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Following on from the ulta-low emission zone in London, there are now talks that the North East of England may be hit by a similar charge. The government has tasked the North Tyneside, Gateshead & Newcastle councils with reducing the air quality problems by 2021.

Friends of the Earth have identified the most polluted areas of the North East, all of which breach the 4-ug/m national objective level:

Percy Street, Newcastle

Mosley Street, Newcastle

Gilesgate, Durham

Gosforth High Street, Newcastle

Neville Street / Westgate Road, Newcastle

Tyne Bridge approach roundabout, Gateshead

Tyne Bridge east side, Gateshead

Church Street, Durham

Market Street, Newcastle

Blackett Street / Northumberland Street, Newcastle

The proposed solution

With the finger firmly pointed at traffic emissions as one of the leading causes of high levels of air pollution, it looks like drivers will receive the brunt of the cost. How are the local North East councils looking to tackle this?

Currently, there are two proposals on the table:

Option One – A bridge toll that affects all drivers apart from taxis and buses. It’s expected cars will pay £1.70, with lorries paying £3.40.

Option Two – Dubbed the Clean Air Zone (CAZ), the most polluting vehicles could be charged £12.50 a day, with lorries, buses and coaches expected to pay £50.

The reaction to toll charges and CAZ in the North East

Safe to say toll charges are an unpopular choice with many in the public, but it’s also come under fire from all four of the North of Tyne Major candidates.

Mr Hoult, owner of the Hoults Yard business village, also criticised the plans, stating “The stealth tax is unfair on people with older cars who can’t afford to replace them.” A sentiment widely shared. Driscoll agreed, “To force local councils to put an extra charge on buses and taxis, but people who can afford new cars can drive for free.” Referring to the high toll charge for high-polluting vehicles despite these often being older cars owned by less well-off families.

“I am totally opposed to charging ordinary working people £12.50 a day for the Clean Air Zone. That’s £3,000 a year to get to work.”

John Appleby, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has called on the plans to be cancelled and instead to copy the approach taken by Nottingham county council, which looked at replacing or adapting existing taxis and buses to make them less pollutant to the environment. This would allow the air pollution to be reduced without passing the cost on to all motorists.

The former president of the North East Chambers of Commerce also joined the debate, stating “Air quality and the effect of climate change don’t start and stop at the borders of the North Tyne so declaring a climate emergency is a nice soundbite, but it carries no substance.”

However, it has gathered some support. Labour leader of the Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes, stated, “This is a public health crisis that has been several decades in the making.

“As councils we are not prepared to stand by and let people continue to die as a result of poor air quality.

We have a responsibility both legally and morally to do something about it. Doing nothing is not an option.”

What will the money raised through toll charges be used on?

The Gateshead council website state that the chargers raised would be used to cover the cost of the toll and CAZ system itself. Any money left over will be reinvested in improvements to the highways and public transport.

Didn’t councils already rule out toll charges?

You may be already aware that councils did confirm that putting a toll only on the Tyne bridge would not be an option they would consider. They reasoned that by doing so it would redirect traffic to other areas not reducing the pollution as intended. The sticking point here is that they have said “only” the Tyne bridge. The new proposed plans would apply to numerous bridges and areas that it is expected to help solve the pollution problem.

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