Basildon Council leader Gavin Callaghan has met with the Minister of State for Environment and Rural Affairs where he made his position clear on why a charging clean air zone along the A127 is not in the best interests of the borough.
He was invited to meet with Dr Therese Coffey MP yesterday (Tuesday 3 September), alongside Leader of Essex County Council David Finch, to discuss progress in complying with the Ministerial Direction in relation to the A127.
Air quality and traffic modelling has found that a section of the A127 (to the east of Fortune of War, up to the east of Pound Lane Junction) was exceeding air quality limits for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), but that a 50mph enforced speed restriction will reduce the NO2 to safe levels by 2021.
Councillor Callaghan says he is committed to reducing the speed limit from 70mph to 50mph to bring forward the date of compliance but is against a charging clean air zone.
He added: “It was a constructive meeting with the minister where I was able to put forward Basildon’s case for why a congestion charge is a disproportionate response to the issues we face in our borough.
“I impressed upon the minister that we are taking the issue incredibly seriously and doing all that we can to bring out air quality to within legal limits as quickly as possible.
“It is clear from our modelling that the introduction of a reduction in the speed limit will make a massive difference and go a long way to bringing us into full compliance, quickly.
“The truth is that there are no easy choices. To meet the government’s very ambitious timelines we need to reduce the speed limit but I am committed to continuing to make the case directly with the minister to avoid a congestion charge in Basildon.
“I fundamentally disagree with that approach and will continue to work with all colleagues to make sure we defend the borough’s residents and businesses from a wholly disproportionate policy response.
“Longer term we have agreed with Essex County Council to have a review of the Fortune of War roundabout with a feasibility study conducted to determine the merits of straightening the roundabout. This will help in the long term”.
However, Basildon’s Tory opposition have responded with outrage to what they claim was a secret meeting between the chief executive, the leader of the council and DEFRA over air quality.
Cllr Andrew Baggott, Leader of the Conservative opposition, said: “It is outrageous that the chief executive and leader of the council went against the instructions of council to hold a secret meeting.”
An Extraordinary Council Meeting was held on June 27, which resolved by 41 votes to 1 to have a cross-party meeting in order to demonstrate the support across the parties and to ensure that residents’ views were fully represented.
Cllr Baggott continued, “While I know that our MP John Baron did attend and was vociferous in speaking against any proposed congestion charge, I cannot say the same for the chief executive or Cllr Callaghan.
“Consequently, I have asked to see all notes and minutes from the meeting in order to be reassured that the residents of Basildon have not been sold down the river on the congestion charging.”