CLEAN AIR ZONE: Bath council owed more than £1m in fines
Drivers are clocking up fines worth tens of thousands of pounds a day for entering Bath’s Clean Air Zone and not paying the charge.
Figures shared with councillors reveal that more than 54,000 charges have been paid since the zone launched in March and 28,000 £120 fines have been issued.
That means a third of drivers in noncompliant vehicles are failing to pay the daily charge within six days of entering the zone.
For the first eight weeks Bath and North East Somerset Council employed “soft enforcement” and said it would only seek to recover the entry charge and not the fine on top.
That period is now over and it has clocked up more than £560,000 in paid charges but only a fraction of the seven-figure sum it is owed in fines.
There are early signs the zone – introduced on March 15 to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in the city – is changing behaviours, with the number of non-compliant vehicles entering it reducing, although residents have raised concerns that the traffic is being displaced.
Zone manager Cath Brown told scrutiny panel members on June 21: “We’re here to enforce the zone to drive behaviour change, not necessarily penalise people.
“We’ve issued over 28,000 penalty charge notices. With the software issue around exemptions some of those have been cancelled.”
Around a fifth of the fines have been issued to Bath and North East Somerset residents.
“We’ve had over 54,000 entry charges paid,” Ms Brown added.
“While the total number of vehicles is going up, the total number of chargeable vehicles is going down, which indicates some emerging trends of behaviour change.”
Those changes are not always for the better. Residents have complained the zone has displaced traffic and created new rat runs, concerns Ms Brown said the council takes seriously.
Around 40,000 vehicles drive into the clean air zone each day.
Private cars are exempt but drivers of non-compliant vans, taxis and private hire vehicles face a £9 daily charge, while those behind the wheel of a bus, coach or HGV have to pay £100 a day.
Anyone who fails to pay the charge within six days of entering the zone will be sent a £120 fine, a sum that is halved if paid within 14 days.
The council has employed a firm to recover money it is owed from drivers from outside the UK.
As of June 15 entry charges worth more than £564,000 had been paid, suggesting most were smaller vehicles liable to the £9 daily fee, while the fines brought in a further £117,000.
If all 28,000 drivers paid within 14 days the fines would be worth nearly £1.7million.
Ms Brown added: “Older diesel light goods vehicles represent the largest category of non-compliant chargeable vehicles coming into the zone. Those are the vehicles that are having a disproportionate impact on air quality.
“It’s the owners of those vehicles that we’re really trying to target through our financial assistance scheme. The scheme has had over 2,000 expressions of interest. Over 500 vehicles have been approved for an upgrade. We also provide funding for retrofitting.”
The city’s bus fleet is almost compliant but the pandemic has caused a shortage of retrofit components.
Ms Brown said the financial assistance scheme, offering grants and interest-free loans, had been “amazingly successful” and the council was seeking extra government funding to support more people.
She said a survey showed more businesses support the clean air zone than oppose it, but there was a misconception that it was an extra income stream for the council.
The income from the scheme funds the running costs, while any surplus gets reinvested in the council’s transport policies.
A report on the first three months of the zone will be published late in the summer.
Words: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter
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