Activists fear Newcastle’s most polluted street could be forgotten in watered-down clean air plan

Campaigners fear that watered-down plans to cut toxic emissions on Tyneside risk forgetting areas outside the city centre – including Newcastle’s most polluted street.

Council bosses in Newcastle, Gateshead, and North Tyneside last week revealed three new proposals to slash illegal pollution levels in 2021 via a toll on vehicles, after thousands of objections to the controversial plans.

The shortlist includes a much smaller version of a ‘Clean Air Zone’ (CAZ) in which high-polluting vehicles could be charged £12.50 per day, now limited to Newcastle city centre rather than a more wide-ranging area that was originally spread out to cover parts of Gateshead, Gosforth, and the Coast Road.

And while the more lenient plans – which could also feature a temporary exemption for car owners – came as a welcome relief to many drivers and businesses, environmental activists say that they would not solve serious pollution issues in busy areas away from the city centre.

Massive traffic congestion on the Coast Road
Massive traffic congestion on the Coast Road

That includes Gosforth High Street, which was revealed as the most polluted road in the city in Newcastle City Council’s most recent emissions analysis.

Peter Macdonald, of residents’ group SPACE for Gosforth, said: “We’re extremely concerned that these new plans don’t have any measures to address air pollution on Gosforth High Street, which is popular with young families and older people who are most at risk from polluted air.

“We looked at evidence for what would be effective and found there are relatively simple changes the council could make quickly without having to charge anyone and will substantially reduce air pollution.

“For the city centre that means prioritising people who are visiting the city and directing non-stopping traffic around the outside. For Gosforth High Street, making it one lane in each direction for its full length would mean reduced exposure and a much better environment for shoppers, and make it easier to cycle rather than having to travel by car.”

Coun Greg Stone, Newcastle’s Lib Dem opposition spokesperson on transport and air quality, also fears that the new plans are too focused on central areas.

He said: “The news that the councils seem to be no longer considering the possibility of the £12.50 daily charge for the Central Motorway and Coast Road will be a relief to many people, but it isn’t immediately obvious that the new proposals comply with the relevant air quality targets.

Greg Stone (inset) and traffic on the Tyne Bridge (main pic)
Greg Stone (inset) and traffic on the Tyne Bridge (main pic)

“These plans appear to do nothing to improve identified air quality problem areas like Shields Road, the Cradlewell, Gosforth High Street, and the Coast Road.”

The area of the proposed CAZ was been reduced in response to the raft of objections in a record-breaking public consultation, which found that residents viewed the tolls as “financially wounding stealth tax”.

Coun Arlene Ainsley, cabinet member for transport and air quality at Newcastle City Council said: “With our partners we are committed to improving air quality and have set out some bold options to tackle this huge public health issue.

“Work is continuing to identify our preferred option based on 20,000 responses to the consultation – the largest participation of its type in the UK – as well as the latest modelling data.

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“We have always been clear that in order to support people making fewer journeys by car there have to be better alternatives in place. This was a message that was particularly strongly supported in our consultation.

“As part of any overall vision for air quality, there will be measures to support public transport and active travel, whether this is direct from DEFRA or from other sources such as the Transforming Cities Fund.

“We are continuing to look at how we can ensure these attractive alternatives are in place, including on key corridors such as Gosforth High Street, while protecting low income households from the effects of charging.

“There will be further consultation before our final proposals are submitted to government later in the year.”

Author: Hot reporter