The Bradford Conservative Association has called for an investigation into a leaflet sent out by Bradford Council detailing plans for a Clean Air Zone, claiming it breaches election rules.
The group argues that the leaflet “portrays the Labour-led Council in a beneficial light” and should not have been sent out using taxpayer funds during the pre-election “purdah” period.
But Bradford Council has claimed the leaflet was needed to inform people how to apply for exemptions from the Clean Air charges, and to “counteract inaccurate information circulating on social media.”
The leaflet, titled The Facts About the Clean Air Zone, was sent to households in Bradford earlier this month.
Bradford was handed a Ministerial Direction by Government in 2018 that would require the Council to reduce air pollution in the city to legal levels by 2022.
In response, the Council will implement a Clean Air Zone, which will see the most polluting commercial vehicles, including HGVs, vans and taxis that don’t meet certain requirements, charged to enter the zone.
The flyer gives a brief background of the CAZ, and details what exemptions are available.
And digital road signs across Bradford have also displayed the message “Passenger cars will never pay.”
The Conservative Association believes the flyers may have cost the taxpayer up to £30,000 to print and distribute.
A statement from the association says the flyer “purposefully portrays the Labour-led council in a beneficial light.”
It adds: “It is reasonable to assume with the timing of when the leaflet was made that this action by Bradford Council would influence the local election.
“The Clean Air Zone Charge is a controversial topic and we believe the leaflet that was posted out and this statement breaches the Local Government Association code of conduct as a reasonable person would conclude that Bradford Council were spending public money to influence the outcome of the election.
“We are calling for an investigation into whether this breaches the Local Government Association code of conduct and if this is a misuse of public funds for electioneering.”
The Electoral Commission has not responded to a Local Democracy Reporting Service question about whether they would be investigating the claims.
In response to the accusations, Jason Longhurst, Strategic Director, Department of Place said: “Bradford Council has been directed by Government to achieve compliance with legal limits for air quality in the shortest possible timeframe and implement a Clean Air Zone in 2022.
“The CAZ exemptions scheme was launched on April 8, with a wide range of exemptions available to residents and businesses. We have communicated this to increase awareness and understanding of the exemptions available and also which types of vehicles are exempt and need no action.
“The Council has a duty to continually try to reach residents and businesses who are not aware of the CAZ or may not understand what they need to do or what support is available, sometimes this is due to incorrect information in the public domain.
“All CAZ communications are in line with pre-election guidance and meet the requirement to continue providing essential information, and to counteract misleading and inaccurate information circulating on social media.”
He did not specify what this information was, however recent weeks have seen numerous posts claiming the Clean Air Zone will soon extend to private vehicles.
And recent posts shared online claim to offer proof that Bradford Council had been planning to introduce a Clean Air Zone for years, even before Government raised concerns about the city’s air pollution levels.
The posts include a Council document that states “the Council should not wait for Government to come up with a solution when it is within our power to act” and that “The Council resolves to investigate the introduction of charging low emission zones and develop a plan for their implementation by 2020.”
It then goes on to say that “The Government has set out clear targets and actions that must be taken by other cities around the country, but didn’t insist on these actions in Bradford as we fell just below their threshold.”
The document is edited to remove any date, detail of where it was discussed and who was making the comments.
However, after some digging through old Council agendas, the LDRS has found that the resolution for the Council to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone came from a Liberal Democrat motion to a full Council meeting in December 2017 – almost a year before the Ministerial Direction.
The motion was defeated, with the Labour group putting in an amended motion that called for more support to make vehicles greener, but fell short of calling for a Clean Air Zone.
The CAZ has been one of the biggest political issues in Bradford in recent months, with the Labour group saying it has been ordered to introduce it by Government, and many opposition Councillors and candidates accusing the Council of introducing the plans off its own back, and then blaming Government.
Critics have also claimed the Council does not need to charge vehicles, claiming a non-charging CAZ would also help reduce pollution.
There have also been calls for the introduction of the Clean Air Zone to be delayed.
The LDRS asked DEFRA, the Government body that oversees Clean Air Zones, to shed light on the issue.
– Was Bradford ordered to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone by ministerial decision, or was the decision to charge made locally?
– If Bradford Council scrapped the planned charging zone, would the Government back that change?
– Would the government support further funding for people in Bradford to upgrade their vehicles if the charging plan was dropped?
– Is the order for Bradford to improve air quality by 2022 still in place? If so what will happen if Bradford does not meet that target?
– Has the Government changed its mind on Clean Air Zones?
– Has the Government set a date for the Bradford Clean Air Zone to begin yet?
Rather than answer the questions, DEFRA sent “background briefing notes” on the Clean Air Zone. The department did, however, say there were no plans to delay the 2022 deadline to improve air quality that was set in 2018.
Defra said: “Tackling high pollution levels is a serious challenge for communities across the UK which is why we are supporting them to take urgent action to clear up our air.
“We have provided £880 million in funding to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans – including a Clean Air Fund to help mitigate impacts on businesses and individuals.
“Decisions around the introduction of Clean Air Zones remain the responsibility of local councils, in consultation with residents and local businesses.
“The direction on Bradford to bring forward compliance to 2022 remains in place.”