Urban policy think tank Centre for Cities has earmarked the introduction of a charging clean air zone as a â€œquick winâ€ for Sheffieldâ€™s first metro mayor â€“ despite the city council having ruled out the measure.
Centre for Cities has published a report outlining some of the key policy areas for the city ahead of the election of the cityâ€™s first Mayoral election this May. Candidates for each of the major parties are still to be declared.
According to the think tank, introducing a clean air charge and increasing funding for public transport across the wider city region, should be among the top strategic measures introduced by the Mayor, within days of their election.
Centre for Cities claims that the Sheffield city region, which includes Sheffield, Doncaster and Barnsley has a higher share of commuters travelling by car, than other northern regions.
However, the group claims that tackling air quality represents a â€œquick winâ€ for the incoming mayor, compared to other issues including low wages and skills which are likely to require a longer term approach.
The metro mayor could use their direct mandate to introduce a clean air charge, similar to Londonâ€™s Toxicity Charge, on more polluting vehicles entering congested parts of the city region, the think tank has noted.
The high levels of commuting across local authority boundaries within the city region mean that many residents of Doncaster and Barnsley will directly benefit from cleaner air at work and quicker commutes, Centre for Cities claims.
Commenting on the proposal, Andrew Carter chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: â€œPollution is a significant problem in the Sheffield city region, which is home to some of the highest levels of NO2 in the country, and has the highest share of residents commuting by car in the North of England. The new mayor can quickly make their mark by introducing a clean air charge in the city regionâ€™s most congested areas, such as the city centre of Sheffield, aimed specifically at the most polluting vehicles.
â€œThis might be controversial with some drivers, but it would make a big difference in improving air quality. It would also generate much-needed funding which could be used to improving public transport links across the city region. In particular, the mayor could use this revenue and the newly devolved powers he or she will have to improve bus connections in the city region, and to encourage more people to use them.â€
Introducing a clean air zone has been considered by the city council, which was mandated by the government to assess the proposal through the July 2017 air quality plan.
The council has said that it will consider charging for some larger vehicles including buses, coaches and HGVs for operating in any potential clean air zone areas, but claimed that it has â€œno intention whatsoeverâ€ of charging private car users to travel within the city.
As part of its clean air strategy, the council has also committed to working with the cityâ€™s bus operators to improve the bus fleet and reduce emissions through replacement low-emission buses or retrofitting vehicles with cleaner engine technology (see airqualitynews.com story).
According to the city council, only 9% of the cityâ€™s 450 buses meet the Euro VI emissions standard.