Agenda item

Clean Air Plan

Report of the Executive Director, Place



The Committee received a report of the Executive Director, Place, attaching the report of the Executive Director which had been submitted to the Co-operative Executive at its meeting held on 26th October 2021.  The report provided an update on the development of the Sheffield and Rotherham Clean Air Plan (CAP) to tackle nitrogen dioxide (NO2) incidences, and set out actions required to achieve compliance with the Council’s direction by Government to reach legally compliant annual average levels of NO2.




In attendance for this item were Eugene Walker (Executive Director, Resources) and Tom Finnegan-Smith (Head of Strategic Transport, Sustainability and Infrastructure).




Members of the Committee raised questions, and the following responses were provided:-




·            The charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ) was only one part of the overall CAP, and it was a joint initiative between Sheffield and Rotherham, with the boundaries in respect of the CAP comprising both local authority areas.  There was a need, in terms of the schemes to be delivered, to ensure that there was compliance across the whole area.  Whilst the CAZ was focused around Sheffield City Centre, the implications of improving the emissions of buses, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and other transport fleets that moved across the boundary into Rotherham was a key part in achieving compliance across the whole area.  There were some other schemes included as part of the overall package, which included the financial support measures and other delivery measures focussed in Sheffield City Centre, including bus gates on Arundel Gate and action on bus idling.  There were traffic management schemes in three specific locations in Rotherham, which included HGV restrictions, changes to the road network and bus priority measures.  Other wider complementary measures included schemes funded through the Connecting Sheffield programme which related specifically to cycling, walking and public transport.




·            It was believed that implementing a category C charging zone would be the best way to achieve compliance in terms of air quality targets within the shortest possible timescale.  There was now no need to move towards the original category C+ target, which would have required taxi drivers to move to either electric or ultra-low emission vehicles when the zone became live.  The standard had now been reduced to the national standard which, it was expected, would achieve compliance in the shortest possible timescale, and which would now mean that taxi drivers could move to Euro 6 diesel or Euro 4 petrol standard vehicles as a minimum threshold of compliance.




·            Any zonal measure, whether a parking or charging-type mechanism, would result in displacement of traffic, and this had been reviewed as part of the scheme.  There would be a continuous monitoring regime, with the results being reported to the Government as part of the final plans.  It was important that the Council understood the implications of the CAZ, and take actions, where required.  If adverse implications were identified, and required further action, as part of the category C proposals, the Council was aware that there would be surplus income as part of the scheme, which would be used to implement any required measures.  There were currently two programmes -Modeshift and School Streets, financed through other Department for Transport funding, and there would be an opportunity to progress the work undertaken under these programmes going forward.  As the scheme does not affect private cars, there would be no issues regarding displacement of such vehicles in areas with high levels of air pollution.




·            Apart from the additional measures referred to there were no other specific wider traffic management measures proposed as part of the scheme.  There was a broader parking programme, which would include a number of priority areas, such as Kelham, Neepsend, Park Hill and St. Vincent’s, and would hopefully address specific parking problems in these local communities.




·            As part of the monitoring and evaluation, the Council would not just be looking at air quality levels across the city but, based on the appraisal undertaken, there would be implications with regard to the redistribution of traffic.  As Sheffield did not have a complete outer ring road, drivers often had to use the Inner Ring Road to access other areas of the city, and if any action was required with regard to problems of displaced traffic, this would be reviewed.  The Council would set out a programme as to what activities the projected surplus income from the CAZ could be allocated to.  Whilst there were requirements as to what this surplus could be used for, it was generally used for transport measures to improve the transport network and air quality in the city.




·            In terms of the remodelling of the scheme, the Council had been directed to take action on NO2 emissions from road transport.  There was a three-stage modelled process, the first stage of which comprised a city-wide transport model, which enabled the Council to know where traffic was going.  This then informed the second stage, which allowed the Council to assess NO2 emissions linked to such traffic flow.  This information was then translated into an air quality model, which used the transport emissions, together with wider background or industry emissions, to inform the overall picture with regard to air quality in the city.  There were still a number of areas in the city, mainly located in and around the city centre, where air pollution exceeded the baseline figure, and the CAZ would achieve compliance across all these areas.  It was planned that the scheme would become live in Autumn 2022.




·            It was acknowledged that redistributed traffic could be an issue, and that some areas of the city would be adversely affected by this.  It had been found with other similar schemes that had already gone live, such as Birmingham and Bath, that vehicles were becoming compliant quicker than originally forecast.  It was therefore not expected that the effects of redistributed traffic and the rate of compliance would become apparent until such time the scheme went live.




·            As part of the reviews undertaken on the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, officers had spoken to representatives of those transport fleets to be affected by the CAZ, including coach firms and the taxi trades, and which had already both been heavily impacted by the lockdowns.  As part of the consultation on the scheme, focused engagement would also be held with the taxi trades.  The trades, particularly Hackney Carriage drivers, had expressed concerns, as part of the initial consultation, regarding the costs of moving towards electric or ultra-low emission vehicles.  The requirement to move to Euro 6 diesel and Euro 4 petrol had been viewed as much more achievable.  There would be financial support available to the taxi trades, in the form of grants of up to £5,000 to achieve minimum compliance and £10,000 for drivers wishing to move to electric or ultra-low emission vehicles.




·            As part of the full business case, there was an opportunity for the Council to present details of the developed costs of the scheme to the Government, which would be predominantly in connection with the infrastructure costs associated with the scheme.  In the light of the discussions held with the Government to date, there was a confidence that it would cover any additional costs required.




·            It was acknowledged that the traffic on the Inner Ring Road was a major cause of the air quality issues in the city, and the Council's appraisal had indicated that it could not be excluded from the scheme.  All locations across the city had been reviewed as part of the assessment to ensure that they were compliant in terms of air quality.  Early on in the process, and following discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU), it had been confirmed that Midland Station had not been included within the compliance assessment on the basis that it was not in close proximity to the highway.  It was acknowledged, however, that the Station still represented an issue in terms of air quality, and it was hoped that following the implementation of the CAZ, there would be improvements in terms of NO2 emissions from the taxi rank.  It was also acknowledged that there were still challenges in terms of emissions from diesel trains.




·            The signage being provided as part of the scheme would inform drivers of the presence of the charging zone, and such signage would be visible on all approaches to the zone.  Whilst there would be advanced signage, the Council would not pro-actively be signing diversions away from the zone, mainly due to the fact that not all vehicles would be charged.  The primary aim of the CAP nationally was to use the charging mechanisms as a push for a change in transport fleets.




·            As part of the scheme, there would be a clear charging order, which would set out all the specifics, including details of the exemptions.  In terms of how the scheme moved forward after implementation, the Council has held discussions with the JAQU in connection with compliance, and whether or not the charging zone could be switched off or not.  The term of compliance would be for 12 months, where the NO2 emissions had not exceeded the required levels.




·            Since 2010, there had been a national requirement in terms of achieving compliance regarding air quality.  Since 2017, Sheffield and Rotherham had received a legal mandate from the Government to take specific action.




·            There would be specific engagement with the taxi trades in connection with the minimum compliance requirements in terms of vehicle emissions.  The new requirements, under the proposed scheme, would be clearly communicated to all taxi drivers.  It was still the intention to try and encourage drivers to move to electric or ultra-low emission vehicles.  It was believed that the majority of taxi drivers were now aware of the requirements of the scheme.




·            In terms of funding, the expectations around the category C charging zone were that the income would firstly have to be managed in respect of the costs of the scheme.  It was anticipated that there could be a fairly significant surplus, and this would need to be managed as a programme, and decisions would have to be made as to what the funding could be used for.  The initial forecasted surplus was expected to be around £2.5m during Year 1 and, subject to compliance rates, this amount could reduce to around £1m in Year 4.  Any surplus income would be ring-fenced to fund various traffic management schemes.




·            There was a statutory process for the Council to follow in terms of implementing the category C charging zone, and there was no intention to change this.  There could, however, be a change nationally to the compliance standards for success or changes made to the scheme at localised hotspots, if required.




·            It was accepted that traffic levels were currently reaching pre-pandemic levels, with particular issues being faced during the usual morning and evening peak times.  Public transport patronage had not recovered as fast as expected, and it was anticipated that by March 2022, such patronage would have increased to around 80% of pre-pandemic levels.  Efforts would still be made to encourage more people to travel by public transport.




·            There had been a number of positive improvements in terms of air quality, including the retrofitting of the region's bus fleet, through the Clean Bus Technology Fund, to meet the Euro 6 standard.  It was forecast that if no action was taken, and if transport fleets were naturally improved overtime, it would take until 2024 to reach compliance in terms of NO2 emissions.




·            The Council's assessment had showed that the category C charging zone would be required to achieve compliance by autumn 2022.  Monitoring of the movement of the transport fleet across the city would continue.  It was expected that the zone would need to go live in autumn 2022 in order to achieve compliance.  The Council would have to prove to the JAQU, through the use of monitored data, that compliance had been achieved, as well as providing proof of compliance after the zone had been switched off.




·            The Council would continue to encourage people to travel to the city centre by public transport, or walk or cycle if possible.




·            The Council was well aware of problems of air quality in some areas of the city.  HGVs, delivery vans and taxis operated in different areas of the city, as well as in other towns and cities, whilst the CAZ only related to the city centre.  The fact that such transport fleets were being improved would therefore have a positive impact on air quality in other areas of the city, and also in other towns and cities.




·            The Council was working closely with the bus operators in the city to help bring all the fleet to a better standard in terms of emissions.  The area around the M1 south- bound on-road, adjacent to Tinsley, had been identified as a specific hotspot following Highways England monitoring.  As a result, speed reduction measures had been introduced in this area in order to reduce emission levels.  Also, from monitoring, the Council was aware that HGVs were far cleaner than they had been before, which would have a positive impact on air quality.




RESOLVED: That the Committee:




(a)      notes the contents of the report now submitted, together with the comments now made and the responses to the questions raised; and




(b)      thanks Eugene Walker, Mick Crofts and Tom Finnegan- Smith for attending the meeting and responding to the questions raised.



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