Unions call for delay on implementation of Clean Air Zone

Unions representing musicians, theatre workers and actors, in Birmingham have, in an open letter to Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, pressed for a one year delay in the introduction of Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone and for a support scheme for the cultural sector.

Unions says the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the industry with workers particularly hard hit. Falling between the cracks in government support scheme, nearly half (46%) of freelance cultural workers in the region have missed out. The planned introduction of the clean air zone in June is another threat to already reduced incomes.

The plea comes as Birmingham City Council published the Birmingham Clean Air Zone Charging Order 2021.

The order sets out the full details of how the Clean Air Zone will operate. The order (except Article 7) came into force on 26 April. Article 7 (Imposition of charges) will come into force on 1 June.

This means that from 1 June onwards vehicles of specified classes that do not meet the emissions standards set out in the order will, subject to specified exemptions, be required to pay the charge stated in the order to drive in the Birmingham Clean Air Zone. Owners of high polluting vehicles will be charged to drive within the A4540 Middleway (but not the Middleway itself).

The unions are urging the Council to delay the implementation of the clean air zone by at least a year to provide breathing space for the sector to recover. In addition, the cultural unions are also asking for Birmingham City Council to establish a separate fund to support Birmingham’s cultural workers, especially those from low incomes and disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that all cultural workers can continue to gain meaningful employment in the city.

Musicians’ Union regional organiser and TUC Midlands cultural chairperson Stephen Brown said: “We support measures to reduce climate change and the aims of the clean air zone are laudable. However, the way this is being introduced is ham-fisted. We have consistently raised our concerns about how the practicalities of the scheme will have a negative impact on workers in our sector, but we haven’t been properly listened to.

“The majority of cultural workers are low paid. They only work in the city for a few hours at a time and have to travel by car or van due to equipment requirements. A recent MU survey* revealed that 70% will face being charged, and the nature of their work means that with post-midnight finishes, they’ll get charged twice. It isn’t difficult therefore to see how badly hit they will be.

“Unfortunately, after the pandemic where cultural workers have been too often overlooked this is yet another kick in the teeth. We really hope the Council, even at this late stage, will sit down with us and to devise a scheme that will truly work for all and help us to get on delivering the recovery we are all so desperate to see.”

Stephen Arnold, head of Clean Air Zone, said: “With less than four weeks to go until the launch of the Clean Air Zone on 1 June, the publication of the Charging Order represents another significant milestone on our journey to cleaner air. As we move even closer to the zone’s implementation, we are urging people who have not already done so to check if they will be charged and if eligible, apply for a temporary exemption permit or financial support.

“If you are subject to the charges, now is the time to consider your options to either pay the charge or explore alternative options to travelling by private car.”

The implementation of the Clean Air Zone has already been the subject of significant delays. The first postponement was announced in June of 2019 due to a Government delay in delivering digital systems required to make the zones operational and enforceable. Then, the introduction of the Zone was pushed back until August of 2020, before being delayed again until April of this year. The move will see high-polluting cars charged £8 a day with buses and lorries having to pay £50 to enter the city centre.