Brake responds to consultation on Clean Air Zone implementation in England

Brake, the road safety charity's response to DEFRA's consultation on Clean Air Zone implementation, submitted 9th December 2016

1. Are the right measures set out in section 2?

Section two of the Clean Air Zone Framework is a comprehensive and detailed policy document, suggesting positive steps towards reducing vehicle emissions and taking a safe, sustainable and healthy approach to transport within major urban centres. The measures drafted to provide the five cities designated Clean Air Zones (CAZ) with practical initiatives designed to improve air quality are effective and appropriate for reducing vehicle emissions within the CAZ. While there are some policy-gaps within the document particularly in terms of resources, Brake would support the implementation of these measures.

The measures in section two are described as being ‘evidence-based’, designed to engage and inform the wider public and set down clear regulatory measures and establish definitive emission standards based on best practice. They provide policy-makers with the flexibility to adapt these measures to their local environment and ambitions, encouraging economic growth and regional co-operation but not at the expense of the sustainability agenda.

The measures within this section cover a wide policy spectrum, proposing initiatives that will improve public health, road safety, economic development and local agendas. The document clearly states that it aims to encourage “immediate action with air quality and wider approaches” in mind. Although Brake would support immediate action in order to stem the ever-increasing levels of vehicle emissions in the UK, we would not support this at the expense of effective policies. We cannot afford to sacrifice practical interventions and best practice approaches to increase the speed of implementation. The government and local authorities must work towards implementing these measures in a quick but also comprehensive manner or risk reducing their impact in the long-run.

Traditionally, air pollution is understood as being thick clouds of smog and dust, but carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxides (NOx) and particulate matter are largely invisible to the eye and as a result, many do not see it as a significant threat. By physically outlining the risks within the CAZ, local authorities have the chance to draw public attention to a wider problem that they might not otherwise consider during their day-to-day activities.  

Brake would agree with the document’s assessment of land-use as a critical element of any strategy to reduce vehicle emissions: infrastructure development and traffic management interventions can both be used as a means of reducing or increasing vehicle emissions on the road network, depending on their design. Officials responsible for the design and implementation of road management schemes must keep this in mind and ensure that their plans are clear, coherent and easily navigable by the wider public.

Measures promoting joined-up working between government departments and local authorities will be vital to the development and progression of the CAZ. If current funding trends continue, it is important that these groups find common ground to pool their resources and achieve their overarching goals of improving the living and working conditions in towns and cities. However, Brake would emphasise that responsibility cannot solely be placed on local authorities or on single government departments. This is an international and nationwide problem that requires central leadership and support in terms of policies, funding and research. Without the support of Westminster the CAZ are unlikely to receive the consideration and enforcement they require to be fruitful. Evidence has shown at political will is a critical element of any sustainability policy and, with the government’s recent history of failing to meet expectations in air quality policy, it is all the more important that they are seen to be supporting the CAZ at the national level.

The measures aimed at promoting healthy and active travel are a key area to promote joined up working, as the outcome will affect a range of government departments, including DfT, DEFRA, Public Health England and local authorities across the UK. The broad scope of active travel and its potential benefits requires a cross-departmental response to react appropriately and comprehensively to the issue, and an approach that the government has yet to fully provide.

Brake strongly supports government and local authority sponsorship of innovation and adaption as a means of supporting the CAZ, particularly the incentives encouraging the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles. The range and availability of this technology has escalated in recent years, matched by an increased demand for alternative-fuel vehicles as people seek to take advantage of the environmental and cost-incentive benefits, particularly in the wake of the ‘Diesel-gate’ scandal. However, these vehicles are not a catch-all solution and must be supported by infrastructure developments, including the installation of charge points within the CAZ, properly regulated and maintained road environments, speed restrictions and other environmentally-friendly policies.   

2. Are there additional measures that should be highlighted under each theme?

Brake would suggest that while the measures are a comprehensive representation of the action that needs to be taken to promote sustainable policies and secure the effectiveness of the Clean Air Zones within selected cities, the more detailed elements of these measures must be carefully planned and enacted. Central government and local authorities must work holistically towards the development of a safe, sustainable, healthy and fair environment within our cities or risk the failure of the scheme in its entirety.  

3. In addition to the draft framework, are there other positive measures that a) local and b) central government could introduce to encourage and support clean air in our cities?

Local authorities could also engage with international examples of best practice for promoting clean air and healthier lives within towns and cities. Taking advice from the technological and political trailblazers in the development of eco-friendly cities could provide ideas for affordable, effective and established policy ideas that could further the sustainability agenda in future.

Although local authorities are central to the Clean Air Zones, adapting the measures and regulations to suit their environment and provide the optimum advantages for that region, central government’s role cannot be forgotten and cannot be allowed to fade into the background. It is vital that central government provides overarching leadership and support if the Clean Air Zones are not only to survive but thrive. While the framework is a step in the right direction, Westminster must continue to play a fundamental role providing political will and resources to safeguard the improvement of air quality and potentially expand the scheme beyond its initial boundaries.  

4.  Are the operational standards and requirements set out in Section 3 and Annex A of the framework acceptable?

The standards and requirements set out in section three are detailed and strategic, combining more technical requirements, such as vehicle types, emission levels and geographical boundaries, with more socio-economic preparation that encourages community engagement and effective investment. Brake would support this approach, as it takes the wants and needs of the population into account while basing its regulatory measures on international best practice, such as the EU vehicle emission standards.

The separation of vehicle ‘classes’ based on their pollutant levels is an important element of vehicle standards. The Low-emission zone in London has established the effectiveness of this approach, chiefly regarding HGVs, as local authorities work towards the ambitious aims set out in the Clean Air Zones Framework.    

Although the document provides an outline of exemptions from the CAZ, we would recommend that local authorities and central government ensure that this only applies to those with particularly difficult circumstances and doesn’t provide a loophole for illegal road users with little consideration for the environment and health of their community. Brake would also urge central government to further incentivise the uptake of hybrid vehicles and ultra-low emission vehicles for ‘community vehicles’. As, though they are exempt from the CAZ restrictions as necessarily resources within their communities, they can be made more environmentally-friendly and still operate effectively within their local area. 

5. Do you agree with the requirements set out in Clean Air Zones for taxis and private hire vehicles should be equivalent?

Although Brake supports vehicles being charged equally to discourage their used within the CAZ, we would question who would be held responsible for the infraction in the case of the private hire vehicle: the individual hiring the car or the company responsible for hiring it out.

The individual responsible or hiring the vehicle would be aware that they were driving through a Clean Air Zone, so they should be required to pay. However, there is the unfortunate possibility that they could have been misinformed of the vehicles’ operational standards and emissions when they hired the vehicle. Therefore, Brake would argue that the government should make it a legal requirement for the disclosure of vehicle emission details upon the acquisition of the vehicle in question, to avoid such a situation arising.

Similarly, even though a private hire organisation should be aware if their vehicles’ operational standards and emissions, they would be unaware of the route that their customer plans to take. In order to prevent confusion in situations such as these, Brake would recommend stronger regulation of hired vehicles and once again recommend a clear requirement for the disclosure of a hired vehicle’s emission standards upon rental.

6. Do you agree that the standards should be updated periodically?

The standards set down within the framework should be updated periodically. Vehicle technology and environmental; policy are both developing rapidly, often in a symbiotic manner, as a technological innovation encourages legislation or alterations to environmental policy, or vice versa.

It is, therefore, crucial that a rolling system of review is enacted, to ensure that solutions to future dangers, which may not even be considered at this early stage, are accounted for within the UK’s legislative framework. Innovations in terms of fuel emissions and vehicle standards would also have to be accounted for and adapted to within the Clean Air Zones and a periodical system of updates would prevent central government and local authorities from being left behind in terms of international policy or air quality standards.

Brake advocates speed and proficiency in the government’s response to this technological rapid development, fuelled by international interest and capital. In order to reap the cross-departmental benefits to health, road safety and the environment, the UK must have up-to-date and effective standards and restrictions in place; an objective that can only be met through frequently schedules regulatory reviews.

7. If yes, do you agree that the minimum vehicle standards set out in the framework should remain in place until at least 2025?

Brake does not support the minimum standards remaining in place until at least 2025 as we believe that updates should be on a more frequent basis to encourage improvement and avoid stagnation. Air quality standards in the UK have unfortunately been beset by problems due to overreliance on the Euro V vehicle emission standards that underestimated the extent of damage that NOx emissions can cause to public health. Although this error has been recognised and the government is working to lessen the problem, this occurred due to the infrequency of regulatory updates within the UK and the EU.

In order to ensure that our standards and restrictions, even those at the lowest level of requirement, remain up-to-date and effective the government must shorten the time that these standards are required to remain in place. Policy-makers must also provide incentives to make sure that when they limit for minimum standards run out we do not backslide in terms of requirements and instead move forwards to a clean, safe, healthy future.  

8. Do you agree with the approach to blue badge holders?

N/A

9. Is the approach set out suitable to ensure charges are set at an appropriate level?

The decision to allow local authorities to set the level of charge for vehicles entering a zone is one that Brake would overall be supportive of, especially as the government has provides upper and lower bands that the charge must be set within. This will, in theory, prevent local councils lacking in support for the clean air agenda from rolling back on vehicle charges and regulations within the CAZ. The inclusion of penalty charges for non-payment is an important aspect of the charges as it provides local authority charges for the CAZs with a greater level of gravitas and the support of punitive enforcement measures.

However, Brake would argue that the ability of local authorities to ‘provide discounts’ on charges for early or prompt payment is not conducive to presenting the clean air agenda as a vital and decisive measure. As it provides a loophole for drivers that break the law that must be carefully regulated in the long-run.

10. Do you have any comments on the secondary legislation as drafted?

The secondary legislation that has been drafted in relation to the Clean Air Zones is a clearly defined and thorough piece of legislation. Brake supports the inclusion of the clause allowing the secretary of state to issue notice allowing additional local authorities to become a charging authority if they are able to provide a plan sufficiently targeted to reduce air pollution within their regions. We also strongly approve of the encouragement for local authorities to “co-operate with each other in the discharge of their obligations” as a charging authority. Encouraging involvement and innovation on a wider level will allow the government to support additional Clean Air Zones in the future and provide the local authorities involved with the encouragement needed to interact and cooperate towards the overarching sustainability agenda.

However, Brake is wary of the statement that the charging authorities will have “less onus on regulatory provision”. Although the current government prefers a less regulated policy-approach, without effective management of a strategy of this magnitude there remains a risk that it will not be enacted to its fullest extent.

11. Do you agree with the approach undertaken in the impact assessment? If no, please provide supportive evidence

N/A

12. Do you agree with the approach undertaken in the impact assessment? If no, please provide supporting evidence

N/A

13. Are you aware of any additional data that could inform the impact assessment? If yes, please give details.

No. 

Tags: DEFRA, Sustainability Consultation