Agenda item

Bath Clean Air Plan Grant Settlement - July 2020

Poor air quality is the largest known environmental risk to public health in the UK. Investing in cleaner air and doing more to tackle air pollution are priorities for the EU and UK governments, as well as for Bath and North East Somerset Council (B&NES). B&NES has monitored and endeavoured to address air quality in Bath, and the wider B&NES area, since 2002. Despite this, Bath has ongoing exceedances of the legal limits for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and these are predicted to continue until 2025 without intervention.


B&NES is under a Ministerial Direction to improve air quality in Bath and bring NO2 within EU and UK legal limits in the shortest possible time and by the end of 2021 at the latest.


The government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) has now considered the Full Business Case submitted by the Council to discharge this Direction and, after negotiation, have proposed a final financial settlement that they consider adequate to achieve the outcomes necessary.


3.40pm - The Chair adjourned the meeting for a short break


3.48pm – The Chair reconvened the meeting.


The Chair invited Councillor Sarah Warren to introduce this report.


Councillor Sarah Warren read out the following statement:


‘It is my pleasure to introduce this paper on the grant settlement in relation to Bath’s Clean Air Zone. As you know, poor air quality is one of the most significant threats to public health in the UK. Bath is under a legal imperative to bring in a Clean Air Zone, introducing a daily charge for the most polluting vans, buses, taxis and HGVs entering the city centre, to reduce illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution.

In the last 4 months, we have seen a significant and welcome reduction in nitrogen dioxide around the city, accompanying the reduction in traffic due to coronavirus lockdown. However, traffic levels are unfortunately now returning to more usual levels, and with them, pollution. We received written confirmation last week from Ministers that we must therefore go ahead and implement the Clean Air Zone, as per the full business case submitted to the Joint Air Quality Unit earlier this year.

We were asked by Government to defer our original start date of November this year, to early 2021, due to coronavirus, and we are on track to deliver in time for this new deadline. No specific date has yet been agreed with Government. As soon as we have an agreed date, we will inform the public, and run an extensive media and communication programme running up to “go live”, to ensure everyone who needs to know, is aware.

Over the past few months we have been in negotiation with Government, challenging the initial funding offer for the Clean Air Zone, which fell significantly short of our original request. Government has now agreed to provide up to £15.5m to implement the scheme and support affected businesses, bringing the total funding package to £23.5m. Having already completed much of the build, and revisited our financial models, we feel confident that this will be sufficient. We are still negotiating with Government around the costs of running the central service to operate the zone.

Since the start of lockdown, we’ve been talking to a wide range of businesses and trade associations to understand the impact the pandemic has had on them, and how they see the road to recovery unfolding, and we have been considering how we might improve our support package for them, whilst still achieving our air quality objective.

We have now amended the terms of our financial assistance scheme to provide further help, in the form of additional flexibility for businesses applying for grants and interest-free finance to upgrade polluting vehicles. Temporary exemptions will also be granted to businesses that have placed orders for fully electric vehicles and are waiting for them to be delivered.

As a Cabinet we remain committed to innovation to improve air quality for the health of all residents and visitors to the city, whilst being mindful of the need to balance this imperative with the social and economic impact on businesses affected by the pandemic. I believe the proposal before you today will achieve this balance.’

Councillor Sarah Warren moved the recommendations as printed in the report.


Councillor Joanna Wright seconded the motion by saying that poor air quality generated by polluting vehicles had a significant impact on public health.  The Council was working diligently to implement a clean air zone as quickly as possible in 2021. This settlement would make sure that the air we all breathe would become healthier, as outlined by Councillor Warren. The Council has been mindful of the need to balance clean air with the social and economic impact on businesses affected by the pandemic.


Councillor Richard Samuel commented that it was almost three years since he moved the motion to Council calling for a Clean Air Zone to be introduced in Bath, and that he was glad about the latest developments on this important issue. Councillor Samuel was pleased with the settlement. This was a really important step for the City of Bath, particularly in regard to nitrogen dioxide pollution which has been far too high for far too long. Councillor Samuel thanked  all those involved.


Councillor Tim Ball also welcomed the report by saying that he has seen difference in the air during the lockdown, and with the less traffic on Bath streets. 


RESOLVED (unanimously) that the Cabinet agreed to:


2.1  Consider the settlement as negotiated and if supported, delegate authority to the Director - Partnership & Corporate Services to formally accept the additional grant determination and assurance letters from government providing up to £15.508M in additional funding for the scheme, bringing the total funding package to £23.452M. 


2.2  With reference to recommendation 2.2 in the September 2019 Cabinet report and subject to the approval of the recommendation above, approve the incorporation into the Council's capital programme of an additional £12.437M, bringing the total Clean Air Zone (CAZ) budget to £18.381M.


2.3  With reference to recommendation 2.12 in the January 2020 Cabinet report regarding the delegated authority to progress the operational agreements, note that these negotiations are ongoing and include discussions regarding the ongoing cost of providing the CAZ Central Service (which may now be subject to a separate Statutory Instrument).


2.4  Note the progress made towards implementing the scheme during the COVID-19 restrictions.


2.5  Delegate authority to the Director - Partnership & Corporate Services, the Director of Legal and Democratic Services and the S151 Officer, in consultation with the Cabinet member for Climate Emergency and the Deputy Leader, to negotiate and agree with government a new launch date following the Minister’s letter dated 3 April 2020 which required a delay to the scheme, bearing in mind also the legal obligation to deliver compliance with NO2 limit values  in the shortest possible time.


2.6  Note that the financial assistance scheme has been kept under review and in recognition that some local residents and businesses may be suffering in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, that it has been amended to provide further support.

Supporting documents: