Councillor Nigel Bedford responds to comments regarding the possible introduction of a Clean Air Zone.
Thank you for your comments regarding the possible introduction of a Clean Air Zone in 2025 as part of a series of measures to protect Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation.
I think it is important to set out the facts.
In 1878 The Epping Forest Act gave protection to the Forest. The responsibility for managing the Forest falls to the Corporation of London (Conservators of Epping Forest).
In 1992 the then European Community adopted the Habitats Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. This has been interpreted into British law by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).
In 2005 Epping Forest was declared as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This gave protection to the Oldest Beech tree population in the world and also protection to the population of Stag Beetle and various other Lichen and plant materials. It is known that much of the Epping Forest SAC is in an unfavourable condition.
Under the UK legislation the Council is a competent authority with a duty to ensure that plans and projects can only be permitted where there will be no adverse effect either alone or in combination with other plans and projects on the Forest. Since June 2018 as a result of advice from Natural England this has meant that the Council has not been able to issue planning permissions for new development in the District.
The Council has been working with Natural England (the statutory body set up by the Government to protect the Natural Environment) to identify the mitigation strategy to address the impact of development on the Forest in respect of both air pollution and recreational pressure. In respect of recreational pressure the Council’s Cabinet adopted an interim mitigation strategy in October 2018.
Until now with respect to air pollution there has been no such agreed approach. This has resulted in a total of around 200 applications put on hold and approximately 400 homes awaiting decisions.
Actions to date
Together Epping Forest District Council and Natural England have addressed the impact on air quality in the Forest, helping the Council to develop a package of mitigation measures on the effects of any future housing or commercial developments in the District. The Council has done extensive traffic and air quality modelling to identify quantifiable measures most likely to mitigate air pollution in the Forest.
The evidence to date demonstrates that 2 measures were required:
- A minimum 10% conversion of petrol cars to Ultra Low Emission Vehicles by 2025
- The introduction of a Clean Air Zone from 2025
Many people are alarmed by reference to a £12.50 charge for driving through the Forest. I want to reassure you. No such figure has been proposed. People are charged this to drive through central London but we are far too early in the process to have any firm idea on what a charging schedule would look like. I can also assure you that no charge would be introduced without full and open consultation first.
Other measures have also been identified to support the air pollution mitigation strategy. Regular on site air quality and traffic monitoring are key elements of the Strategy so that we can use data specific to the Forest to help us understand the effectiveness of the measures and determine whether alternative approaches are required. This will be undertaken and will be used to inform any introduction of a Clean Air Zone.
These other measures include:
- Electric Vehicle Charging Points – all development with parking spaces will be required to provide direct access to electric vehicle charging points. The Council will also be promoting the introduction of on street charging points. We are bidding for grant funding to Essex CC to support this
- Encouraging the take up of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles including potential scrappage schemes to get the oldest and most polluting vehicles off the road and buying new electric vehicles for the Council’s own fleet
- Site specific initiatives to support rare species and veteran trees at pressure points including the Wake Arms Roundabout
- Walking and cycling initiatives as well as increased public transport use through schemes such as the Demand Responsive Transport project on the old 87 bus route
- Better digital infrastructure to support home working and reducing car usage
- Tree Planting programmes on land owned by the Council and encouraging other land owners to do likewise
- Trialling new technologies such as City Trees and road based pollution extraction systems
Additional government measures affecting local pollution levels including the end of gas-fired boiler installations in new build from 2025 and the ban on sale of new petrol and diesel powered vehicles starting in 2030 (2035 for hybrids). The impact of these government announcements is already being seen in the switch to electric-powered cars.
The Clean Air Zone timetable will be one of the elements of the Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy and will take into account the impact of all the other measures before its introduction (see page 36 of Appendix 1 to the Portfolio Holder Report EB154 on adoption of the interim Air Pollution Mitigation strategy).
The Council’s website has many supporting documents and information that may interest you:
I urge you to take some time to read the facts before you draw your conclusions.
I thank you again for the time you have taken to write to me and my fellow Councillors. I assure you that we are undertaking to introduce measures with the best interests of all our residents in the District.
Cllr Nigel Bedford
Planning and Sustainability Portfolio Holder at Epping Forest District Council
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