Without Government-backing for pollution fees, clean air zones could fail, campaigners say. And could cycling gain from such clean air zones? We spoke to Cycling UK and Sustrans to find out more…
By Cath Harris
Clean air zones that charge a ‘toxin tax’ could raise new funds for cycling, say campaigners.
But Government reluctance to back pollution penalties is ‘illogical’ and ‘disappointing’, and could mean the initiative fails, they add.
Roger Geffen, Cycling UK’s Policy Director, says: ‘We need a charging mechanism that doesn’t leave local authorities to justify it.’
The call comes after the Government published its Clean Air Zone Framework earlier this month in response to a High Court order.
The hearing, in which law firm ClientEarth took ministers to court over illegally high pollution levels, was the third the Government had lost on this issue.
In the framework, ministers suggest creating low-pollution zones without penalties for those driving high-emission vehicles and shift responsibility for charging onto councils.
Geffen says: ‘The Government should expect [charging] rather than expect local authorities to avoid it.
‘The question then is “what do revenues get used for?”. That’s where there are opportunities for cycling and sustainable transport more generally.’
Rachel White, Senior Policy and Political Advisor of the walking and cycling charity Sustrans agrees.
She says the framework’s support for cycling and walking is ‘encouraging’ but that measures to make cycling and walking safe, viable alternatives to car travel need Government funding.
‘The draft air quality plan disappointingly stops short of giving specific guidance to local authorities on how any revenue surplus generated from clean air zones should be reinvested back into cycling and walking infrastructure and projects, simply saying it “could cover public health projects or better town and city planning”,’ she adds.
The two groups would also back a scrappage scheme that offered incentives to ditch old diesel vehicles in favour of cleaner transport.
Subscriptions to hire bike schemes or funds to buy an e-bike are examples of ways in which cycling could be included.
The re-launch of the Evans Cycles bike trade-in scheme after five successive years, proves that new-bike incentives are popular.
In line with that, Cycling UK and Sustrans want more of the Government’s road building budget to be set-aside for cycling.
New metro mayors, notably those in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, are committed to encouraging cycling, Geffen says.
But the contribution of central government to investment in cycling will soon drop from £2 per head per year to 80p, just as roads spending soars.
We need more funding to go to our local road network which makes up 97 % of roads in England and to re-balance it away from the majority going on the strategic road network which only makes up 3 % of our roads.
Greater investment would give people the skills and confidence to cycle regularly and would in turn improve air quality and health.
Early last year, a report by the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health warned that outdoor pollution, mostly from vehicles, was causing at least 40,000 UK deaths annually.
Unborn and young children were particularly at risk with heart, lung and brain development defects lasting ‘far into the future’.
The report called for tough regulations to limit air pollution.
Cath Harris is a freelance writer and proofreader specialising in cycling, environment and adventure travel. Read her work at www.cathharris.co.uk