No plan for Sheffield congestion charge - despite European pollution ruling

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Sheffield Council has ruled out the possibility of bringing in a London-style congestion charge - despite a new legal ruling which could see low emission zones being introduced in major British cities.

The authority says its plans for tackling air pollution do not include charging vehicles for entering the city centre.

But it does want buses, taxis and lorries that run off diesel - producing fumes that are the main source of nitrogen dioxide - to be retrofitted with cleaner engines.

The European Court of Justice has ruled the UK must act to clean up its illegal levels of air pollution ‘as soon as possible’.

Under current estimates, Sheffield will be in breach of legal limits for nitrogen dioxide until at least 2025 and a recent report suggested pollution is causing 500 premature deaths per year in the city.

The ECJ decision will result in a final ruling by the UK Supreme Court next year ordering the Government to take action to meet limits in a shorter time frame than currently planned .

At present levels will not fall within EU limits until 2030, 20 years after the original European deadline.

Alan Andrews, lawyer for ClientEarth which brought the action, said: “This ruling is a big victory for the millions of people who want to live healthy lives in the UK’s towns and cities. This will force the government to finally take this issue seriously and come up with an urgent plan to rid our towns and cities of cancer-causing diesel fumes.”

An air quality action plan published by Sheffield Council last year found pollution results in annual health costs of around £160m per year, with increased admissions to hospitals.

A low emission zone was introduced in London in 2008.

Coun Jayne Dunn, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “Air quality in Sheffield is improving in some areas, but like many other cities we also know this is a very serious issue and we need to see faster improvements.

“We completed a study last year looking into the possibility of a low emission zone.

“The study did not look at the possibility of charging vehicles entering the city centre or a formal enforced low emission zone, so this is not something we’re considering.

“Any potential benefits of a low emission zone should be balanced against the problems it could cause. 
“Full consideration and assessment of a wide range of issues will be made before we come to any decision.

“We want to encourage the take-up of other fuels and technologies which cause less pollution and for people to drive petrol instead of diesel.”

She said if people use public transport, walk or cycle it would make a ‘huge difference’ to Sheffield’s air quality.