ANALYSIS: What now for Slough’s aspirations to establish a Clean Air Zone?
What now for Slough’s forthcoming Low Emissions Strategy and, in particularly its flagship Clean Air Zone proposed to take effect across the borough in 2020?
With Slough’s omission from a list of 81 local authorities with roads with NO2 levels in excess of the EU’s maximum 40 μg/m, will Slough still be able to push ahead with ambitious plans to establish a Clean Air Zone?
Local authorities in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton are required to implement Clean Air Zones by the end of 2019 having been identified as cities suffering the worse NO2 problem. A total of 29 authorities are required to rush out Air Quality Plans by March. Slough has been spared both of these indignities despite breaching air quality rules for years. But the omission means that the council does not even figure on a third tier or authorities required to move forward with a feasibility study.
Slough’s strategy currently involves conducting a feasibility study with a view to establishing a borough-wide Clean Air Zone, including road-charging, in 2020.
Under the revised Air Quality Plan announced on Wednesday a £255 million fund will be available to support local authorities carry out feasibility studies and deliver local plans, while councils will also be able to bid for money from a new Clean Air Fund. Slough will be keen to get its share on some of that funding.
However without the imperative that the Government’s Air Quality Plan could provide, will Slough’s Clean Air Zone get beyond the feasibility stage?
Here the Council’s plans appear to be heavily linked with Heathrow’s aspirations to expand, and to which Cabinet has tied the borough’s fortunes. Just last month a report to Cabinet on progress in fulfilling the ruling Labour Party’s manifesto committments to 2018 indicated that the council is already in talks with Heathrow Airport to fund a Clean Air Zone:
“The Council has secured funding of £157,000 to provide 7 charging points across the town for low emission taxis and minicabs which will be installed in the coming year. A Low Emissions Strategy is being developed and will go out for public consultation and adoption later this year. Alongside this we have submitted 6 bids to Heathrow Airport Ltd to improve highway and transport links, including a feasibility study into a Clean Air Zone.”
As with many things currently, Slough’s Low Emission Strategy may be more heavily predicated on Heathrow’s ambitions than UK or EU environmental policy. In a bid to re-position itself as a “clean” airport, Heathrow announced two measures last month.
First, the airport launched a new programme to incentivise its 6,000 direct employees to acquire a low emission car of their choice, making payments through a monthly gross salary reduction to benefit from lower income tax and national insurance. Second, it announced it had invited Imperial College London Professor Helen ApSimon to chair its new Heathrow Air Quality Expert Review group – the aim of which will be to “provide expert perspectives on building a third runway that does not compromise the UK’s ability to comply with legal air quality requirements”.
Slough’s approach to poor air 2017-2025
Slough Borough Council has already undertaken NO2 modelling that has shown:
- The introduction of electric or Euro VI Standard buses would have a noticeable impact on NO2 levels in the Town Centre (AQMA
- Improving Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV), Light Goods Vehicle (LGV) and bus emissions to a Euro VI Standard would have a significant impact on NO2 levels at Brands Hill (AQMA 2)
- Simply switching diesel cars to petrol would have a most significant impact in all the AQMAs – similar to introducing a low emission zone.
In June the Council outlined its approach to improving air quality within Slough, noting that poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK, with high NO2 levels exacerbating the impact of pre-existing health conditions, especially for the elderly and children. It has a three-pronged strategy for dealing with air pollution over the next 8 years:
Slough is promising a consultation on its Low Emissions Strategy this Summer.