A ‘CLEAN-air zone’ which charges motorists for using Coventry roads is set to be controversially enforced by the government.
Ministers have rejected Coventry City Council’s wide-ranging lesser plans to combat air pollution, which had included main road closures and traffic restrictions.
The city has now been given a legal deadline to implement a charge for all polluting vehicles using many streets, thought to be in and around the city centre.
A strict ‘class D’ ‘Birmingham-style’ charging clean-air zone has been ordered by the government.
This would mean older and more polluting cars, buses, coaches, taxis and vans will have to pay to enter the city’s clean-air zone.
Following an earlier government order, the council announced its £80million proposals in February, prompting residents’ fury.
But now that plan has been overturned by the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
It has emerged that, on March 26, the council was instructed to implement the clean air zone as soon as possible.
From the outset, the council has been against the introduction of a clean-air zone – with cabinet member for jobs and regeneration Jim O’Boyle repeatedly ruling it out.
A DEFRA spokesperson said: “DEFRA ministers directed Coventry City Council on March 26 to implement a charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ), because this was the benchmark option set out in Coventry’s local plan for achieving compliance with legal air quality limits in the shortest possible time.
“The direction also required Coventry to submit revised modelling by June 14 to demonstrate the applicable class of CAZ required.
“The government has awarded them £4.5million from Implementation Fund to start this work.
“This direction is a legal instrument, and the government expects Coventry to take the necessary steps in order to comply with the actions it sets out.”
It is not yet clear precisely where the CAZ will be and how it will be applied.
Birmingham City Council has launched plans for a class D charging zone – which is for buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs LGVs and cars.
Last year, Coventry was named as one of 22 towns and cities within the UK where Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels are forecast to exceed legal limits by next year.
This resulted in DEFRA issuing the directives for these councils to immediately introduce measures to control air pollution.
The most controversial aspects of the council’s plan – to close the Coundon Road and to impose traffic restrictions on the Holyhead Road – were widely criticised.
Environmental campaigners claimed the measure would only push pollution onto other roads.
The council claimed the plan would bring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) under control.
NO2 levels at the ring road, Holyhead Road, Walsgrave Road, Binley Road and London Road are all set to exceed the EU’s safe limit value of 40 micrograms per cubic metre by 2021 – some by quite some distance.
DEFRA has issued the following response to us, which says it could now consider alternative options.
It said: “Defra have directed Coventry to implement a Class D zone as their own modelling shows that this is the option that delivers compliance more quickly than others and so is the one that meets legal requirements. We continue to work with them and would consider alternative options if they can demonstrate that they deliver compliance as soon as (or earlier) than the class D zone.”
Coun Jim O’Boyle said: “The government has clearly ignored the evidence and have said they want to see charging zones regardless of any plans that we have put forward.
“And we believe this is a complete knee jerk reaction
“We presented an evidence based plan put together by experts earlier this year.
“What we believe and can evidence is that our plan would not only reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in a better way than a clean air charging zone, we can actually reduce them quicker.
“I think this decision is based on poor evidence from DEFRA without any understanding of Coventry.
“What this would mean if they were to do this is that every arterial road in Coventry could potentially end up a charging zone which would bring the city to a stand still.
“That is clearly unacceptable and it is not a proportionate response to the issue of NO2 levels in the city.”