Agenda item

Bath Clean Air Plan Annual Report 2021

The attached report reviews the performance of the first calendar year of the Clean Air Zone in Bath from 15 March 2021 - 31 December 2021.


Cllr Sarah Warren introduced the report, moved the officer recommendation and made the following statement:

“Air pollution is estimated to cause around 80 deaths a day across the UK, with approximately 80 per year in Bath and North East Somerset. Bath’s Clean Air Zone was the first such charging zone outside London, when it was introduced on 15th March 2021, and is designed to tackle high atmospheric levels of the dangerous pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which largely originates from traffic in our city, and affects the health of our most vulnerable residents. The aim of the zone is to bring annual nitrogen dioxide levels below the legal limit value of 40g/m3, by deterring the most polluting vehicles from entering the city centre.

Tonight, we are considering the 2021 annual report on air quality, vehicle compliance, and traffic displacement, which covers the calendar year 2021, the first calendar year during which the Clean Air Zone was live.

During the year, we saw overall traffic levels return from lockdown to pre-covid levels in the city, with light goods vehicles reaching 112% and heavy goods vehicles 110% of their pre-covid numbers, owing to pandemic-related changes in shopping patterns. Over this period, we have also seen business thriving, with footfall in the city’s shops returning close to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

A key purpose of the zone is to encourage the upgrade of the most polluting vehicles, and we were able to make substantial funds available through grants and interest-free finance to support this. As at the end of December, some 722 of the most polluting vehicles had been replaced through this route, rising to 859 by the end of May this year.

Throughout much of 2021, we saw dramatic changes to traffic flows around the city centre arising not only from lockdown, but also from the complete closure of Cleveland Bridge, which normally carries some 17,000 vehicles per day. We have, of course, been monitoring roads around the CAZ carefully to establish whether there is evidence of the displacement of traffic from the zone, wherever the public have expressed concern, as early modelling of the CAZ suggested displacement might be possible. The analysis of this data so far shows no ongoing significant displacement impacts due to the introduction of the scheme. However, monitoring will continue at some of these sites for some time, as traffic flows settle down following the various disruptions of the last couple of years.

Notwithstanding recent changes to traffic flow, the really great news is that overall, air quality continues to improve both within and outside the zone, with average reductions in nitrogen dioxide levels of 21% inside, 22% in the urban area outside the zone, and 18% in the rest of Bath & North East Somerset over the year, compared to the calendar year 2019 before the pandemic. By the end of 2021, we observed that over 90% of HGVs and taxis, 100% of scheduled bus services, and 80% of vans driving in the zone were compliant.

Despite these significant improvements, we are seeing 3 locations with readings still fractionally above legal limits of nitrogen dioxide, and we wait to hear from the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit whether or not we can be said, in their terms, to have “achieved success”. But even these three sites have shown huge improvement, with Dorchester Street down from nitrogen dioxide readings of above 70, as recently as 2015, to 40.5 last year.

And, having progressed our zone despite the pandemic, at a time when some other authorities have balked, Bath and North East Somerset is now regarded as a national leader on this hugely important issue so important to our residents’ health. Our officers and councillors are now being invited to speak in national forums to share our experiences and achievements introducing the zone, so we are now putting Bath and North East Somerset on the map for clean, rather than polluted air.

The zone generated £5.6m during 2021, and by the end of March this year, the future costs of the scheme had been covered, with additional income being allocated to sustainable transport initiatives, helping to provide practical and affordable alternatives to the car.

I am delighted with the substantial progress we have made here in Bath and want to thank everyone who has gone to the trouble and expense of upgrading their vehicle or changing their travel behaviour. However, we know there is no safe level of air pollution, and that’s why I am ambitious to achieve more.

The World Health Organisation released new tighter guidelines last year on safe levels of six pollutants, and I immediately wrote to the Minister to urge their rapid adoption into UK law, combined with adequate advice, powers and financial support for councils in tackling them.

That’s why, despite the substantial progress we have already made here in B&NES, we are not complacent, we are still ambitious to go further in support of the health of our residents and of the environment. We are increasingly thinking of clean air alongside our net zero commitment, because these objectives are aligned in so many ways. The Clean Air Zone is but one tool - our wider plans to give more people more practical options so that they can leave their cars at home more of the time are outlined in our Journey to Net Zero plan published earlier this year.

And that’s why this evening we are asking officers to develop new local targets for air quality for B&NES that are more ambitious than those currently set by national Government.

In the papers this evening, a potential annual average target of 36 mg/m3 for nitrogen dioxide by 2025 is proposed for further consideration. This figure is currently breached at 7 monitoring locations in the city (including the 3 still above 40). Officers will be doing further work to establish feasibility in establishing this target, but we intend to adopt these in the coming months.

And we don’t see this as the end of the road either - we expect to see year on year improvement in air quality, and to raise our ambition in line with that, as we see the transport transition unfolding across our district.

We are also asking officers to increase our monitoring of another important dangerous, traffic-related pollutant, particulates, as although we are compliant with current national limits, we would like to develop our understanding, with a view to making improvements in this area of air quality as well.

I would like to finish by thanking officers for their hard work monitoring the impacts of the zone so closely, and compiling the data into this annual report, which permits close public examination of our progress on this important public health measure. We clearly need to keep both air quality and potential traffic displacement under close review. We await government’s assessment of the extent to which we are achieving success very shortly.”

Cllr Manda Rigby seconded the motion and made the following statement:

“Cllr Warren highlighted this in her speech, but I think it’s worth emphasising that the rationale behind the Bath Clean Air Zone is to reduce toxic air pollution. Nitrogen Dioxide is a health risk to everyone and is particularly dangerous for children and vulnerable people.

This is the first annual report for the Clean Air Zone’s first calendar year. It’s a cautious assessment, recognising that we always need more data. But I welcome the headline findings, showing the CAZ is working to reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution and to increase the proportion of compliant vehicles (benefiting a much wider area as of course these cleaner vehicles don’t just travel in Bath). All this despite traffic returning to normal levels following the pandemic.

This report illustrates both the challenge and the opportunity of being the first Council outside London to deliver a charging Clean Air Zone.

The challenge because we are the trailblazers, and everyone is looking to us to get this right. We are developing the precedents, so to speak, that all other Clean Air Zones will rely on. We’re testing the methodology and developing the working relationships with the Joint Air Quality Unit – a government department supported by both DEFRA and DfT. B&NES is very much being seen as a national leader – demonstrated by the invitations we receive to share our experience at national forums.

And this gives B&NES the opportunity to continue to lead the way. At the start, in 2019, the goal of the zone was to comply with the ministerial direction. But compliance isn’t an end point- it’s really just the beginning. The science around air quality is continually developing, with new guidelines from the WHO as Sarah mentioned. And more cities are implementing clean air zones – indeed these will become the norm across urban areas, as we recognise the improvements in public health which can be brought about by these schemes B&NES has the opportunity to stay at the leading edge and set new goals. We want to be ambitious. To build on the progress from the Clean Air Zone.

That’s why we’re working on a more ambitious local nitrogen dioxide target and we’re focussing on providing more information to the public about the issue of particulate pollution alongside. That’s why we urged the government to go further and set more ambitious targets. All the work we are doing around sustainable transport and tackling the climate emergency is aligned with the overarching goal of the CAZ – to protect public health – and I think it’s right that we should be ambitious in this area. If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us the true value of health.

I’m proud of the hard work of our team in successfully implementing the Clean Air Zone. I’m proud of the difference it’s already making. And I’m proud that we are aspiring to go further and protect our residents’ health even more.”

Cllr Dine Romero stated:

“I am pleased that since I raised the issue of displaced traffic being rerouted onto roads in Southdown, in particular Whiteway Road monitoring of the volume and type of traffic has taken place. I am even more pleased to note that further monitoring is to be expected on this stretch of road. I look forward to hearing more on any mitigation measures that will be put in as a result of this data collection, perhaps the cabinet member might know when such discussions will take place, and whether they could they be linked to the discussions around measures which might be considered for Mount Road, under the heading of Liveable Neighbourhoods, since changes on one road will have an impact on a parallel one.

(The other issue I have previously raised around speeding is being dealt with separately).”

RESOLVED (unanimously):


(1)  To note the Annual report and the ongoing progress which has been made towards achieving reductions in nitrogen dioxide levels both within and on the boundary of the CAZ, which has been realised by the scheme increasing the proportion of compliant, less polluting vehicles driving in and around the city.

(2)  To note the continued performance of the CAZ against the scheme’s financial model, ensuring it covers its costs of operation and avoids placing an additional burden on the Council and local taxpayers. In addition, note that surplus revenue is now being targeted towards sustainable transport projects as laid out in the full business case for the scheme.

(3)  To note the statement from the Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) on their assessment of the scheme towards achieving success with the Ministerial Directions which have been served upon the council.

(4)  In line with recommendation 3 of E3322 and Minute 1.5 of E3326, to note that further work to develop and implement a local nitrogen dioxide objective level will be continued.

(5)  To recommend that officers explore options for enhancing the capability to monitor particulate matter pollution within Bath and North East Somerset.

Supporting documents: