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Wednesday, 19 September 2018 09:04

Air pressure continues to rise as the clamour for change in quality intensifies

There has been enough debate over the need to improve urban air quality. Now's the time for decisive action to be taken to ensure air quality targets are achieved and to meet the public demand for cleaner air and reduced traffic congestion, say Ashley Bijster, Managing Director of Imperial, and Tim Daniels, Sales Director of Videalert.

air enforce Addressing the impactAccording to an inquiry by four committees of MPs, air pollution costs the UK a staggering £20bn a year and has a profound impact on life expectancy and mortality rates - equivalent to 40,000 deaths a year. Despite such alarming statistics, mounting public pressure, assertive rulings from the High Court and the threat of huge fines from the European Court of Justice, political debate and finger pointing persists.

The need for changes in the way we move, live and work around our towns and cities is now, however, without question. The immediate challenge is to minimise traffic congestion and to discourage the most polluting vehicles from entering designated areas. In the absence of any definitive UK-wide directive, the onus lies with individual local authorities to introduce and enforce Clean Air Zones and low emission zones that will encourage new travel behaviours.

As we have seen with the abuse of bus lanes and parking regulations, it is not enough to rely on the goodwill of motorists – just as it wasn't enough to rely on the goodwill of homeowners to move away from coal fires prior to the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. All parties directly or indirectly contributing to the unacceptable levels of pollution have responsibilities and an important role to play – and that includes motorists.

air enforce Ashley Bijster Imperial copyIt is now widely accepted that a charging system based on the Euro standard class of different vehicles and enforced restrictions for the most polluting vehicles entering a Clean Air Zone will be the most effective way to reduce emissions and encourage new behaviours. To that end, the Government's Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) is intending to introduce a common payment portal and validation system to help drive consistency in the implementation and charging strategy for Clean Air Zones around the country. Plans are still at a formative stage and the charges that will be applied to local authorities for the service are yet to be specified and agreed.

However, the requirement to deliver the required air improvement outcomes for the first five cities announced by Defra before the end of 2019 remains cast in stone, so it is vital local authorities prepare for all eventualities and ensure decisive action is taken to implement the appropriate enforcement measures. Irrespective of the new national payment portal system, it will be important for Local Authorities to pre-filter cases captured to minimise the number of false positives (and potentially costs from the JAQU portal) and to ensure cases are reviewed and validated efficiently and expediently before Penalty Charge Notices are issued and processed.

Although the 2000 Transport Act provides the legal framework for Clean Air Zones, their enforcement will be in accordance with The Road User Charging Schemes (Penalty Charges, Adjudication and Enforcement (England) Regulations of 2013. That said, it is likely that any revenue derived from emission charges and penalties (after payment of the annual subscription for the JAQU portal) will be ring-fenced for subsequent investment in clean air and sustainable transport initiatives.

air enforce Imperial B1E2FA7This would mirror the statutory requirements for investment in highways and transport of all revenue from the civil enforcement of bus lanes and parking restrictions under the Traffic Management Act of 2004. From experience, however, effective compliance with the new emissions-based restrictions will be achieved quickly as the number of PCNs issued for such contraventions will subside as motorists recognise the effectiveness of the enforcement.

Should there be any delay in formalising the national payment portal, authorities still have the option to capitalise on the proven benefits and effectiveness of a self-serve permit solution in their own areas. This would provide the necessary tiered pricing for different types and classes of vehicle to mitigate any delay in the creation of a national subscription-based portal.

The London Borough of Barnet, for example, has already extended its permit management arrangements to include emissions-based permits and then capitalised on existing CCTV systems to provide seamless and reliable monitoring and enforcement.

With such experience, the move to a national payment portal is a relatively simple stepchange and not a leap into unfamiliar territory.

Either way, all authorities will need to use approved CCTV/ANPR surveillance technologies and trusted back office notice processing and management systems to ensure enforcement of clean air zones is reliable, effective, flexible and resilient. A collaborative approach has helped to bridge the gap between these two disparate areas of technology. This is a significant development, as any air quality improvement drive will need to be adapted and refined to reflect behavioural trends and impact. And, importantly, the insight and data from such an integrated solution will also support broader smart city objectives where connectivity is of paramount importance.

Footnote: Imperial and Videalert have just been short-listed in the 2018 National Air Quality Awards.

Imperial Civil Enforcement Solutions:
www.imperial.co.uk 0117 925 1700 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Videalert:
www.videalert.com; 020 3931 6556; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.