Breathing easier as pollution reduces in Bath

Clean Air Zone road sign in Bath city centre

New data shows air quality is improving both in Bath city centre and outside the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) following the introduction of the scheme.

A report to be considered by cabinet on Thursday 9 September reveals that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have dropped by more than 12% compared with the same quarter in 2019, but have the potential to exceed government limits at four locations within the zone.

The report, the first in a series which will regularly monitor the performance of the CAZ, reveals that the number of chargeable non-compliant vehicles entering the zone since its launch has dropped with the percentage of compliant vehicles in the chargeable categories, (i.e., taxis, vans LGV’s, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles HGV’s) increasing by an average of 49% over the same period.

All but three of the 220 buses that operate on scheduled routes in the zone and more than 90% of HGVs and 90% of taxis travelling into the zone are now compliant with emission standards.

The report also confirms that more than one thousand non-compliant vehicles have so far been approved for the council’s financial assistance scheme, in addition to businesses and individuals upgrading vehicles using their own resources.

Councillor Sarah Warren, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, said:

This is very encouraging news. The aim of the Clean Air Zone is to improve air quality and reduce pollution which can have a devastating impact on people’s health, triggering asthma attacks and making heart and lung conditions worse.  So, I’m pleased that the early indications are that the Clean Air Zone is working. 

It is, however, early days and more time is needed. Normal traffic volumes in the city have been affected by Covid and the closure of Cleveland Bridge has caused some temporary changes to traffic patterns. I am also concerned that despite significant progress in reducing NO2 levels, there are still four locations in the city – Cleveland Place East junction, Dorchester Street, Victoria Buildings and Wells Road near the Churchill Bridge gyratory – where NO2 levels have the potential to exceed the government target we are aiming for.

We will therefore continue to closely monitor the impact of the CAZ and our progress in quarterly reports.

Our aim is to meet the government target in all locations, whilst minimising the social, economic and distributional impact of the zone on our residents and businesses.

To achieve this, our current focus is on upgrading a relatively small cohort of commercial vehicles and, in particular, older highly polluting vans.

I am pleased to see that the number of chargeable, non-compliant vehicles entering the zone each day has dropped over the past three months and I’d like to thank those residents and businesses who have already upgraded their vehicles and reorganised their fleets or who are making plans for their vehicles to become compliant with the zone’s emission standards.

Of course, we are also keeping a very close eye on whether non-compliant traffic is being displaced to areas outside the CAZ. Traffic monitoring indicates that volumes are still down by 9% compared with the same quarter in 2018, but we are investigating where residents and communities have raised concerns. Of the fifteen sites where concerns were expressed four have been found to have no significant issues and investigations into the other eleven are ongoing.

Councillor Sarah Warren Deputy Leader and cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel

The Clean Air Zone was launched on 15 March 2021 to urgently tackle harmful levels of air pollution caused by the most polluting taxis, vans, buses and larger commercial vehicles regularly driving in the city.

It was the first charging CAZ to be launched outside London and works to reduce pollution in Bath by levying a £9 or £100 a day charge on anyone driving a chargeable higher emission vehicle in the zone. This excludes private cars and motorcycles which are not charged. 

Grants and interest-free finance are available to encourage owners of non-compliant polluting vehicles to replace them with cleaner, compliant ones, not subject to charges.