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Clean Air Zone debate: What solutions to traffic pollution around Bath?

An October meeting held at Snowhill, saw Bath MP Wera Hobhouse engage with city residents over issues of traffic congestion and pollution.

Much of the focus of the meeting was on the Council's proposals to tackle pollution by introducing a Clean Air Zone to the city centre, with charges for motorists who drive through it. The Council has been set a deadline by the Government to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air by 2021 as this type of pollution worsens heart and lung conditions.

The residents who filled Snowhill's Gateway Centre for the meeting came mainly from the Walcot, Camden, Bathwick and Larkhall areas, close to the notoriously congested London Road.

Problems with the planned Clean Air Zone

As individuals expressed their concerns, it became clear that the concept of a Clean Air Zone was considered problematic by many. Several people warned how motorists would resort to using roads outside of the zone to avoid being charged – creating more traffic issues and pollution in other places like the approach to the Bathampton toll bridge.

It was pointed out that Snowhill is already used as a cut-through by drivers wanting to avoid the busy junction of the London Road and Cleveland Bridge. Places like this, that serve as unofficial rat-runs for motorists, would suffer even more as drivers try to dodge the Clean Air Zone.

The overall feeling was that the proposed Clean Air Zone would spread existing problems to other communities, causing upset to residents living there.

The idea of having to pay to drive through the city centre was also unpopular with some people, with one working-class man stating that he would be hit hard with congestion charges as he drove an old vehicle (these tend to have higher emissions).

The need to tackle the problems is recognised

Despite some widespread scepticism over the Clean Air Zone, there was agreement that high volumes of traffic and pollution in Bath need to be addressed. Councillor Richard Samuel (Walcot, Lib Dem) sympathised with residents of Bathwick Street as he said the street was "so polluted and heavy with traffic".

Mrs Hobhouse agreed with someone who talked about the health effects from exhaust emissions: she said that she firmly believed this type of pollution does cause respiratory diseases.

What should the solutions be?

One feature of the meeting was the vigour with which Mrs Hobhouse spoke on these issues. Several times she asked the question: "What can we all do together?"

One city centre resident expressed the view that Bath is small enough to make more journeys on foot. He walked his children to school at Bathwick every day and said that the traffic was terrible. He commented that he would have no problem if the Council wanted to charge £100 a time for large lorries.

Bus services offering school runs was one idea to reduce traffic on the roads – though a governor of Oldfield School claimed that the Council would have to subsidise these if schools were expected to provide them. Bus services in general were talked about as a measure, though a few people stated that the affordability of buses should be looked at.

Mrs Hobhouse and Councillor Samuel felt that spending billions on more roads was not a solution. New link roads would only move lots of traffic to other areas. And the idea of having a bypass circling Bath was ruled out by factors like the huge engineering challenges of having to traverse hills and valleys around Bath. Councillor Dine Romero, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, pointed out that forthcoming improvements to the A350 main road would lessen the need for lorries to pass through Bath.

Mrs Hobhouse said that she would try to reduce the number of coaches that bring tourists into Bath for just an hour's visit.

But there remains the question of whether Bath residents will play their part by changing their motoring habits. Parents who get stuck in traffic while driving kids to school, risk their children's health if the car's ventilation system is bringing fumes inside.

Whatever Council policies are arrived at, they won't be brought in until 2020. So there's still time to give feedback to councillors and for plans to be revised.

Wera Hobhouse talking with a resident about traffic issues after the meeting

Find out more and have your say

The Council has put information about the plans for a Clean Air Zone online. Individuals and interest groups can find out more and have their say here. Businesses and organisations can do the same here. Petition An online petition against having a Bath Clean Air Zone claims that it is "really just a tax on the poor and vulnerable dressed up as pollution concern". You can access the petition at: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/bath-clean-air-zone-scam .

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