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Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone launches today but £8-a-day charge delayed for 2 weeks

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Birmingham’s new emissions tax on drivers of older cars has been launched today – but the £8-a-day charge for those using older motors has been delayed for a fortnight.

Birmingham City Council has this morning announced it will not charge drivers entering its new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) for two weeks, despite it launching from 00:01.

Enforcement of the scheme, which was due to come into force on Tuesday, will now begin on 14 June.

The council’s cabinet member for transport and environment, Councillor Waseem Zaffar, said: ‘Whilst we have agreed on a two-week soft launch period where people won’t have to pay, I would encourage everyone to use this time to check their vehicles, familiarise themselves with the charging process and check out the support that is still available through the Brum Breathes website.’

Signs warning drivers they are entering the Clean Air Zone on Hagley Road in Birmingham this morning - though they won't be charged the £8-a-day fee for the first two weeks

Signs warning drivers they are entering the Clean Air Zone on Hagley Road in Birmingham this morning – though they won’t be charged the £8-a-day fee for the first two weeks

A total of 100,000 owners of older cars face having to pay a new £8-a-day charge to enter Birmingham in a bid to cut pollution.

The Clean Air Zone, which is operational from today but will withhold from charging drivers for the first two weeks, will eventually affect around a quarter of all cars on the city’s roads, according to the AA.

The council-backed levy has ‘good intentions but bad flaws’, and will disproportionately affect lower-income and younger drivers, the motoring group said.

Bath launched an equivalent charge in March – but so far it has not applied to cars.

Birmingham’s scheme targets toxic pollution from older cars travelling within the CAZ, which covers all roads within the A4540 Middleway ring road. 

Non-compliant coaches, buses and HGVs face a £50 charge for entering the zone.  

Signs in Birmingham informing road users of the clean air zone initiative, which has come into place today but won't be charging drivers of non-compliant cars until 14 June

Signs in Birmingham informing road users of the clean air zone initiative, which has come into place today but won’t be charging drivers of non-compliant cars until 14 June

The Clean Air Zone covers all roads within the A4540 Middleway ring road in Birmingham city centre

The Clean Air Zone covers all roads within the A4540 Middleway ring road in Birmingham city centre

The AA is warning that similar plans for Bristol and an expansion of an existing scheme in London could take the total number of car owners hit by inner-city access restrictions in England to 600,000. 

Birmingham’s city council, which is offering exemption permits for in-zone residents, said the initiative is crucial to improving air quality and public health. 

It has also set up a £10 million scheme offering £2,000 grants to support people working in the Clean Air Zone, and who earn less than £30,000 per annum, with the option of scrapping a vehicle that would otherwise be subject to the daily fee.

AA president Edmund King said: ‘Poor air quality is a threat that the majority of drivers agree needs to be addressed and reduced. In due course electric vehicles will largely eradicate those emissions.

‘However, the car CAZs in Bristol and Birmingham and the extended Ultra Low Emission Zone in London are very blunt tools that create a tax burden for low-income families and workers.’ 

Birmingham's city council said the initiative is crucial to improving air quality and public health

Birmingham’s city council said the initiative is crucial to improving air quality and public health

Smoke released from Birmingham Library to represent nitrogen oxides saved by the clean air zone launched today in the city

Smoke released from Birmingham Library to represent nitrogen oxides saved by the clean air zone launched today in the city

Birmingham council has set up a £10 million scheme offering £2,000 grants to support people working in the Clean Air Zone

Birmingham council has set up a £10 million scheme offering £2,000 grants to support people working in the Clean Air Zone

He added: ‘These drivers are least able to afford to replace the vehicles they depend on for work, often night shifts, and sometimes emergencies such as going to hospital or healthcare centres. They are also the ones least able to pay the fines.’

The AA, which says studies have indicated that approximately 10 per cent of so-called gross polluters tend to be older lorries, buses or badly serviced cars, is calling for first-time warning letters to be sent out by Clean Air Zone operators.

It is also asking for a ‘rapid and massive’ expansion of park-and-ride schemes, the removal of VAT from sales of new electric vehicles, and the targeting of the highest level polluters.

Birmingham City Council introduced the scheme after the government ordered it to crack down on air pollution. The council says the initiative is crucial to improving public health in central Birmingham.

But Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood has urged councillors to review the project after he accused them of using ‘invalid data’ to justify the scheme.

Birmingham City Council introduced the scheme after the government ordered it to crack down on air pollution

Birmingham City Council introduced the scheme after the government ordered it to crack down on air pollution

The AA says studies have indicated that approximately 10% of so-called gross polluters tend to be older lorries

The AA says studies have indicated that approximately 10% of so-called gross polluters tend to be older lorries

In a letter to councillor Waseem Zaffar, who is overseeing the project, Mr Mahmood said: ‘There are many other ways to deliver better quality air for the people of Birmingham than the route you have travelled down.’

The city council originally planned to support people living within the zone with grants for eco-friendly cars or public transport credits.

A scrappage scheme to replace older vehicles has now replaced these measures.

Lawrence Barton, who owns two bars and a nightclub in Birmingham’s city centre, said the CAZ has forced some of his staff out of work.

He told Sky News: ‘The concept of it – yes I welcome a cleaner city and a cleaner environment.

‘The timing of it is shockingly bad for the city. It is just wrong to introduce this right now when the city has been crippled by the pandemic.

The Clean Air Zone in Birmingham will affect around a quarter of all cars on the city's roads, according to the AA

The Clean Air Zone in Birmingham will affect around a quarter of all cars on the city’s roads, according to the AA

Signs in Birmingham informing road users of the clean air zone initiative, which came into place today

Signs in Birmingham informing road users of the clean air zone initiative, which came into place today

‘It puts at a disadvantage the most disadvantaged. Some of my staff have had to leave their jobs because they can’t afford it and they don’t drive electric cars and they’re not in a position to make that payment.’

Regional economist Dr Steven McCabe, of Birmingham City University, acknowledged the new CAZ could hit less well-off motorists, and is a ‘questionable’ move during the fallout from the Covid pandemic.

He said: ‘Though exemptions are possible, anything making life more financially challenging to Birmingham’s poorest citizens is unwelcome.

‘Launching the CAZ whilst the city is still dealing with the fallout of the global pandemic is questionable, particularly for the retail and the night-time economies in the city centre, Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter.

‘However, a cleaner Birmingham, especially in the city centre, is undoubtedly one that’s far more attractive to inhabitants and visitors.’

Birmingham’s CAZ is billed as the first major step in the city’s Air Quality Action Plan, working to reduce emissions and encourage less use of polluting cars within the city centre.