Council sits on £24m for Clean Air Zone in Sheffield 'while people are dying'
A senior councillor claims Sheffield City Council has sat on £24m for a Clean Air Zone for 18 months ‘while people are dying’.
Green leader Douglas Johnson accused the previous, Labour-run, authority of lacking courage and showing ‘political inertia’ for failing to spend the money.
Coun Johnson is now executive member for climate change, environment and transport after the Greens formed a co-operative with Labour following May’s elections.
He said: “We have had the money for a long while but Sheffield City Council hasn’t made a decision to spend it. The previous administration didn’t have the courage to do it and kicked it into the long grass.”
The zone would charge buses, lorries and taxis for travelling through the city centre.
The bulk of the money, from the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs, is to cover the cost of businesses converting to cleaner vehicles.
Coun Johnson added: “Improving air quality is a legal requirement but the main reason to do it is people are dying of poor air quality.”
A Government spokesman confirmed the money had been given.
He said: “We have already provided Sheffield and Rotherham with £27.2 million to support their joint local plan for a Clean Air Zone and other measures, and we continue to work with them to progress these plans to a final stage. We will consider next steps in due course.”
A Sheffield City Council spokeswoman said it had been offered £24m in early 2020. That comprised £21m to upgrade vehicles and £3m to cover installation costs but it fell short of what was requested and negotiations were ongoing.
She added: “We are working closely with the Government to finalise our proposals and move to delivery, including providing financial assistance to drivers where this may be needed.
“The funding is contingent on the final plans for the zone. There are risks associated with spending funding in advance of our final business case being approved, including the potential that we may have to reimburse money to the Government."
She added: “Over the last 18 months we have seen periods of much improved air quality aligned to the periods where traffic levels were much lower. However, whilst some of the reasons people choose to travel, and the way they travel, still remain changed, traffic levels in the city have returned close to those seen pre-pandemic on a number of routes and there is still a need for action to improve air quality.”
The authority had also introduced mitigation schemes to improve air quality, including working with bus operators to upgrade 298 buses to achieve Euro 6 emission standards, she added.
The council’s website states air pollution contributes to 500 deaths a year and the biggest cause is transport, especially diesel vehicles.
CAZ proposals, agreed by the council’s cabinet in November 2018, would charge £10-a-day for polluting light goods vehicles and taxis, and £50-a-day for coaches, buses and lorries on and inside the inner ring road.
The plans were delayed last September to reduce costs to business during the pandemic. In March, the authority said the zone was ‘nearing completion’.
Rotherham’s proposed Clean Air Zone plans are set to cost £2.885m.
On Monday, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of a ‘catastrophe’ unless the world makes deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.