Essex County Council has voted down a proposal of potential funding for air quality zones, saying it is still exploring whether Clean Air Zones (CAZs) are effective.
The proposals were rejected at a full council meeting on Feb 12 after being proposed by the Liberal Democrat group on the Conservative-led council.
It had been proposed that the council invest £22,000 to assess and develop a business case for introducing Clean Air Zones in Chelmsford and some of Essex’s other large towns in a bid to tackle air pollution.
However, the administration rejected the proposals, saying that it is already supporting other air quality schemes and would only explore charging or regulating vehicles as a last resort.
Cllr Kevin Bentley, deputy leader of Essex County Council and cabinet member for infrastructure, told Air Quality News: ‘Air quality is primarily the responsibility of district, borough and city councils who have a duty to monitor air quality levels, and take appropriate action to meet European legislated threshold levels of pollutants in the atmosphere.
‘While the duty lies with these councils, there is of course a lot that we can do to assist any air quality management plans.’
Essex County Council explained that it is already a delivery partner in many air quality management plans, such as contributing to traffic management systems, promoting active travel and investing in cleaner buses.
It added that the above schemes can be used to stabilise poor air quality in the area until engine emissions reduce through cleaner engine design ‘which is happening all the time’.
Bentley concluded that the council would consider introducing CAZs ‘only where this was the only way of meeting the expected levels of air quality set by European regulations’ due to their impact on drivers.
According to figures from Public Health England, one in 18 deaths of people over 30 in Essex could be attributable to fine particulate air pollution.
5.1% of deaths in England were attributable to inhaling polluted air across the UK in 2017 – equivalent to 25,000 people.
Figures such as these have led the government to publish its Clean Air Strategy, which sets out how the UK plans to meet the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits on airbourne particulate matter.
The Lib Dem proposers of the motion told Essex Live they were ‘very disappointed’ with the motion being rejected, given the small size of the proposed investment and the benefits they said the CAZ would bring.
However, Essex County Council has stood its ground, while stressing it has not ruled out introducing air quality zones entirely.
Bentley told Essex Live: ‘Air quality zones are not the solution for every situation. However, as part of work we are undertaking with Defra and authorities in Essex, we are examining the effectiveness of air quality zones, to see whether this solution is needed and will be effective.
‘We will use this experience in our plans moving forward.â€?
Image credit: greenacre8