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Agenda item

Call-in: Emissions Levy - Statutory Consultation


Councillor Jones, as Chair of the Panel, reminded members that the monitoring officer has determined the scope of the call-in to be exclusively:

·         How the statutory consultation was conducted (including older and disabled residents);

·         The due notice given to the views received as part of the consultation;

·         Teachers’ permits; and

·         The electric vehicle reduction for business and trade permits. 


Introduction of the call-in

Councillors Holden and Abdul Latif introduced the call-in to the Panel. 


Councillor Holden believes the process followed has not been fair:

·         Application of the diesel surcharge to teacher parking permits was not mentioned as part of Cabinet’s policy decision in November 2016.  Rather teachers are an addition to the application of this policy decision which had not previously been considered;

·         The statutory consultation received 141 responses with all but nine in opposition to the surcharge.  It was highlighted that Wimbledon residents reported not knowing this was happening with the Council not having written to existing resident parking permit holders;

·         No consideration had been given to older and/or disabled residents with the application of a flat rate surcharge disproportionately affecting residents on low incomes; and

·         Whilst the £40 reduction on electric trade and business vehicles was welcomed, it was noted that this is the same value as for electric cars and insufficient to generate business investment in new, cleaner fleet vehicles. 


Councillor Abdul Latif spoke more broadly on the diesel surcharge.  As such his comments are outside of the scope of the call-in.


In response to member questions, Councillor Holden reported that no questions, comments or complaints had been received from teachers in Merton about the diesel surcharge although it has been mentioned to him by some at the school where he is a governor.  Councillor Crowe noted he has received a complaint from the Headteacher at Hollymount School who highlighted the impact this will have on school funds and as a result sees it as an unfair imposition.


Representations from Witnesses


Colin Francis, of the Federation of Small Businesses, informed members that the organisation’s policy is supportive of efforts to improve air quality and remove diesel vehicles from roads.  However, there is a concern about how this is being achieved and the effect it is having on business.  This is seen as an additional form of taxation with 11 out of 30 London boroughs being in the process of applying similar surcharges on diesel vehicles.  Mr Francis called on the Council to lobby government to bring in a diesel scrappage scheme to support businesses that are locked into expensive leasing arrangements.


In response to member questions, Mr Francis provided an illustration of one local business that faces a cost of £200K to exit early its contract for a diesel fleet of around 20 vehicles. It was noted that these contracts will come to an end in three years at which point any additional early end costs will be avoided.


Sara Sharp, a local resident, addressed the Panel highlighting the inadequacy of the consultation process which she regards as minimal considering the surcharge is projected to achieve an annual income of £500K.  Noted that of the 141 responses received to the consultation only nine were in support of the surcharge and that diesel car owners are being penalised for believing in good faith the previous advice from government that stated these were better for the environment.  Believes the surcharge will result in more residents installing off-street parking on their properties. 


In response to member questions, Ms Sharp stated that there is a difference between new and older diesel vehicles with those in the Euro5 emission category and above much less polluting.  Highlighted that Kensington and Chelsea applies a £10 levy dependent on specific car pollution levels which reflects that some diesel cars now have pollution levels very similar to those of petrol vehicles.  Stated that the surcharge is about the Council demonstrating to the Major of London that action is being taken.  Thinks it is unfair that carers who own diesel cars will be penalised as any exemption will only apply to those who have disabled parking permits.


Officer response


Chris Lee, Director of Environment & Regeneration, provided the officer response to those introducing the call-in and the witnesses:

·         Teacher permits: these weren’t included in the scope of the policy initially however they were highlighted through the statutory consultation which resulted in them now being considered.  This shows how the consultation has influenced the application of the policy.  There are potentially approx. 77 teachers who will be affected by this change.  They are adding to air pollution in the borough and therefore it is legitimate that they are included in the policy;

·         Consultation: this has complied with the Council’s statutory duty.  The level of negative responses received is towards the lower end of what might have been expected;

·         Lower income: this is not a protected characteristic but it should be noted that no one who has a disabled parking permit will be subject to the surcharge;

·         Business and trade: welcomed the suggestion that the Council lobby Government for a diesel scrappage scheme and recognised that the ability of businesses to cease their use of diesel vehicles depends on a suitable alternative vehicle being available which currently isn’t always the case.  Noted that the surcharge value is the same as for residential parking and therefore is proportionally lower for business vehicles based on the current value of business and trade parking permits.  The intention is to review this going forward.  Highlighted that there is no intention to disadvantage Merton’s businesses.  Noted that for a fleet of 20 vehicles the cost of covering the diesel surcharge would be max £3,000 per annum for three years until the end of existing leasing arrangements;

·         Council car fleet: this is already being decreased in size and with the move to electric vehicles being made;

·         Legality: the diesel surcharge is designed around the Council’s existing powers to allow it to affect use of diesel vehicles which are the most polluting.  The legal power for the Council to impose this policy absolutely exists;

·         Vehicle idling: an approach to improve air quality through a policy to reduce vehicle idling is already being explored with discussions happening with other boroughs that have this in place.  This would be enforced through Fixed Penalty Notices.  This isn’t seen as an alternative to the diesel surcharge but an additional measure. This is being pursued as fast as possible; and

·         Emissions: as demonstrated by the diagram on page 75 of the agenda pack, it is clear that even newer, Euro6 emission category diesel vehicles pollute beyond the limit allowed.  The diesel surcharge is a proportionate response given growing awareness of the health impact.  Noted that the UK is facing legal action from Europe over air quality especially in London.


Cabinet member response


This was provided by Councillor Martin Whelton, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Environment and Housing who highlighted that he had read all representations made through the consultation.  However, in the light of the significant health issues being caused by air pollution he noted the Council would be failing in its duties if it did not act; these factors overrode the consultation responses received.  With regard to the application of the surcharge to teachers’ permits, noted it is right for action to be taken across the borough.  He stated that he is satisfied that the Council has consulted widely, fulfilled its statutory duties in doing so and is confident that the consultation complies with legal requirements.


Member questions


In response to member questions, officers clarified:

·         The objective of this policy is to change behaviours rather than to generate income.  There is potential for this to raise £500K per annum if it doesn’t result in behaviour change.  Funds raised have to be used for transport purposes.  This includes a multitude of costs such as Freedom Passes;

·         It is not known whether or not email addresses are captured as part of paying for resident parking permits online.  This will be clarified and explored as a way of providing notifications about relevant consultations by email; and

·         The suggestion that diesel vehicles receive an additional charge every time they use Council car parks across the borough was welcomed.  This is something the department would like to bring forward.  However, this would require all parking payments to be made electronically (to go cashless); this system is underpinned by the parking payment system having a direct link to the DVLA database to check vehicle fuel types to determine the price of parking.


Panel member comments


Councillor Bull: believes it is more appropriate that this is dealt with nationally.  This is at odds with the treatment of diesel vehicles through road taxation.  Expressed his sorrow for residents and suggested a different approach be explored that would do more to encourage residents to switch to hybrid and petrol cars;

Councillor Uddin: highlighted this policy is one part of a wider strategy being developed to address the clear and present danger of air pollution.  This is being addressed by the air quality task group;

Councillor Sargeant: believes it would be better to be announcing this policy and not introducing it for a year to allow residents to act.  Due to the way it is being introduced it looks like a revenue raising measure;

Councillor Chung: highlighted the potential to ban cars around schools to achieve a health improvement.  Recommended the need to educate residents about the health implications of air pollution to ensure they are making informed decisions; and

Councillor Crowe: recommended a bigger reduction in the cost of parking permits for electric vehicles.


Councillor Bull proposed and Councillor Crowe seconded the motion to refer the decision back to the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Environment and Housing for reconsideration.  Two Councillors voted for the motion (Bull and Crowe) with five voting against (Anderson, Chung, Sargeant, Makin and Uddin).  As a result the motion fell.


Councillor Uddin proposed and Councillor Chung seconded the motion not to refer the matter back to the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Environment and Housing.  Four Councillors voted for the motion (Anderson, Chung, Makin and Uddin) and three voting against (Crowe, Bull and Sargeant).  The motion was resolved.


RESOLVED: not to refer the matter back to the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Environment and Housing in which case the decision took effect immediately.


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