Tuesday 5th March saw a meeting of Bath and North East Somerset’s cabinet to discuss the new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in Bath. It was decided that cars will not be charged to entre the zone, but vans, buses and trucks that do not currently meet the latest emission standards will be charged.

This recommendation is being approved as a Class C option, leaving cars exempt, but not private hire vehicles, taxis, coaches, buses or HGVs.

Speaking of the decision, Councillor Bob Goodman, cabinet member for Development and Neighbourhoods, said: “It has taken many months to reach this point and it has not been easy, however, I believe we have struck the right balance and are now in a position to start to cut harmful pollutants and make our beautiful city clean and green for everyone.”  

However, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) have stated that they are “perplexed” at the council’s decision to exclude cars from the charges.

FTA Policy Manager for the South West, Chris Yarsley, said: “This decision is tantamount to a stealth tax on the hard-working local businesses and vehicle operators which already contribute so much to the public purse and help keep Bath functioning by delivering the goods and services supermarkets, schools, and other businesses need to operate.”

The council say that Class C will meet Government air quality compliance deadlines and the decision was a result of a record number of responses to its CAZ consultation as well as technical work.

Higher emission (pre-Euro VI) buses, coaches and HGV will be charged £100 to enter the zone. Higher emission (pre-Euro 6 for diesel and pre-Euro 4 for petrol) LGVs/vans, private hire vehicles and taxis will be charged £9.

The Class C CAZ is hoped to reduce traffic into Gay Street, which would otherwise exceed the legally permitted NO2 threshold. It will also support traffic management measures at Queen Square, with new traffic lights at the junctions with the A367 Chapel Row/Princes Street and at Queen Square Place. The council states the intention is to remove the traffic management scheme once compliance is achieved and as vehicle emissions improve.

The report identified other measures that could be taken to reach lower emissions and cleaner transport including extended opening hours at the park and ride sites, anti-idling and weight-restriction enforcement, support for revisions to residents’ parking zones and better walking and cycling facilities.

Mark Shelford, cabinet member for Transport and Environment, explained: “This has been a crucially important decision and I believe we have the right clean air plan for our city that exempts cars from charges, safeguards the long-term health of people and meets the needs of our busy, vibrant city.

“Our immediate step now is to write to government confirming our decision and to seek the funding we need to deliver this plan."

But the FTA says it is “disappointed” that the zone will be extended to encompass areas within the east of the city, bringing even more businesses under its scope. Yarsley explained: “This Zone will not just affect those delivering into Bath, but any operators using the A36 to go west or south.”

“CAZs are not the most effective way to improve air quality; other solutions can deliver a better outcome in a quicker time frame, without damaging the local economy.

“Bath and North East Somerset Council would be better placed to concentrate on traffic management and encourage the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, instead of implementing a scheme that would cost businesses and damage the local economy.

“However, if it is convinced that it must implement a charging zone, the council must take all steps available to mitigate its damage to local business, for example, by ensuring the size of the zone is as small as possible, and major industrial areas exempted.”

The FTA are concerned that commercial vehicle operators will be left picking up the bill for this investment, as car drivers will not be contributing to the funding that will be made available via the CAZ charge.

But the the council say there is a “firmer commitment” to financial assistance with interest-free loans available to help businesses upgrade pre-Euro 6 commercial vehicles. Businesses with Euro 4 or 5 diesel commercial vehicles unable to obtain a loan would be able to apply for a concession to 1 January 2023.

The council added that it remains committed to securing central government funding to speed up the move to cleaner, more sustainable transport. This includes asking the government for funds to support grants of £2,000 to help households upgrade pre-Euro 4 cars (older than approx. 2006).