COVENTRY council should fight an unfair congestion charge for motorists and bring in free public transport instead, says former city MP Dave Nellist.
As we have reported, the government has issued a legal ‘directive’ that Coventry City Council must introduce a charging ‘clean-air-zone’ – better known as the congestion charge.
The zone would see polluting vehicles charged for using some main streets, including in and around the city centre.
Mr Nellist, who heads the city Socialist Party, has launched a petition on the council’s website.
It opposes ‘the government imposition’ of the unfair levy – that would hit low-income people disproportionately – and supports free sustainable public transport in the city.
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.
In issuing the directive, DEFRA had rejected Coventry council’s previous wide-ranging and controversial £80million Air Quality Action Plan to cut emissions.
To the fury of petitioning residents, it had included a main road closure at Coundon Road and traffic restrictions on streets including Holyhead Road.
DEFRA is now threatening to force on Coventry the most severe ‘class D’ zone.
A class D ‘Birmingham-style’ charge system would mean older and more polluting cars, buses, coaches, taxis and vans would have to pay potentially £8 a day.
It is not yet clear precisely where the CAZ will be and how it will be applied.
Long-serving trade unionist Mr Nellist said: “We want to see determined action to improve air quality, protect people’s health and tackle climate change – but this isn’t the way to go about it.
“Responding to these problems should be a collective responsibility, not a personal cost.
“The best solution to reduce transport-related air pollution, as our petition argues, would be by introducing free public transport in Coventry.
“This is radical, but not impossible. In fact, it was the West Midlands Labour Party policy until 1986.
“And today dozens of cities around the world have some form of free transport – including cities of a similar size to Coventry, like Dunkirk in France, and Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
“The measure would help everyone but especially those on lower incomes.”
It is unclear how free public transport would be introduced as it would have to be approved by Transport for West Midlands – which co-ordinates investment to improve the region’s transport infrastructure – and the private companies which operate public transport.
The government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave Coventry City Council until June 14 to present a viable alternative plan to improve air quality.
Cabinet member Coun Jim O’Boyle told us this week the council is drawing up a ‘final plan’ which he is optimistic satisfies government demands.
The government is intent on halving the harm to human health caused by air pollution in the UK by 2030.
Nitrogen Dioxide 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 – by quite some distance.
The petition, which so far has 22 signatures, can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2VCoNuZ