ClientEarth to ‘look closely’ at Nottingham air quality proposals

Environmental law charity ClientEarth has said it will be ‘closely examining’ evidence from Nottingham council to justify its decision not to establish a Clean Air Zone in the city.

Nottingham was one of a handful of authorities ordered by government in its 2015 air quality plan to implement a Clean Air Zone to bring down concentrations of nitrogen dioxide pollution.

One of 180 retrofitted buses to be deployed in Nottingham – a measure that the council says will contribute to it meeting air quality limits in coming years

The council has carried out detailed modelling and studies with the aim of having a ‘Class B’ charging CAZ in place by the end of 2019, which would have penalised the most polluting trucks, buses and taxis to drive within the city.

However, this week the council has claimed that existing measures, including bus retrofits, mean that it is on course to comply with the 40 ug/m3 air quality limit before a Clean Air Zone would take effect (see airqualitynews.com story).

The council has therefore said it intends submit a plan to government building on existing measures, but ruling out the establishment of a Clean Air Zone.

AQ Plan

Councils obligated under the government’s Air Quality Plan are required to outline in their local plans how they intend to meet the NO2 limit. These plans must be approved by government before they can be implemented.

A Charging CAZ – whereby road users pay to operate in polluted areas, based on the emissions performance of their vehicle – is thought to be the fastest method of delivering compliance.

Unless councils can demonstrate other local measures that would bring down emissions within the same timeframe, it is likely that their plan would not be approved, or could be subject to challenge.

ClientEarth has said it will be closely monitoring the proposals, to ensure they meet legal requirements set out in the latest ruling on air quality by the High Court earlier this year (see airqualitynews.com story).

The organisation’s chief executive, James Thornton, said: “This is an interesting development from Nottingham. The council and the UK government need to be very sure that any plans meet the legal tests set by the courts. We will be examining the evidence the council provides for its decision carefully.

 “The plans need to demonstrate exactly what they are going to do and how this is going to reduce people’s exposure to air pollution and meet legal limits in the shortest time possible in order to protect people’s health.

“They should also include an analysis of all the possible measures they considered, including a Clean Air Zone, and they will have to demonstrate that they have chosen the most effective package of measures to meet limits in the shortest time possible.”

Measures that Nottingham council says will help to improve the city’s air quality to date have include retrofitting 180 buses with clean exhaust technology, requiring every taxi and private hire vehicle in the city to be low emission, and the council replacing its own heavy vehicles – such as bin lorries – with electric or other low emission vehicles.

In addition, the council is considering plans to revise the ‘Clear Zone’ – which restricts access to the city centre – to include emissions criteria and a taxi permit scheme.

Support

Government support has included funding for the Go Ultra Low Nottingham project, further support for ultra-low emission vehicles through the Air Quality Implementation Fund and awards from the Clean Bus Technology Fund for the retrofit of 171 buses.

Commenting following Nottingham council’s announcement this week, a Defra spokesperson said: “The government has required a number of local authorities with the most persistent problems to produce local plans to improve air quality in the shortest possible time.

“We are asking councils to examine all options to achieve compliance and we are clear air pollution should be tackled in a fair way and charging zones should only be implemented where equally effective alternatives cannot be found.”