Newcastle's Clean Air Zone: One year on

Tuesday 30 January marks 12 months since the toll charges were first introduced in Newcastle city centre Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

One year on from the introduction of Newcastle's Clean Air Zone (CAZ) the impact of the toll is yet to be assessed.

While some are in favour of the charges, which were introduced in the city centre last January, others say it is targeting the wrong type of drivers.

Brought in with the aim of driving down illegal levels of air pollution, it originally imposed penalties on older buses, coaches, taxis and lorries before being extended to cover vans in July.

Like in other clean air zones in cities across the country, the vehicles that fall foul of the environmental regulations are charged a toll or face a fine if they do not pay.

Newcastle City Council, which has collected £2million in tolls and fines over the last 12 months, says less than 1% of vehicles entering the city centre since its introduction have paid the charges.

Drivers have paid more than £2million in CAZ charges and fines in the last 12 months. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The latest figures, which run up to 31 December 2023, show that:

  • 69,344 toll payments have been made, totalling £1,115,035

  • 43,625 penalty charge notices for £120, or reduced to £60 if paid in 14 days, for not paying a toll within six days have been issued - generating a revenue of £1,297,401.

The CAZ was introduced in response to a Government order for local councils to reduce air level pollution.

No official data has yet been published assessing how successful it has been.

However, Professor Anil Namdeo, of Northumbria University, said his own data has shown it has made a difference.

He said: "The data for the civic centre, where most of the buses come, the reduction is 32%. That's a big drop."

The Clean Air Zone covers parts of Newcastle city centre, as well as bridges into the city. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Newcastle City Council has a fund available for grants to help those with non-compliant vehicles to upgrade them.

Since they became available, there have been 3,597 applications, of which 1,298 approved. The council said 668 vehicles had been upgraded.

A spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead Clean Air Zone said: “The aim of the Clean Air Zone is to reduce harmful air pollution by encouraging the use of cleaner vehicles and, as part of the scheme, grant funding towards the cost of newer vehicles has been helping people to upgrade and replace their older, more polluting vehicles.

“We have approved grant funding worth over £5m and, one year on from the launch of the zone, we are beginning to see a gradual decrease in the number of non-compliant vehicles entering the zone.

“We will continue to monitor pollution data and expect to be able to see evidence of the impact of the CAZ once the annual average data for 2023 becomes available later this year.

“The Clean Air Zone was introduced in response to a legal order from government that required Newcastle and Gateshead councils take action to address illegal levels of pollution in certain areas.

“The impact of poor air quality on people’s health – particularly children and those living with chronic health conditions – is well documented and we remain committed to tackling this.”

Loree Moran-Wilson, from Kenton Food Bank, is among those to have been able to upgrade her van after receiving more than £400 of fines in the months after the toll was introduced.

Loree Moran-Wilson says the process for getting a new van could have been simpler. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

She said: "With regards to what I do on a day-to-day basis I don't think it needed to be as complicated as it has been. It took four-and-a-half months to get a CAZ-compliant van.

"I do understand it but I don't think it's been considered how much of an impact it was going to have on non-profit organisations and community groups."

In response, a spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead Clean Air Zone said: “We are pleased to confirm that a grant has been paid out to Kenton Food Bank to help them upgrade their vehicle. The funding was paid just over two months after we received the application.

“During the application process we needed to contact the applicant on a number of occasions in order to ensure the correct and full information required was provided to both ourselves and to the financial provider. Once the correct information had been received we were able to arrange their grant payment.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...