A move to block Birmingham’s controversial Clean Air Zone has failed despite the fact bosses have admitted it will not reduce pollution levels in time.
The city council is under strict government orders to slash man-made air pollution, particular nitrogen oxides, by 2020 and will introduce a charge for non-compliant vehicles travelling within the A4540 city ring road from next January.
But this week (Tuesday, January 8) bosses conceded it could take up to a further two years for certain parts of the city centre to reach the necessary levels, running the risk of government sanctions.
It came as the opposition Conservative group launched a bid to block the plans by applying for the Sustainability and Transport committee to call-in the latest business case and send it back to cabinet.
They raised a host of issues with the proposal including the backlash from the majority of 10,000 residents who took part in the council’s largest ever public consultation, the threat of a legal challenge, as well as arguing it would actually increase congestion and pollution on the city ring road.
Group leader Rob Alden (Erdington) also said installing ‘green infrastructure’, such as living walls, would be more effective and would cut down pollution by up to 30 per cent.
He claimed the £69m the council is seeking from the government to install the Clean Air Zone and fund a list of mitigating support measures, could pay for an entire green wall around the ring road and along the A38 as well as 900 CityTrees which absorb pollutants.
Cllr Alden said: “No doubt children in nurseries in Birmingham today will be taught in school in years to come about the failure of the city council to grab this chance to make a real improvement to our air quality and instead managed to hurt both residents and businesses financially across the city.
“I ask the committee to also consider the sense of the scheme. It is in effect saying you must travel round the six mile ring road rather than through the tunnels to get around the city going forward.
“Even though this will on average double the length of journey, doubling the amount of pollution released even if that vehicle is not stuck in congestion.
“If it is then the amount of pollution released will be far greater.”
The council’s latest proposals, published last month, revised the daily charges to £8 for high polluting cars – diesels older than EURO 6 manufactured before 2015 and petrol cars older than EURO 4 made before 2006.
The fee for non-compliant buses, coaches and HGVs will be £50.
A list of mitigation measures was also put forward – albeit reliant on government funding – ranging from one to two year exemptions especially to support those living or working within the zone.
Cllr Waseem Zaffar (Lab, Lozells), transport and environment chief, stated it was those support packages that were the reason a small number of areas in the city centre would not see pollution levels reduced to the required level in time.
He said: “We are not going to be entirely compliant by 2020, some areas will be by 2021 and some by 2022.
“Ultimately it is the exemptions and mitigations causing that delay but I was not prepared to sign off on a Clean Air Zone without those to support businesses and the most vulnerable communities.
“Without those the poorest in our communities would have been hit hardest.”
Cllr Zaffar also argued that the mitigations were proof that the council had listened to people during the consultation.
He welcomed other ideas put forward such as the green infrastructure and investment in park and ride facilities across Birmingham but reiterated that the Clean Air Zone was the quickest way to reduce pollution levels.
But Cllr Zaffar concluded that the city was ‘over-reliant’ on cars and unless there was a shift towards public transport, walking and cycling Birmingham would be at a standstill within ten years.
The committee voted against calling in the business case.