19th Oct, 2019

Coventry Conservatives call on ministers to drop ‘congestion charge’ plan

OPPOSITION leaders at Coventry City Council have written to the government asking them not to impose a ‘congestion charge’ in Coventry.

A decision is awaited on whether the government will ignore the city’s protests by continuing with its previous order that Coventry must have a ‘Clean Air Zone’.

Motorists with older and more polluting vehicles would be charged for using the city’s streets.

It’s designed to tackle high levels of air pollution.

The council’s previous alternative proposals, including closing Holyhead Road, did not go far enough for the government.

The letter has been written by Conservative group leader and deputy, Councillors Gary Ridley and Allan Andrews, and Shadow Cabinet Member for City Services, Councillor Tim Mayer.

The details of a Clean Air Zone, or CAZ, are yet to be finalised, but motorists could be charged either £8 or £12.50 – with the possibility of this rising to £120 unless paid within 14 days.

A report to council also included an ‘indicative map’ of the area of the CAZ which is home to around 80,000 people.

The Conservative group said the scheme would be expected to cost around £55million to implement.

However, depending on the amount charged in fines, it could bring in£130-£200million over a seven year period, according to the report.

The scheme would start during Coventry’s year as City of Culture 2021 and be wound up in 2027 as the city is forecast to achieve air quality compliance by 2026 at the latest.

Conservative Councillors say it is a staggering overreaction and may actually just transfer pollution outside of the CAZ. They argue that the charges, which would affect around 50 per cent of the city’s cars, would hit the poorest families hardest and provide no reason for drivers of newer vehicles to travel more sustainably.

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 followed a lengthy court battle with an environmental campaign group who argued the UK government was in breach of EU safety standards.

In response, the council was ordered by ministerial direction to introduce the CAZ earlier this year.

The UK government could be fined by the EU if the problem isn’t resolved.

But council officials believe they can reduce NO2 levels without the need for the CAZ.

They are currently finalising proposals which are expected to be with the government by the end of the month.

Coun Ridley said; “We’ve written to the Minister because we believe a CAZ would be a staggering overreaction. This scheme will land motorists with a £200m bill and it’ll fall on some of the poorest families in the city. In the longer term, it will do nothing to encourage drivers of compliant vehicles to ditch the car and may just displace pollution elsewhere. This money would be better spent on improving sustainable transport, like our ideas to open two new train stations in the city or a new segregated cycle superhighway highway.”

Coun Mayer is worried about how the schemes are implemented locally and the impact they may have on business and enterprise. He said; “Rather than having a consistent, coherent framework setting out a clear rule for clean air zones and a standard for people to follow we could have a variety of schemes across the UK offering differing criteria and penalties. This could cause more confusion for vehicle users and puts residents, or anyone trying to operate a business at risk.”

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