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Hopes to put Cambridge on the 'toxin tax' list to tackle diesel vehicle polution

Lewis Herbert on East Road in Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
Lewis Herbert on East Road in Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

Government powers could enable fines for certain vehicles in the city at peak times.

Cambridge is being put forward to be among the first UK cities to introduce a £20-a-day ‘toxin tax’, along with bans on diesel cars and commercial vehicles in its most polluted areas during peak hours.

The idea has already prompted concerns from small business owners who say they would have to avoid the city or be forced to close.

The ‘toxin tax’ could be set up in 35 cities and towns across England. It is thought that in nine or 10 of the worst affected cities, diesel cars and commercial vehicles could be banned from polluted areas in peak hours or their drivers be made to pay to enter certain areas. All but the newest diesel vehicles would be included.

City council leader Lewis Herbert has written to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Andrea Leadsom, offering Cambridge as a test city for the new powers.

He also writes in his capacity as chair of the City Deal board. The City Deal is already seeking to implement a clean air zone in the city which would include a charge on polluting vehicles, with the money generated being used to improve city transport.

In the letter, he said: “We are willing to be a test city for new Government freedoms and powers to tackle the most polluting vehicles and to reduce diesel vehicle pollution, and I speak as a diesel owner myself because I accept the clear scientific case for city controls.”

He said Cambridge is the 13th most congested UK city and in the top 30 for serious air pollution. A 2014 study by Public Health England found that particulate air pollution accounted for 47 deaths of residents aged over 25 in Cambridge in 2010.

“We want to ensure we’re one of the first wave of 20 to 30 cities, in addition to the five major cities already announced,” Cllr Herbert told the Cambridge Independent. “And that, a) we will have the choice to decide what speed to develop a plan, and what phasing to adopt, before we consult on it and implement it; and b) have powers, subject to consultation, to selectively apply pollution charging. We want to be on the list, but really the early thinking hasn’t started.”

He said the clean air zone will take time to develop and the detail will be assessed thoroughly. Phased implementation and exemptions, including for residents’ vehicles, will be considered. And while the reported Government briefing touted a £20 fine, he said London is likely to be £12.50, and nothing in Cambridge has been determined.

:: What could a Clean Air Zone in Cambridge city centre look like?

Cambridge city councillor Tim Bick, who campaigns for a congestion charge, said: “It’s important to be clear what this is and what this isn’t. It is a very welcome initiative which, after a run-up period of quite a few years, is aimed at impacting the selection of new vehicles by people and commercial organisations.

“What it isn’t is a measure which is likely to reduce congestion or raise money to provide alternatives, as Cllr Herbert likes to give people the impression it would. Reducing congestion is what the City Deal still has no convincing strategy to do.”

Full coverage can be read in this week’s Cambridge Independent.

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