within the legal limit by 2021.
The final proposals will go out to public consultation later this month – the last attracted a record 8,400 responses.
Speaking at Thursday’s cabinet meeting, councillor Sarah Warren said: “This type of scheme represents a real missed opportunity by the national Conservative government.
“They could have given councils greater powers and funding to bring in improved and affordable, comprehensive public transport and cycle networks – the sort of measures you see in many continental cities.
“This is a huge source of frustration to me, as our aspiration as an administration is to see Bath become an exemplar of sustainable transport in a heritage setting.
“We certainly don’t want our children choking on vehicle exhaust fumes.
“However, we would also prefer streets that were not choked with traffic, and this scheme alone has no ability to deliver that.”
Ms Warren said the council has declared a climate emergency, aiming to be zero-carbon by 2030, and the clean air zone is “just the start of our aspirations”.
“We will be following it up, using every tool at our disposal, to provide people with cheaper and more convenient alternatives to the car, and encourage them to use these wherever possible,” she added.
The plans for a clean air zone were signed off by the previous Conservative administration.
It had initially proposed charges for all high-polluting vehicles in a bid to cut nitrogen dioxide levels “in the shortest possible time”.
But after further modelling and a consultation that attracted 8,400 responses, the authority concluded that it could improve Bath’s air quality without charging private cars.
After taking office, the Liberal Democrats commissioned an independent review of the evidence, saying they wanted to ensure that no opportunities were missed.
The conclusions cast doubt on the modelling – specifically around the emissions from lorries on Bath’s hills.
Consultants SNC Lavalin said the proposed clean air zone and an option that included charges for cars had not been compared “on a common footing”, warning that may “unduly add uncertainty to the identification of the preferred option”.
The consultants recommended drawing up a contingency plan in case the approved measures do not go far enough.
Councillor Richard Samuel, cabinet member for resources, said: “Is it a perfect solution? No. It only seeks to control levels of nitrogen dioxide.
“No action is possible to reduce particulates or carbon dioxide emissions, or do anything to limit congestion.
“I’m hopeful that within all these limitations, B&NES Council will reach compliance with the nitrogen dioxide targets at the end of 2021.
“However, this aspiration has to be heavily caveated because all the predictions are solely based on best-case modelling.
“The independent review we have carried out – at a cost of £9,000 and not the £100,000 claimed by the Labour and Conservative groups – clearly shows that other measures may be needed to ensure we pass the finish line.”
B&NES Council has so far secured up to £10million to invest in measures to mitigate the impact on local people and businesses.
The funding will provide support to help retrofit and upgrade business vehicles, electric charge points, and enforcement of anti-idling and weight restrictions.
The authority will submit further bids for last-mile delivery and additional electric charging points.
A consultation on the final details of the scheme will run from 23rd September to 20th October.
A full business case will then go before cabinet members on 5th December, before being submitted for final approval by Government.
The clean air zone will be launched at the end of 2020. High-polluting taxis and vans will be charged £9 a day to enter it, while for buses, coaches and lorries the cost will be £100.
Council leader Dine Romero reiterated her promise that her administration would not charge private cars to enter the clean air zone.
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter