Ministers have given Stoke on Trent City Council more time to find a solution to toxic air pollution, despite expectations that a possible Clean Air Zone (CAZ) will delay the area’s compliance with legally binding pollution limits.
In October 2018 the Government instructed the council to provide an initial plan by 31 January 2019 at the latest, setting out measures to deliver compliance with legal limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) ‘in the shortest possible time’, with a final plan ‘by 31 October 2019 at the latest’.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that last year the council asked environment department Defra for a six-month delay in submitting a full business case and was granted a four-month delay.
The council has recently resisted implementing a bus gate for Victoria Road in Fenton (pictured) and has instead mooted a CAZ that will not charge private vehicles.
It has been reported that this would delay compliance by 18 months, compared to the bus gate. Highways has approached the council for clarification. A spokesman said: 'We’re still exploring options so it’s not possible to give timescales at this point in time.'
Speaking to the BBC, council leader Abi Brown incorrectly described the issue as ‘a balance between improving air quality but also protecting the economy’. In fact, the requirement to bring NO2 exceedances within legal limits is not subject to issues around protecting a local economy.
She said: ‘The situation in Victoria Road in Fenton is particularly complex for us. Stoke on Trent is a linear city; there aren’t many direct routes from one end to the other, so this is a proposal for that direct route.
'We did look at a bus gate but I think the reality of that would be that in effect only 12 vehicles would be able to go through – 12 buses over the course of a whole day and that would absolutely route the traffic elsewhere, so we’ve pushed hard on the government, unashamedly, we’ve worked very closely with my local MP, Jack Brereton, the city council as well, lobbied hard to the Government to say, please can we look at other options?
‘So we were really pleased to be told a couple of weeks ago that they would allow a little bit longer to continue to look at whether a Clean Air Zone would be possible. Ideally, what we would like is one that doesn’t actually impact on private vehicles.’
A Defra spokesperson told Highways: ‘Stoke City Council requested, and was granted, some additional time to investigate and model wider options to tackle their exceedance on Victoria Road in Fenton. The outcome of this modelling is expected in early summer.’