A report outlining the progress made on Bath’s Clean Air Zone, including government funding and additional assistance to help businesses struggling with the impact of COVID-19, is to be discussed.
Bath’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ), which will not charge cars, was due to be switched on in November but has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
An update report going before the council’s cabinet on Wednesday 22nd July says the local authority has been talking with the government about a new launch date which takes into account both local air quality and traffic levels and the impact that COVID-19 is having on businesses and the local economy.
The report states that while it is recognised that there were reductions in traffic and NO2 levels at the start of the COVID-19 restrictions, as the lockdown has eased traffic levels across the country have followed an upward trend and NO2 levels are expected to increase.
The government has also advised the council in writing that it is still required to implement a CAZ to reduce NO2 levels in the city to within legal limits and improve air quality in the shortest possible time and by the end of 2021 at the latest.
As a result, work is continuing to deliver the scheme including the installation of infrastructure such as signs and cameras across the city.
Once the CAZ is operating, higher emission buses, coaches and HGVs will be charged £100 a day and higher emission taxis, private hire vehicles, minibuses, LGVs and vans (including pick-ups and campervans) will be charged £9 a day to drive in the zone.
Private cars and motorbikes will not be charged, regardless of their emissions.
Councillor Sarah Warren, joint cabinet member for Climate Emergency and Neighbourhood Services said: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus our need to tackle the climate emergency and address poor air quality, which impacts the health of our residents.
“While pollution levels reduced during lockdown in some areas, as we return to a more normal way of life traffic and NO2 levels are rising in the city centre once again. We must address this.”
Over the past few months, the council has been in negotiation with the government, challenging its initial funding offer for the CAZ, which fell significantly short of its original funding request.
Having considered the council’s full business case, the government says it will now provide up to £15.5m to implement the scheme and support businesses affected by the zone, bringing the total funding package to £23.5m. Cabinet will consider whether to accept the offer.
Councillor Dine Romero, leader of the council, said: “Since the start of lockdown, we’ve been talking to a wide range of businesses and trade associations to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on them, how they see the road to recovery unfolding for them over the next six months to a year and how we might improve our support package, whilst still achieving our air quality objective.
“As a result of this we’ve amended the terms of our financial assistance scheme to further help struggling businesses’.
Local businesses and individuals will be able to apply for financial support in the form of grants and interest-free finance to upgrade polluting vehicles which would otherwise be charged in the zone.
Under the original terms, businesses failing the scheme’s affordability checks would be granted an exemption from charges for two years, but the financial assistance scheme to upgrade vehicles would no longer be available to them.
In light of COVID-19, the council has amended the scheme so that eligible businesses can reapply at a later date when their finances have improved.
In addition, to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles and further improve air quality, temporary exemptions will also be granted to businesses that have placed orders for fully electric vehicles and are waiting for them to be delivered.
The report to cabinet also clarifies the existing exemptions available for non-compliant vehicles that are supporting disadvantaged groups and vital services in the city, and for vehicles that are very hard to replace.
This includes two-year exemptions from the launch of the zone for community transport, blue badge holders, community-based education, health or social care service providers, vehicles supporting the emergency services, wheelchair accessible taxis, recovery vehicles, showman’s vehicles, general haulage vehicles (not HGVs) and special vehicles.
These temporary exemptions are in addition to a wide range of permanent exemptions for hybrid and alternatively fuelled vehicles, historic vehicles, agricultural vehicles, military vehicles, vehicles for disabled people (including s19 and s22 community transport vehicles), emergency service vehicles and health service vehicles.
Businesses and residents will need adequate notice and lead in time to make the changes necessary to comply with the CAZ, and once a date for its introduction is agreed, a full communications and engagement strategy will be implemented by B&NES Council.
For detailed plans showing where the CAZ boundary comes into effect and proposed camera and sign placements, visit: www.bathnes.gov.uk/zonemaps.