A decision on Bath’s clean air zone will be delayed after an unprecedented 8,400 people had their say on the proposals.
Bath and North East Somerset Council could be at risk of legal challenge if it fails to take into account all of the concerns – which ranged the emotional to the technical, and spanned issues including rat running, the impact on businesses and the wider economy, and claims the charges were a “stealth tax” that will hit the poor the hardest.
The council has been ordered by the government to prepare a final plan for a scheme to bring down nitrogen dioxide levels by Monday, December 31 and cabinet members were due to make a decision on Tuesday, December 18.
But it also needs to consider the impacts any measures may have, particularly where they may be perceived to unfairly penalise residents and businesses.
A report to next week’s cabinet meeting says: “Failing to fully understand the outcomes from the public consultation when making a significant decision which could affect the travel choices of a large number of people within Bath and North East Somerset and across the wider area and would leave the authority at risk of legal challenge.”
Nearly a fifth of the 8,400 responses came in the last few days of the six-week consultation, which closed on Monday, November 26. The number is thought to be a record for B&NES Council, and is on a par with much larger cities like Leeds, Birmingham and Southampton.
In all, more than 1.7 million words were submitted in the open text questions. Responses were up to 64 pages long.
A report to next week’s cabinet meeting says the comments deserve a considered response, so more time is needed to fully analyse the feedback and undertake further statistical and financial modelling work.
Councillor Bob Goodman said: “We have been delighted with the response.
“Clearly our consultation has encouraged a real airing of views and stimulated a serious debate about this crucial issue facing our city and wider area.
“I have been to a great many of the public events and listened to hundreds of people’s views.
“I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in the consultation whether that is talking to me directly, attending meetings, answering the questionnaire or sending in letters and emails.
“All the responses have been thoughtful and they have covered a number of issues.
“These include concerns about rat running and parking in residential areas outside the proposed zone, suggestions for a bigger zone, and proposals for mitigations for those residents and businesses most impacted by the proposal.”
The clean air zone is intended to drive behavioural change. The council is proposing to charge:
- £9 for higher emission, non-compliant cars, taxis and LGVs/vans
- £100 for higher emission, non-compliant buses, coaches and HGVs
Charges would apply once in every 24-hour period (midnight to midnight) when entering or driving in the zone. This would apply 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Suggestions in the consultation included changing the proposed charges, public transport measures, infrastructure improvements and development of low-emission transport modes.
The cabinet report says council officers will present a report as soon as the consultation, financial and additional air quality modelling is concluded.
Members will receive an update in March.
The Government has directed B&NES Council to improve the air quality in Bath by no later than 2021.
Council leader Tim Warren said: “Our aim is to be compliant with the minimum detrimental effect upon our residents, while maintaining and growing the successful economy in the city.
“Our residents and businesses have taken the time to speak to us and they deserve a considered response.
“In order to help shape our final decision we need to use these responses and secure the best package of support measures.
“To do this we will be taking into account people’s strongly-expressed views and concerns.”
What’s your view? Do authorities and decision makers have the right to ignore the views of participants during the consultation process? How does failing to fully understand the outcomes of public consultation exercises when making a significant decision leave authorities at risk of legal challenge? Share your views by emailing The Consultation Movement at: email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Tuesday 11December 2018 on SomersetLive. The Consultation Movement cannot confirm the accuracy of this story or confirm that it presents a balanced view. If you feel this is inaccurate we would welcome your perspective and evidence that this is the case.