Drivers on Tyneside will soon be faced with the reality of having to pay to use some of the region’s most polluted roads.
While no final plans have been revealed, council bosses have confirmed that they are considering two competing proposals — a charging zone for high-polluting vehicles, or tolls on three bridges over the River Tyne.
But, what will the prices be and when can we expect these new tolls to come into force? Here is everything you need to know…
Why do we need to cut pollution levels?
Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils were ordered by the Government in 2017 to reduce pollution in certain hotspots where nitrogen dioxide levels are above legal limits — part of the A167 Central Motorway and Tyne Bridge, a section of the A1058 Coast Road, and stretches of the A1 past Swalwell, Whickham and Blaydon.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that the councils must either introduce a charging clean air zone (CAZ) or find alternative measures that will be equally effective in bringing down emissions levels by 2021.
Poor air quality is linked to around 40,000 early deaths in the UK every year, and the biggest contributor to that is traffic.
After months of uncertainty, the three councils have now unveiled a number of options they will consult the public on…
Option 1: What is a CAZ and how would it work?
A CAZ would mean that high-polluting vehicles would have to pay a daily charge to enter a certain area – currently proposed to include the centres of Newcastle and Gateshead, stretching up to Gosforth and also down part of the Coast Road.
Based on CAZ charges elsewhere in England, the daily fee could be £50 for buses, coaches and HGVs and £12.50 for taxis, vans, and some private cars — diesels made before September 2015 and post-2005 petrol cars.
Option 2: The Tyne Bridges toll
This toll would apply on the Tyne, Swing and Redheugh bridges – the three main city centre routes for cars crossing the Tyne – and would apply to all lorries, vans, and cars. Only buses, taxis, and ultra-low emissions vehicles would be exempt.
The suggested fee at the moment is in line with Tyne Tunnel charges – £1.70 for cars and vans, £3.40 for HGVs.
Depending on the results of the public consultation, the toll could change for different times of the day or for the most-polluting vehicles.
Which of those are we more likely to get?
Council leaders have stated that they are firmly opposed to the CAZ, which is the government’s suggested solution and is being implemented in some form across many other UK cities. But Tyneside chiefs say that the proposal is unfair on the poorest residents, because those who cannot afford to buy a new car are penalised, and their own modelling suggests that the CAZ would not do enough to bring emissions levels back within legal limits.
Newcastle city council leader Nick Forbes believes that the toll idea would be ‘more equitable’, but its effectiveness is still unknown.
For the moment, no ‘preferred option’ is being presented to the public.
Are there any alternatives?
It seems inevitable that either a CAZ or the bridges toll will be introduced. However, there are a number of extra measures that are also being considered as add-ons to boost Tyneside’s environmental credentials.
One of those is a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), in which that certain high-polluting vehicles – lorries, buses, and taxis – would be banned from Newcastle city centre at certain times.
Possible restrictions to cut traffic on the Central Motorway will also be considered, such as a ban on HGVs and LGVs using the area between the Tyne Bridge and Coast Road during peak hours.
Improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure, as well as public transport, could also form part of the plans.
How can you have a say?
Residents, workers, students, and businesses will be able to take part in a public consultation which will run from March 6 to May 17. Details on how to take part have not yet been confirmed.
Whatever measures the councils finally decide to introduce will also have to be approved by DEFRA and must be introduced quickly enough to meet the Government’s 2021 deadline to reduce emissions levels.
By Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporting Service