MORE than 4,300 residents have backed plans for a chargeable clean air zone in Southampton, which could bill commercial vehicles up to £100 a day.

But, almost 5,000 argue that this would have a negative impact on the port or the city.

It comes after Southampton City Council released the responses to its 12-week Clean Air Zone consultation yesterday, which 9,309 residents partook in.

As part of the consultation, 7,803 people took part in the questionnaire, with 4,340 (56 per cent of the 7,750 that answered the question) agreeing that the council’s “preferred option” of a city-wide commercial vehicle charging zone was the right way to go.

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Nevertheless, of 7,727 asked, 4,945 (64 per cent) were worried that this will negatively impact the port or the city, with 5,791 of 7,722 (75 per cent) were concerned about a similar impact on small businesses. 4,938 of 7,717 (again 64 per cent) were also uneasy about the impact on large city-based businesses.

It comes after the local authority was tasked by central government to reduce its nitrogen dioxide amount to the EU-imposed level of below 40 micrograms per cubic air metre by 2022. It is currently 42 micrograms. If it fails to do so, the council will be billed for the hefty fine the European Union will impose on Westminster.

Respondents were also asked their opinions of a £100-a-day charge for non-compliant heavy goods vehicles, with 1,067 of 7,624 people (14 per cent) saying it was too low, 2,973 (39 per cent) agreeing it was the right amount, and 3,583 (47 per cent) arguing that it was too high or there should be no charge.

Similar figures were also received when residents were asked about charging taxis and private higher vehicles £12,50 each day. Of the 7,523 people that were asked, 1,053 (14 per cent) said it was too low, 2,858 (38 per cent) agree with the amount, but 3,611 (48 per cent) blasting it as too high.

And of the 7,745 who were asked if they believed that this would be an effective way to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels “within the shortest possible time” across the city, 4,027 (52 per cent) agreed.

Residents also overwhelmingly said that the city has an air quality problem, with 5,812 of 7,750 respondents (75 per cent) agreeing.

However, opposition councillors claim that if a chargeable Clean Air Zone is introduced, it will be the first steps towards a full congestion zone - something Labour civic chiefs have previously refuted.

Councillor Steven Galton, Conservative member for Millbrook, said: “This consultation shows what we have been saying for years; air quality is a big issue for us all.

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“The consultation responses also echo our concerns on just how much this will affect our local economy. This is thousands of our jobs and livelihoods that we are talking about.

“We all know this is really just a stepping stone for Labour to start charging cars to drive in Southampton.”

Fellow Conservative, and MP for Southampton Itchen, Royston Smith, said: “The consultation was deliberately poorly worded to achieve the answer the council wanted. It did nothing to explain the economic impact and the damage to jobs in the city.

“In the event that these cameras are installed it will just be a matter of time in my opinion, before all vehicles will be charged to enter Southampton. I am working closely with the Secretary of State and Ministers to find a solution to our air quality issues that does not require this arbitrary charging scheme.”

Breaking down the 9,309 responses, 7,803 completed the questionnaire, 996 commented on social media, 510 sent letters or emails to the authority (of which 50 were businesses).

The council also says that in addition to written responses to the consultation, there were a number of public engagements and meetings in which verbal feedback was provided. In total, around 1,000 people were engaged in this way.

In a comment provided by the authority, Councillor Steve Leggett, cabinet member for Green City, said: “Clean air is vital to the health and wellbeing of people in the Southampton and the New Forest, and the huge response to the consultation shows the strength of feeling.

"Our shared priority is to reduce dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide to within legal limits in the shortest time possible. I’d like to thank local residents and organisations for taking the time to share their thoughts and ideas. 

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The consultation feedback, in conjunction with the technical assessment results, will jointly inform the business case we submit.”

Civic chiefs now say that these responses will be used to complete a plan that will be sent off to central government on January 31 for approval.

New Forest District Council, which Southampton is working with as part of the plans, will send it report to central government on December 31.

Both authority’s will scrutinise and debate their respective plans before they are sent.

The district council will hold its Environment Overview and Scrutiny Panel on December 13, and then make a final decision at Cabinet on December 18.

Southampton will follow this a month later with its Overview and Scrutiny Panel on January 16, and then a special Cabinet meeting on January 22, which will be held in the Guildhall.

Nevertheless, as reported, businesses have slammed the authority’s “preferred plan”, claiming it will cost jobs and drive companies out of the area.

Many have asked the council to work with companies so it can achieve an outcome which can lower emissions, without hitting trade.

Port and haulage companies have also previously warned that the city’s economy will be hit by the zone

ABP, which operates the port, even claimed it could achieve the clean air target “cheaper and more efficiently” than what the council is proposing.

However, the council has refuted this, but agreed to listen to any proposals the port put forward during the consultation phase.

City taxi drivers haver also previously warned that fares “will have to rise” if a chargeable clean air zone is introduced.

But, the Radio Drivers Association (RDA) has acknowledge that “there must be something done about the scale of pollution” in the city.

However, green campaigners have slammed businesses for valuing “money over health”.

They have even come out, not just to support the chargeable zone, but to ask the council to do even more.

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Clean Air Southampton (CAS), along with the local Friends of the Earth (FOE) group, want the council to adopt a Class D charging zone, which would target motorists who drive diesel cars registered more than three to four years ago, as well as commercial vehicles, and do not meet Euro-6 emission standards.

CAS members say that this zone would give the city a better chance of lowering pollution than just having a Class B commercial vehicle charging zone – which is proposed by the council.

But, speaking about the Class B zone, Labour council leader Chris Hammond said that although the idea would help Southampton lower its emissions, central government ministers would “not sign-off” on the plans because they are not a “proportionate response” to the issue. This, he said, was because the city is close enough to its “target levels”.