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Activists and councillors express concerns about Clean Air Zone

Campaigners in Burngreave fear the daily charge could push the most polluting vehicles into their area.

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Harrison Qi

Councillors and activists have expressed concerns about the details of Sheffield's newly-announced Clean Air Zone (CAZ), though many have welcomed the idea overall.

Members of the Burngreave Clean Air Campaign have submitted a Freedom of Information request to obtain any displacement modelling carried out by Sheffield City Council.

This modelling would assess the chances of the most polluting vehicles being displaced from the city centre to Burngreave and Pitsmoor to avoid the daily charge.

"We welcome the proposal of a Clean Air Zone as evidence of the council’s awareness of the air pollution emergency in Sheffield," campaign chair Graham Jones told Now Then."

However, we are extremely concerned that this initiative might actually divert the most polluting vehicles through residential areas adjacent to the city centre, including Burngreave, where children and those most vulnerable to disease from pollution actually live, work and go to school."

The campaign have been monitoring Nitrogen Dioxide levels in the ward for four years, and say that they regularly record levels higher than anywhere in the city centre, which will be covered by the CAZ.

"Rather than punitive or discriminatory measures, we would rather see the money spent on an initiative to positively attract people back onto public transport," said Jones.

"We need a low emission, efficient, reliable and affordable bus service to improve our air quality across the whole city."

Last Thursday the city's Green-Labour Co-operative Executive approved plans for a daily charge of up to £50 for the most polluting vehicles – but private cars and motorbikes will be exempt.

One of the 13 Green Party councillors Maroof Raouf, who isn't a member of the Co-operative Executive, has already broken ranks and called for the CAZ to go further and include private vehicles.

"Everyone should be charged," he tweeted. "We shouldn't be discriminating against one group over another. Plus the more people moving over to cleaner engines, means the cleaner our air will be for all."

Another tweet from fellow Green Paul Turpin implied that the exemption for private vehicles had been inherited from the previous Labour administration.

Similar zones in Birmingham and London include private vehicles, though a recently launched scheme in Bath does not.

Lewis Chinchen, Sheffield's only Conservative councillor, told Now Then that he welcomed the CAZ but said that transitioning to net-zero presented "challenges for some businesses."

"I would like to see more from Sheffield City Council as to how they intend to support businesses, taxi drivers and others to make the transition to cleaner vehicles," he said.

He also supports the exemption for private vehicles, adding that "private cars make up 80% of road traffic but only 50% of the pollution."

Liberal Democrat councillor Joe Otten said that including the inner ring road itself in the zone was "perverse" and suggested that it could displace traffic into Burngreave, Netherthorpe and Sharrow.

"The point of a ring road for air quality is to keep traffic away from people, and we are in danger of getting this badly wrong."

Of the £24m the government has granted to Sheffield Council for the project, over £20m will be ringfenced to help taxis and local businesses upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

In a change to Sheffield's original proposals taxis will no longer need to be electric or ultra-low emissions to avoid the charge, but will need to have a Euro 6 Diesel or Euro 4 Petrol engine.

"Analysis by council and government officers has predicted that legal levels [for air pollution] are now likely to be met, even if the regulations for taxis are relaxed," said Chris Broome, an expert in transport at the South Yorkshire Climate Alliance.

"In the previous proposals, drivers would have been required to use ultra-low emission vehicles to avoid CAZ charges. This would have led to them, or their taxi companies, having to acquire much more expensive cars."

"Now petrol and diesel models meeting the latest Euro emissions standards will also be exempt from CAZ charges. We should hope that the financial support package, which is about to be consulted on, will still incentivise the upgrading of taxis to electric vehicles."

Broome also expressed concern about poorer areas of Sheffield such as Tinsley and around the Northern General that are "well outside the CAZ location and also suffer pollution levels well above legal limits."

"More attention needs to be given to relatively neglected places like these, particularly by improving public transport."

He went on to say that problems of air pollution, congestion and climate breakdown "would all be alleviated by a reduction in car miles."

"Parking restrictions and charges are fair and relatively gentle measures that should be used more. The introduction of the Clean Air Zone will be big step but only part of a necessary and major shift in the way we collectively travel."

Graham Turnbull of the campaign group Clean Air For Sheffield pointed out that the exemption for private vehicles was a "departure from other cities like London and Birmingham."

"Our CAZ plans are looking more and more outdated with the recent, drastic reductions of WHO guidelines on NO2 from 40 to 10 ug/m3 annually," he said.

"Sheffield’s CAZ as proposed would not take us to 10 ug/m3. It might make our city’s air compliant with EU and UK legal standards, but it will not necessarily make it safe to breathe. It has to go further."

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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