No clean air charge for Basildon in proposed scheme

A scheme to relocate shared pedestrian and cyclist crossings in East Mayne could put a stop to plans for a charging clean air zone in Basildon.

Basildon Council Leader Gavin Callaghan has been lobbying government ministers over the last 18 months to ask them to reconsider their position on imposing a charging clean air zone.

Instead, a scheme has been developed to relocate shared pedestrian and cyclist crossings in East Mayne, reducing people’s exposure to poor air quality at the roadside.

Councillor Callaghan said: “Over the last 18 months I have continued to lobby ministers at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to ask them to reconsider our position here at Basildon in relation to the air quality issues we are trying to tackle.

“I am pleased the hard work behind the scenes is paying off and we now have a viable alternative to a charging clean air zone, which to be clear, we have always been vehemently against. Measures to tackle air quality issues must be proportionate and effective.

“A charging clean air zone was neither of those and only would have been a hammer blow to local businesses after what has already been, and continues to be, a very difficult time.”

A stretch of the A127 in Basildon and two areas to the south of it, notably in East Mayne, have been identified as exceeding legal limits for nitrogen dioxide – a harmful gas caused by vehicle emissions.

The Government directed Essex County Council and Basildon Borough Council to improve air quality on the A127 as quickly as possible and a new 50mph speed limit was introduced earlier this year.

However, further work was needed to establish what measures were also needed to bring air quality in East Mayne within legal levels as soon as possible.

The councils were instructed to assess the likely effectiveness of a potential charging clean air zone, which would have seen drivers of certain more polluting vehicles charged for driving within a designated zone. Both councils strongly opposed the idea and carried out extensive work to identify and assess possible alternatives.

As a result, the crossings scheme in East Mayne has now been identified as a preferred option. The proposals would reduce people’s exposure to poor air quality, while complementing wider initiatives to encourage a shift to cleaner travel and improve air quality throughout Basildon.

“Basildon’s Conservative Group have a different interpretation and issued the following statement: “For the past few years, Labour and Independents have been scaremongering about the possibility of a ‘Congestion Charge’ on the A127.

“Basildon Conservatives have consistently reassured the public this was not on the cards and, if it were, we would oppose it.

“It was true that we needed to examine ways to improve air quality on a stretch of the A127 notably in East Mayne, which had been identified as exceeding legal limits for nitrogen dioxide – a harmful gas caused by vehicle emissions.

“Since then, Essex Highways’ Basildon Air Quality Project has been working hard on measures to bring air quality in East Mayne within legal levels. We are grateful to Essex Highways and pleased they are now able to share their preferred option – the relocation of shared pedestrian/cyclist crossings on East Mayne.

“It is disappointing Labour and Independents sought to politicise this issue, by implying a blanket congestion charge would be imposed on the A127, and now seek to take credit for stopping something that was in fact never going to happen. Air pollution is a serious issue requiring serious solutions. We must act now to reduce people’s exposure to harmful emissions.

“We are pleased a balanced solution has been found. We just hope that all this good work to bring pollution down will not be undone by Labour’s disastrous plans to build thousands of new flats in the town centre.”

A public engagement exercise will be undertaken soon to get views of residents and businesses on the proposals.

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]