A London council has agreed to end the UK’s first ‘zero emissions’ road despite it being backed by 51 per cent of people.
Beech Street became the UK’s first ‘zero emissions street’ in March 2020 when the City banned all petrol and diesel vehicles from using it for an 18-month period.
But The City of London scrapped plans to reintroduce the Beech Street Zero Emission Scheme during a meeting Tuesday, July 4.
Citing reasons to ditch the scheme, a City officer said the level of the pollutant known as Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) had only ‘marginally’ gone above the legal threshold since the programme ended in September 2021.
The officer said: “All traffic that was there in 2019 has returned to Beech Street. Two-thirds of this traffic is through traffic that doesn’t stop for any reason along Beech Street and Chiswell Street.
“All that traffic being back means all that air quality has been measured for 12 months across 2022 and it shows a marginal breach of the legal limits [of 40 micrograms of NO2]. The value is now 41 micrograms of NO2.” He added: “[This] is a significant improvement from the 2019 levels which were over 60.”
He also claimed most streets in the area had seen a significant drop in traffic.
Backing its removal, Councillor Shravan Jashvantrai Joshi said: “I think we need to put this into context of what Beech Street is for us in the City and what it actually impacts in the wider context of London and us looking at it from just the City perspective puts it in the wrong context.” He added: “Taking this sort of micro-project perspective doesn’t actually serve anyone’s purposes.”
Instead, he supports a proposal to work with Islington Council on a joint-project to tackle pollution and traffic known as the Bunhill, Barbican and Golden Lane Healthy Neighbourhoods programme.
According to the City’s website, Healthy Neighbourhoods will prioritise street spaces for people walking, cycling and accessing public transport.
Cllr Joshi said: “If we can get the Healthy Street project right with Islington then there’s a far greater benefit for the area. You’ve got to get rid of borough lines with air pollution because it doesn’t care. “
But the move did rile up opposition with one councillor, who claimed most of the City’s dirty air was ‘congested’ near social housing.
Councillor Marianne Bernadette Fredericks said: “Pollution is incredibly damaging to young children and their brain development. When asked at lunch whether I agree with this and I said it doesn’t go far enough.
“Unfortunately, [like] a lot of our schemes, we’re not really pushing back and really rolling out that agenda. We know what we need to do, we know what’s right, we just keep settling for mediocre.
“I will support what we got but I don’t think it goes far enough. I think that if we accept mediocre, we’ll always accept mediocre.
“If you push back, you’ll be surprised how suddenly barriers come down and we achieve what we want to achieve… We shouldn’t be settling for middle-of-the-road.”
City of London documents revealed 51 per cent of people – including residents and commuters – consulted about the scheme supported it. However, residents who live in the area opposed it by 54 per cent.
Some 49 per cent of respondents who opposed the plans said it did not go far enough to reduce traffic while 41 per cent said it did not do enough to improve air quality. Only 34 per cent said they did not support any traffic restrictions on Beech Street.
It comes as the City’s Operational Property and Project Sub-Committee voted in favour of a budget amendment to the project on Monday (July 3).
During the meeting, a City officer wondered whether scrapping the scheme, which ended in September 2021 but was slated to return, was an example of the council ‘shooting itself in the foot’.
The officer said: “The reason why residents are not supporting [the Zero Emissions scheme] currently is because it is not going far enough and I just wonder if we are kind of shooting ourselves in the foot by not implementing the project as it is.”
Council officers also said a solid strategy for implementing the Healthy Neighbourhood project with Islington Council was still eight to 12 months away. They claimed it could take up to five years to implement.
During the scheme in 2020, the Corporation issued 34,000 fines, according to council documents.
The scheme was credited with slashing pollution levels by 61 percent. At its peak, an average of 87 fines were levied against London drivers per day.
It comes as environment campaigners say NO2 levels reached 41 – breaching the maximum by exceeding 40 ug/m3. The City of London’s own reports show “an increase in NO2 levels since the conclusion of the experiment, which would be expected with the return of traffic”.