Drivers have paid more than £2m in tolls and fines in the first year of Newcastle’s Clean Air Zone.
Today [Tuesday, 30 January] marks 12 months since the toll charges were first introduced in Newcastle city centre in a bid to drive down illegal levels of air pollution.
The CAZ originally imposed penalties of either £12.50 or £50 per day on older buses, coaches, taxis, and lorries that do not comply with emissions standards.
Since July last year, vans that fall foul of the environmental regulations have also been charged – but all private cars remain exempt.
Ahead of the zone’s one-year anniversary, Newcastle City Council said that less than 1% of the vehicles entering the city centre since its introduction had been required to pay a toll.
The latest figures, which run up to 31 December 2023, show that:
- 69,344 toll payments have been made, totalling £1,115,035;
- 43,625 penalty charge notices (PCNs), for £120 or a reduced £60 if paid in 14 days, for not paying a toll within six days have been issued;
- Those PCNs have generated a revenue of £1,297,401.
The CAZ was introduced in response to a Government order for local councils to reduce illegal levels of pollution in emissions hotspots, with poor air quality having been linked to more than 300 premature deaths on Tyneside every year.
No data has yet been published assessing how successful the CAZ has been in reducing air pollution levels, with that expected to be released later this year.
The city council has come under fire for not handing out more grant funding to help owners of high-polluting vehicles upgrade to cleaner models and for imposing strict conditions on who is eligible to apply for that money.
Only £2.5 million out of a total £15 million available has been handed out so far, though a further £2.8 million worth of grants have been approved but are as yet unclaimed.
However, the council recently paused its grant scheme in order to review its rigid criteria and open applications to more people.
That could mean that there will be opportunities for taxi drivers based outside Newcastle, Gateshead, or North Tyneside to apply.
It could also bring relief to independent businesses, who previously had to provide paperwork proving that they had a business need to enter the CAZ at least twice a week over the previous three months in order to be eligible for a grant.
Grant applications have been made to upgrade a total of 3,597 vehicles so far – 1,298 of which have been approved, with 668 upgrades completed, and 1,379 applications declined.
A spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead Clean Air Zone said: “The aim of the Clean Air Zone is to reduce harmful air pollution by encouraging the use of cleaner vehicles and, as part of the scheme, grant funding towards the cost of newer vehicles has been helping people to upgrade and replace their older, more polluting vehicles.
“We have approved grant funding worth over £5m and, one year on from the launch of the zone, we are beginning to see a gradual decrease in the number of non-compliant vehicles entering the zone.
“We will continue to monitor pollution data and expect to be able to see evidence of the impact of the CAZ once the annual average data for 2023 becomes available later this year.
“The Clean Air Zone was introduced in response to a legal order from the government that required Newcastle and Gateshead councils to take action to address illegal levels of pollution in certain areas.
“The impact of poor air quality on people’s health – particularly children and those living with chronic health conditions – is well documented and we remain committed to tackling this.”