Concerns are growing that traffic is being displaced from Bath’s Clean Air Zone onto surrounding roads because confused lorry drivers do not realise they can drive through it.
Councillors warned that action needs to be taken to avoid fatal accidents as HGVs and other vehicles divert to other routes, even though some are Clean Air Zone (CAZ) compliant.
Bath & North East Somerset Council leaders have promised to continue investigating complaints that nearby roads are becoming jammed.
Officers are monitoring 11 locations where the public have reported increased traffic, having concluded there are no significant issues at four others.
The first CAZ air quality report to cabinet, covering its first three months of operation between April and June, revealed that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels had fallen by more than 12 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2019.
Lib Dem cabinet member Cllr Dine Romero told the meeting at Bath Guildhall on Thursday, 9th September, that the results were encouraging but that it was disappointing that the concentration levels in eight locations remained above the legal limit, and one in Wells Road had increased.
The Southdown ward councillor said: “I am glad that my concerns over displaced traffic have been taken seriously but I am somewhat surprised by the results which do not appear to fully reflect residents’ experiences on roads in Southdown such as on Southdown Road and Whiteway Road.”
She asked for assurance that mitigation measures would be considered if the findings from the ongoing monitoring tallied with residents’ perceptions that more lorries and other traffic was using these roads.
Cabinet member and Twerton ward Cllr Tim Ball said: “There is much to be welcomed in this report and it shows we are moving in the right direction.
“Quite clearly there are issues relating to traffic being displaced.
“On Pennyquick Hill, traffic has always flowed reasonably well until recent months.
“We have Euro 6 engines coming through there. These are compliant vehicles that have been stuck on a daily basis on a busy road.
“We really have to have a good look as to why that’s happening.
“Some of these vehicles are so big they’ve got a job to get up that hill, and having to reverse back down is extremely dangerous.
“I don’t believe it’s the cars causing the majority of the problem, it could be confusion of the lorry drivers not being aware they can come through this zone.
“We need to do more to make sure we don’t have a fatal accident on Pennyquick Hill with major fatalities such as we’ve had in the past on that road.
“I am becoming increasingly concerned that we need to do something very quickly.
“There is a proposal for a reduced speed limit on that road, but with a lorry capped at 10mph anyway, sometimes less, it’s an issue we need to look at.”
Deputy leader and cabinet member for climate and sustainable travel Cllr Sarah Warren said: “We absolutely will continue to investigate any issues that are raised with us in line with the investigation process.
“One of the strengths of the CAZ team in the course of implementation has been communications with companies running fleets of vehicles.
“So the more investigation we do, the better we will understand the breakdown of any vehicles that might be making a detour and we will be able to understand the causes.
“If, as Cllr Ball has suggested, it could be about misunderstanding of the CAZ and which vehicles are eligible or where the boundaries might be, we will undoubtedly make contact with those companies in question and pick those issues up with them.”
Opposition Conservative group leader Cllr Vic Pritchard told the meeting: “You have claimed unequivocally that the CAZ has lowered pollution levels, but on closer scrutiny the data doesn’t show that at all.
“In reality there is no evidence to suggest this reduction is the direct result of the CAZ, not least because the NO2 levels outside the CAZ boundary have also reduced.
“Could it be more to do with the Covid lockdown, people still working from home, the closure of Cleveland Bridge and people away for summer holidays resulting in fewer cars on the road than normal?”
The 11 locations being monitored are Old Newbridge Hill, Twerton High Street, Brook Road / West Avenue / Lyndhurst Road / Bellotts Road, Whiteway Road, Shophouse Road, Lansdown Road, Rosemount Lane, Sham Castle Lane, Prior Park Road, Penn Hill Road and Englishcombe Lane.
No discernible rise in traffic was found at Colliers Lane, Charlcombe Lane, Upper Camden Place or Southdown Road, which will be reviewed in six months.
The CAZ was launched on 15th March to tackle harmful amounts of air pollution from the most polluting vans, taxis, buses and larger commercial vehicles regularly driving in the city.
Private cars and motorbikes are not charged the £9 or £100 daily levy for higher emissions vehicles in the zone.
Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter