February 26 2019 @ 13:24 by Richard Dawson
Cabinet members at Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils will meet this week to confirm the proposals that will go out to public consultation.
The measures are aimed at tackling poor air quality, which is linked to around 40,000 early deaths every year in the UK, including hundreds in our area.
A legal order from government had demanded action from the three councils, and many others across the country, to improve air quality in certain areas in the shortest time possible by 2021.
By far the biggest cause of poor air quality is road transport. All vehicles cause some pollution, including those with low emissions, but those that run on diesel fuel and older vehicles are the biggest source of nitrogen dioxide emissions. It is these emissions which government has told councils they must reduce.
Councils are keen to ensure that any measures that are introduced not only improve air quality, helping to make the area cleaner and healthier for those living, working and visiting here, but also avoid a negative impact on the local economy, business and those on lower incomes.
Under consideration are a potential charging clean air zone (CAZ) or the introduction of tolls on the three main road bridges over the Tyne – the Tyne, Swing and Redheugh bridges.
In a charging CAZ, charges would apply to all vehicles that do not meet the government’s minimum emissions standards.
Under a system of tolls, charges would apply to all lorries, vans and cars regardless of their emissions. Buses and taxis would not be required to pay.
North East Times reached out to Jonathan Walker, assistant director of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce to get their perspective on the proposed measures.
Jonathan said: “We appreciate the pressure Councils are under to tackle poor air quality. From an economic perspective, the quality of the city environment is a big contributor to what makes this such a great place to live, work and play.
“However it is essential that any air quality measures are developed through extensive consultation with businesses to avoid unintended consequences that harm the area’s competitiveness.”
On the impact the proposals could have on North East business and commerce, he added:
“It is important to recognise how these proposals could disproportionately affect certain companies, for example SMEs who would find it harder to afford to upgrade their vehicles to avoid being charged. Alongside any measures must therefore be the right support in place to help companies adapt and mitigate.
“We would also urge Councils to consider the impact of these measures on the wider transport network to ensure the problems aren’t simply pushed away from the city centre and on the attractiveness of city centre itself as a place to visit.”
A series of additional non-charging measures are also set out in the cabinet reports and, subject to cabinet approval, people will be given the opportunity to comment on these as part of the consultation.
Whatever the outcome of the consultation may be, it is clear that any action must take into consideration the impact on the flow of goods and services for North East businesses.
At a time when the strains of our imminent departure from the European Union are already showing, councils must work with business leaders to shore up confidence as well as clean up the environment.