In a bid to reduce air pollution in the city, the government is putting pressure on Southampton Council to introduce a Clean Air Zone, with proposals suggesting non-compliant commercial vehicles will have to pay £100 to enter.
Port bosses, taxi drivers and haulage companies are furious about the plans, which will see commercial vehicles that don’t meet emission criteria billed as soon as they enter the city’s boundaries. The Road Haulage Association says the move could kill the local economy and force trade to move elsewhere to avoid the charge. There are also claims that the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) could put thousands of jobs in the city’s docks at risk.
Clean Air Zones define an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality and deliver improved health benefits. They aim to address all sources of pollution, including nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, and reduce public exposure to them.
Southampton is one of five cities in the UK that’s currently facing pressure from the government to improve its air quality by 2020 or risk an EU fine. Currently, the city’s nitrogen dioxide level is 42 micrograms per cubic air metre and that needs to be brought down to below 40 micrograms.
Documents published ahead of a recent meeting suggest that to do this, the council is proposing to impose a Class B CAZ. That would see buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles below the Euro VI emissions standard charged up to £100 per day to enter the zone. Taxis and private hire vehicles below Euro 6 for diesel and Euro 4 for petrol would also face a £12.50 charge per day to operate in the zone.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras would be used to identify vehicles that do not meet the minimum emission standards and penalties will be issued if drivers do not pay the charge within 24 hours. Proposed boundaries for the CAZ have yet to be announced.
Southampton Council currently attributes more than 100 deaths a year to long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution. It says that over time, poor air quality has the same impact as passive smoking and affects the city’s most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, young children and those with asthma.
An economic assessment has been carried out which suggests there would be a net positive economic impact following the introduction of the CAZ, while the effect on vehicle displacement and road capacity would be minimal.
There are many different parties who have reacted angrily to the council’s proposals. There are certainly potential implications for trade in the area, with the cost for businesses transporting from the docks set to be huge. This will potentially put the port of Southampton at a distinct disadvantage to other European ports and put thousands of jobs at risk. The charge could also affect the cost of items in shops.
Haulage firms are also understandably angry, given that they are being forced to foot the bill for a problem not solely of their making. One haulage company owner said: “It’s not fair to put all the blame for emissions on the haulage industry. What about cars? If we have to pay then we’ll have to charge clients more. We all agree the haulage industry wants to do more, but we can’t do that in 18 months. We need more time”.
Taxi bosses are also in disagreement with the plans, saying that the council’s grant system, which gives drivers incentives to purchase eco-friendly cars, only offers a limited source of alternative vehicles.
The consultation on the proposals, which will be accompanied by public meetings, will stay open until 13 September. A proposal will then be submitted to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for approval in autumn 2018. That gives haulage companies and all other interested parties the chance to have their say. Click here to register your thoughts with Southampton Council.