Council chief warns more alternative routes needed before ‘congestion charge’ should be imposed
PUBLISHED: 10:24 27 July 2017
The government unveiled a clean air strategy this week, including proposals to charge the dirtiest vehicles in pollution hotspots
Proposals to allow local authorities to impose charges on the dirtiest vehicles in pollution hotspots will not work if motorists aren’t given alternatives, a council leader claims.
The government unveiled a clean air strategy this week, within which was a £255m fund to help town halls crack down on pollution and congestion in busy areas.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said he wanted to see councils come up with “imaginative solutions” but many motoring figures have accused ministers of “passing the buck” to local authorities.
Canterbury City Council leader Simon Cook told Kent News he was pleased to see the government to be providing a steer, but said there would need to be further investment in road infrastructure for such ideas to work.
“The key thing is you have to make sure there are alternatives,” he said.
“The Congestion Charge in London works perfectly well because it’s very easy to circumvent the congestion zone.
“The trouble we have in Canterbury is the problem area is the ring-road, and if you are going from side to side you’re obliged to use the ring-road, unless you want to make a huge diversion, which isn’t good for the environment, either.
“It will be a much more viable idea if we have an eastern bypass to circumvent the city centre.”
The government was ordered to produce new plans to tackle illegal levels of harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide after the courts agreed with environmental campaigners that a previous set of plans were insufficient to meet EU pollution limits.
Despite government efforts to delay publication of the plans until after the general election, ministers were forced to set out the draft plans in May, with the final measures due by July 31.
Cllr Cook added: “Overall, this gives a massive signal and will let people start to think about the future.
“We fully acknowledge we have a problem with air quality and electric cars will help.
“I have no doubt my next car will be electric and in ten years they will cost much the same as a conventional vehicle.
“It’s a very long time away but I think it’s a good thing and it’s great to see the government giving a steer on this.”
The campaigners have had their calls for government-funded and mandated clean air zones, including charges, backed up by an assessment published alongside the draft plans which suggested they were the most effective measures to tackle nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel vehicles.
Pressed on the issue, Mr Gove said: “I don’t believe that it is necessary to bring in charging but we will work with local authorities in order to determine what the best approach is.
“If a local authority believes that charging is necessary in order to secure compliance then we’ll work to ensure that plan be implemented appropriately, but on the evidence I’ve seen while charging could bring local authorities in to compliance with the law, it’s not necessary.”
The former justice secretary described charging as a “blunt instrument”, adding he would prefer a “series of surgical interventions” as they are “fairer” to drivers and “likely to be more effective, more quickly”.