Newcastle Clean Air Zone cameras switched on – but signs are ‘confusing’
A new Clean Air Zone (CAZ) that will impose daily tolls to drive into Newcastle city centre has been activated - but motorists still have almost four months before the charges begin. Council bosses announced on Monday morning that they had switched on cameras monitoring all vehicles that enter the city centre, where some older, high-polluting vehicles will soon be met with heavy fees of up to GBP50 a day in an effort to reduce illegal levels of toxic emissions. While the cameras have come into operation a month earlier than expected, no tolls are being issued under the CAZ until the end of January - with the owners of vehicles that do not meet the zone's environmental regulations only being sent warning letters until then.
But dozens of signs informing road users of the new restrictions have already been criticised as causing "confusion and concern", as they do not state that the tolls are not yet in force. Read More: North should be 'kicking the door in' to hold Liz Truss to rail pledge - including reopening Leamside Line Under the CAZ, lorries, buses and coaches that do not comply with modern emissions standards will have to pay GBP50 per day to drive into the city centre.
Non-compliant vans and taxis will be charged GBP12.50 per day, but all private cars will be exempt. The tolls will start from January 30, 2023, for taxis, buses, coaches, and HGVs and from July 17 for vans and LGVs. Newcastle City Council announced on Monday that it had put up 43 warning signs and 38 cameras around the CAZ's boundaries.The new signs were quickly criticised as causing 'confusion and concern' (Image: Craig Connor/ChronicleLive)
The road signs, which tell drivers "charges apply, pay online", were quickly criticised by the city's Liberal Democrats, who claimed that putting up such notices several months before anyone actually has a toll to pay "will only cause confusion and concern for motorists, businesses and tourists". Coun Thom Campion added: "In this time of immense economic uncertainty and cost of living crisis, many residents will be understandably concerned and frightened at seeing signs telling them to head online and pay for charges they know nothing about."
Local authority chiefs said that electronic road signs on busy routes are displaying messages making clear that the CAZ tolls start from January, but that the other signs are of a standard design prescribed by the government and that the Department for Transport did not allow dates to be included on them. The council also said that owners of non-compliant vehicles will be given information on how to get support to upgrade to newer, cleaner models in their warning letters. Almost GBP20m worth of funding for upgrade grants has been set aside - but there is still no confirmation of when applications will open or when that money, which will be dispensed in payments worth up to GBP20,000 per vehicle, will be paid out.
Coun Jane Byrne, Labour's cabinet member for transport at the city council, said: "Although the signage and cameras for the Clean Air Zone are now in place, we want to reassure people that there will be no charges until next year and there is still time to get ready. Over the next two months we will be collecting details of vehicles entering the zone and contacting owners of non compliant higher polluting vehicles, which will be affected from January, to make them aware and provide information about how to get support and financial help. "We know that van drivers are finding it more difficult to replace vehicles at the moment due to national supply issues and therefore we are delaying charges for those vehicles to give those individuals and businesses more time to prepare."
The CAZ is being introduced in response to a government order for local councils to bring down illegal levels of roadside emissions and will cover most of Newcastle city centre, including the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges. The charges had been due to start this summer, having already been delayed from January 2021. Drivers can now check if their vehicle is compliant with the CAZ standards at gov.uk/clean-air-zones.