The Welsh Government is preparing to debate a controversial new bill that could see new road charging schemes launched across the country, with opposition politicians branding it as “toothless”.
According to the Senedd, the Welsh Government will help create low emission zones on trunk roads where needed through the introduction of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill.
The new proposals would also give local authorities more power to tackle vehicle idling, where the car is stationary with the engine running.
Policy documents show that a Government statement must outline that the scheme is made wholly or partly for the purpose of limiting or reducing air pollution.
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It must also provide an estimate of the net proceeds of the scheme for at least the first five financial years, which could be outlined in the Senedd debate on Tuesday, November 21.
The new Bill will set up a framework for setting national air quality targets and amend existing legislation.
This will apply to the national air quality strategy, local air quality management, smoke control, trunk road charging schemes and vehicle idling.
It has been met with fierce resistance from politicians including Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Shadow Climate Change Minister for the Welsh Conservatives.
Speaking ahead of the debate, she said: “Labour have been pushing through a toothless bill which does nothing to hold them to account on improving clean air in Wales.
“Let’s not forget this has been promised for years by the First Minister and now that it’s here it’s nothing but a damp squib, full of meaningless targets.
“It also reveals Labour’s true hand with the introduction of road charging for Wales.
“We have pushed hard on this bill to scrap road charging and to introduce the Office for Air Quality protection so that Labour can’t avoid scrutiny when it comes to delivering on clean air.”
In September, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that road charging would only be introduced in Wales if all other measures fail.
He said road charging would be used as a “residual and fallback position” if measures included in the Bill do not have the desired outcome.
The Bill will also propose a progressive obligation on Welsh Ministers to introduce a national soundscapes strategy, becoming the first UK nation to make this commitment.
This will prompt the Government to make policies to tackle unwanted noise, likely referencing loud cars, and protecting sounds that matter to them, with birdsongs and nature referenced.
Joseph Carter, Chair of Healthy Air Cymru and Head of Asthma + Lung UK Cymru, said: “Air pollution is one of the most pressing public health issues we face, contributing to the deaths of over 2000 people a year in Wales.
“It affects the most vulnerable in our society who have done the least to cause it, and it is especially damaging to our children’s developing lungs.
“Furthermore, it is bad for the planet, since some of the air pollutants emitted by our vehicles are causing the climate to warm up.
“This clean air legislation is not only a huge win for Welsh lungs but also an important milestone in our journey towards a greener, fairer, and healthier future, where we walk and cycle more and use the car less.”