Sheffield Greens: Clean air zone is missed opportunity

“Consulting the public on a proposal to charge private cars would have been the ideal opportunity to ask how people would tackle this public health crisis.” Sheffield’s clean air zone proposals are limited and need to focus on private cars and travel alternatives as well as charging highly-polluting vehicles, say Greens.

Sheffield city centre road with vehicles
Sheffield city centre road with vehicles

Flickr / nicksarebi

Sheffield City Council’s current proposals for a clean air zone won’t charge private cars

Tansy Dando

Sheffield City Council plans to introduce a clean air zone in 2021, with the most polluting vehicles facing charges of £10 to £50 a day if they enter the designated city centre zone. Sheffield Green Party supports the plan but believes the current proposals are still missing an opportunity for meaningful change – as it stands, private cars will not be charged.

Sheffield is known as the ‘Outdoor City’ but is plagued with illegal levels of air pollution: levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) have been in breach of legal limits since 2010. Air pollution is responsible for 500 early deaths each year in Sheffield alone, as well as costing businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds annually due to staff absences. Across the country, transport is also the largest emitting sector of carbon dioxide, with 26 per cent of the UK’s total CO₂ emissions generated by vehicles in 2016. 

The plans to charge highly-polluting vehicles such as HGVs, taxis, buses and coaches are a step towards reducing Sheffield’s pollution levels – the council says these make up 20 per cent of the vehicles on the road but produce 50 per cent of the NO₂ emissions. But the other 80 per cent of vehicles, and the other 50 per cent of emissions, are still going unaccounted for, with no acknowledgment of the polluting impact of private cars. There is also concern that some drivers facing charges may divert through smaller roads and residential areas in order to avoid the clean air zone, simply displacing the problem and creating more traffic.

“Admission of failure”

Responding to the council’s clean air zone consultation, Sheffield Green councillor for City Ward, Douglas Johnson, said, “The fact that the council has been forced by government to look at charging in a clean air zone is an admission of failure. For several years, we have proposed better alternatives such as a workplace parking levy, action to improve public transport and the use of effective planning conditions to reduce pollution-emitting traffic.”

He went on to say: “This is a missed opportunity to engage the public on the reality of air pollution and the actions needed to make our city a more attractive place to live, work and shop. Private cars cause half of all the air pollution from traffic. Consulting the public on a proposal to charge private cars would have been the ideal opportunity to ask how people would tackle this public health crisis.”

Many car journeys are unnecessary, taken out of convenience – the cost of parking a private vehicle in Sheffield city centre is much lower than that in other cities and is often cheaper than using buses and trams. Making public transport options more affordable and accessible, and charging private cars even a nominal amount of £1 a day for entering the clean air zone, Sheffield Greens say, would help to modify driver behaviour.

It has been noted that Sheffield City Council only submitted the details of its clean air zone proposal to government ‘on the very last day that was legally possible,’ indicating a lacklustre approach to the issue. ‘The council is only taking steps to consider a clean air zone because it has been ordered to do so by central government,’ a statement from the Green Party read. 

Alison Teal, Green Councillor for Nether Edge and Sharrow ward, said, “Once again we see Sheffield residents disadvantaged by the inertia of this Labour council… Sheffield needs a first class public transport and active travel infrastructure. We are decades behind other cities. Expanding the ring road while introducing a clean air zone shows a complete failure to understand the systemic nature of the climate emergency we face.”