Road charges could be brought in on major commuter road in north Staffordshire

Picture courtesy of Google Street View

Work to improve air quality on one of North Staffordshire’s busiest roads is underway.

Traffic surveys are being carried out to understand how people, taxi drivers and businesses with higher polluting vehicles use the A53 from Festival Park through to Newcastle town centre.

The Government told Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council to reduce air pollution in certain areas by 2021, predominantly in and around the A53 corridor.

The Government has ordered the councils to evaluate various options, and develop a preferred approach that improves air quality on the A53 and in other parts of the city and borough in the shortest possible time. A Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is a defined area where targeted action is taken to reduce air pollution, including charging higher polluting vehicles for journeys. It is the benchmark that all solutions presented by the councils for improving air quality must be assessed against.

As a result, motorists are now being asked how they would respond if a charging CAZ was to be introduced. Research specialist Watermelon is seeking the views of 500 drivers visiting Hanley city centre, Newcastle town centre, various retail parks and operational depots from Monday, 2 September.

The survey will ask people about their most frequent journeys, if they would change their habits if a charging CAZ was introduced or whether they would be prepared to pay a daily charge covering both areas, all in a bid to understand more about how initiatives could affect air quality in the future in North Staffordshire. In return for their participation, respondents will be entered into a £100 cash prize draw.

The information gathered from the five-week exercise will inform work by the local authorities to develop alternative, non-charging traffic management solutions.

Councillor Carl Edwards, cabinet member for the environment at Stoke-on-Trent City Council and chair of the cross-agency Joint Advisory Group for air quality, said: “These surveys are the first step towards finding the right solution for Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. Our overall aim is to improve air quality in the fastest time possible for people in the area, and residents, businesses and taxi-drivers telling us their views takes us one step closer to this.

“We already carry out a lot of work to monitor air quality, and proactively promote our excellent cycling network, canal routes and other sustainable transport. But the Government directive is clear in that they want measures to improve air quality happening more quickly.

“Carrying out the surveys will help us to understand people’s views and will inform what would be the most supported solution in the area and we can then work collectively to try and achieve this.”

Vehicle pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. It’s linked to cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and dementia. Vulnerable groups include children, older people and those living with long-term health conditions like asthma.

Petrol and diesel vehicles registered before January 2006 and September 2015 respectively are the biggest source of traffic-related pollution.

Councillor Trevor Johnson, borough cabinet member for environment and recycling, added: “Poor air quality is a national public health crisis, with almost 500 deaths in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent every year being linked to poor air quality. The Government has determined that CAZs are the most effective way of resolving this issue quickly and has instructed that other methods must be measured against this benchmark.

The Borough Council has serious concerns about a chargeable Clean Air Zone, and the impact it could have on the local economy. We are keen to rigorously test credible alternative options which we believe can deliver the same improvement, in the same time frame, such as improving air quality through improved traffic management. This research is hugely important as it will give us real data about how drivers would respond to a CAZ and help us to identify the most appropriate solution to the air quality problem.

Another project already underway to reduce pollution is an engine and exhaust retrofit scheme on 25 buses travelling through Basford Bank, from Sandy Lane in Newcastle towards Festival Park.

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