Bath's Clean Air Zone is starting next week - here's everything you need to know

The Clean Air Zone scheme starts on Monday 15 March. Credit: ITV News West Country

The £23million scheme to cut air pollution in Bath is soon to launch - with the worst polluting vans, private hire vehicles and taxis being charged £9 a day to enter the city's clean air zone.

Drivers of non-compliant buses, coaches and HGVs will face a £100 daily charge. 

The scheme kicks off on Monday 15 March.

Bath and North East Somerset Council believes it can bring nitrogen dioxide levels within the legal limit by the end of the year, without charging private cars. 

Bath’s clean air zone will be the first outside of London when it launches due to delays and policy changes in other areas. 

The council has declared a climate emergency, aiming to be zero-carbon by 2030.

The zone encompasses Royal Victoria Park and as far east as King Edward’s School. Credit: ITV News West Country

Why is the zone necessary? 

The government directed BANES council - along with other councils in polluted cities across the UK - to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in the shortest possible time, and by the end of 2021 at the latest.

It came after the government was sued by environmental lawyers, ClientEarth, in 2017.

Nitrogen dioxide levels are above the legal limit on several roads in Bath, generally where congestion is worst, including London Road and Dorchester Street.

Air pollution has been recognised by the government as the largest environmental risk to public health.

Long-term exposure can cause an increased risk of heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer. It also reduces life expectancy.

In the short term, exposure to air pollution can also exacerbate conditions like asthma and increase hospital admissions. 

Between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths can be attributed to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter pollution in England, every year. 

The council said: “Our technical work has shown that a charging zone for traffic is the only measure that can achieve compliance [with legal nitrogen dioxide levels] in the required time frame – effectively deterring the majority of higher emission vehicles from driving in the inner city area by charging them to drive into the zone.”

ClientEarth has praised BANES Council for prioritising people’s health.

They said: “Cleaning up harmful air pollution should be a top priority for authorities across the country – national and local government need to work together to protect people’s health with due urgency.”

What sort of zone is being introduced? 

In technical terms, Bath is bringing in a class C zone. 

This means non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, lorries, vans and minibuses will all be charged – but private cars will not be. 

Bristol’s small class D zone will charge private cars as well as other vehicles when it is activated in October. 

Vehicles that will have to pay the charges are:

  • Pre-Euro 6 diesel vehicles, excluding hybrids (older than approx. 2015)

  • Pre-Euro 4 petrol vehicles, excluding hybrids (older than approx. 2006)

Newer vehicles and fully electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will not be charged.

Drivers can click here to see if their vehicle will be charged. 

Where does it cover?

The zone encompasses Royal Victoria Park and as far east as King Edward’s School.

The most northerly point is just south of St Stephen’s Church in Lansdown Road, and it goes as far south as Oldfield Road.

The size and shape changed in response to a consultation that attracted a record 8,400 responses.

How is the zone being funded? 

BANES Council secured a total funding package of £23.5million from central government to implement the scheme and provide supporting measures, such as the financial assistance scheme. 

Will it cut congestion in Bath? 

In short, no. The powers available to the council are tightly controlled by the government, in what Councillor Sarah Warren called a “real missed opportunity”. 

She told a cabinet meeting in September 2019: “They [government] could have given councils greater powers and funding to bring in improved and affordable, comprehensive public transport and cycle networks – the sort of measures you see in many continental cities. 

“This is a huge source of frustration to me, as our aspiration as an administration is to see Bath become an exemplar of sustainable transport in a heritage setting. 

“We certainly don’t want our children choking on vehicle exhaust fumes. 

“However, we would also prefer streets that were not choked with traffic, and this scheme alone has no ability to deliver that.”

When will you have to pay?

Drivers of non-compliant vehicles will need to pay within seven days of driving into the zone using the government’s Drive in a Clean Air Zone service. 

Payment can be made up to six days in advance, on the day the vehicle is driven in the zone, or in the six days after.

No reminders are sent. 

The charges will apply from midnight to midnight seven days a week, 365 days a year.

That means if your journey within the zone starts at 11pm and finishes at 1am, you will need to pay two separate daily charges.

The council has set up a network of automatic number plate recognition cameras to monitor vehicles moving around in the clean air zone. 

Charges do not apply if a vehicle is parked in the zone, but does not move.

It’s up to the driver or business account user to pay the daily charge within the payment window using a debit or credit card or saved bank details. 

Failing to pay within that time frame could lead to a penalty charge of £120 – plus the entry fee. The fine will be halved to £60 if paid within 14 days. 

Discounts on the charges are available for larger motorhomes and horse transporters that are classed as private HGVs. 

Exemptions apply for certain vehicles including - tractors, gritters, showman’s vehicles, recovery vehicles, “special” vehicles, emergency services, and while an upgraded vehicle is on order.

Some exemptions are only for a limited period. Click here for more information. 

What will happen to the money from the charges?

According to the business case submitted last January, the income from the zone is forecast to peak at £5.4million in the first year and drop off to £83,000 in 2030, as vehicles are upgraded and emissions drop. 

The money will cover the zone’s operating costs, and any surplus will be spent on improvements to walking and cycling infrastructure and on public transport.

The council will also promote electric cargo bike and car club schemes.

How will the zone affect Bath? 

The economic impact of the zone is expected to be £56.5million.

This figure is made up of £14million to replace vehicles, £8.8million in behaviour changes as people cancel their trip to avoid the zone, £22million in setup costs and £12million to keep it running.

A previous report said there was “no feasible alternative” to reduce dangerous pollution levels in the city. 

Of the coach firms that responded to the clean air zone consultation, more than 11 per cent said they would cancel their journeys to Bath.

That might please some who hate the endless flow of tourists – but shops and businesses reliant on visitors could suffer.

A similar percentage of van drivers said they would avoid the clean air zone, as did nearly one in 20 lorry drivers.

What support is available? 

The council launched a scheme to support people regularly affected by charges, offering grants and interest-free finance to help them upgrade to compliant vehicles.

The funding can be used to replace non-compliant vehicles with new or second-hand vehicles that meet Bath’s emissions standards, or to retrofit or re-power an existing vehicle. 

Grants of up to £4,500 are available for taxis, private hire vehicles and vans. 

There is up to £20,000 available for HGVs and up to £35,000 for buses and coaches. 

The finance cannot be applied retrospectively, so drivers should check with the council before upgrading. 

Credit: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service