Clean Air Zones (CAZ) have our planet’s health at their very heart. They are big news in local authority organisations and their communities because they are critical to creating a safe and healthy environment in which people can thrive and economies can grow. Ultimately, they aim to improve air quality – bringing nitrogen dioxide air pollution within statutory limits, by reducing transport-related emissions.
But for local authorities, there are many challenges on the path to CAZ success, from winning over public opinion, to meeting significant operational requirements.
Many local authorities are either implementing – or considering introducing – a CAZ scheme in their centres, not least because within UK law, the Environment Act 1995 requires them to monitor and review air quality and pollution against national targets.
However, getting the implementation of a CAZ right requires a range of skills and capabilities that are not always core to local authority organisations. Research and insight-driven decision making, citizen engagement, governance and security, reliable transactional mail services, are all critical to success.
Here, are five key considerations for local authorities when rolling out a successful Clean Air Zone scheme – no matter where they are on their journey.
1. Where should local authorities start when looking to roll out a Clean Air Zone?
Firstly, it’s vital for any local authority to do their research. This means getting under the skin of their users, their organisation, and their technology landscape to properly understand the state of play – well in advance of rolling out the scheme.
Behavioural insight is a powerful tool in ensuring the smooth implementation of the scheme – equipping local authority teams with a deep understanding of those the zone will affect. This learning process will unearth how many non-compliant cars are in the area at any one time, as well as which stakeholders will need to be engaged with and involved in the roll-out.
This research phase will also help to reveal motorists' behaviours within the zone – getting to grips with why they’re driving into the city as opposed to using other forms of transport. It will therefore help to inform local authorities’ decisions on the appropriate zone to select and whether it should involve vehicle charges. In addition, it will assist in determining whether alternative transport options or community-wide campaigns need to be set up, to help influence commuting behaviours and encourage, healthy, active travel.
2. How can local authorities effectively communicate the roll-out to residents and visitors?
The roll-out of a successful CAZ requires open communication with the community around why, when, and how the project will take place. A lack of awareness can lead to confusion and frustration, for both motorists and local authority organisations – which should be avoided at all costs.
The question around when to start communicating with residents, visitors, and businesses about the CAZ varies from one area to the next. However, advice from organisations that have successfully implemented a scheme suggests ‘the sooner the better’ – with at least a one-to-two-year period to give enough time for citizens to become familiar with the proposal.As well as adequate, clear signage and artwork – such as billboards, posters, and road markings – it’s also worth thinking about the best ways to reach the target audience. The research phase can, and should, inform any campaigns a local authority undertakes.
Campaigns can include direct mail, emails, press, or social media campaigns – such as Birmingham City Council’s #BrumBreathes campaign – helping to ensure local authorities reach everyone within the community. It's also worth setting up one or more physical information points at key points within the proposed CAZ, so that people can find out more details in person.
Above all, it’s important to provide context about why the scheme is needed – how it will help meet ambitious air quality standards and drive health and environmental benefits – along with the way fees and fines will be reinvested back into the community. Understanding the tangible benefits of the scheme will help residents better engage with it.
3. What signage will local authorities need for the Clean Air Zone?
The exact number and type of signage options required will vary on the size of the zone being implemented, but the Joint Air Quality Unit and Department for Transport have guidelines around dimensions, to ensure consistency, clarity, and accessibility.
The signs detailing the zone type should be in place along major access routes to clearly outline the boundaries – enabling motorists to avoid the areas if they wish. Signs should be installed at junctions prior to the start of the boundary, as well as at the beginning and end of a zone.
4. What unexpected challenges could local authorities face when enforcing a Clean Air Zone? And how can they be solved?
It's vital that local authorities pre-empt and address any reasons that the scheme may be unpopular with residents and businesses. Integrating this messaging into campaign activity and showing how fees and fines will be used to benefit the city, can help to mitigate any discontent.
Inevitably, some residents will be non-compliant with the scheme, so catering for the communications required to avoid a backlog of fines is critical.
It’s easy to underestimate the complexity of the data required to provide these communications, as well as the volume of penalty charge notices (PCNs) that may become necessary. Therefore, if a local authority has an in-house transactional mail department, they need to make sure there is enough resource, capability, and capacity. Otherwise, this may need to be outsourced to a third-party specialist.
5. How can local authorities collect PCNs effectively and efficiently? And what other consequences might they expect?
Local authorities should be aware that if they don’t have a smooth flow of PCN notices going out and a build-up accumulates, they don’t only run the risk of losing out on revenue, but their call centre capacity could also be flooded with complaints when they’re finally issued – creating significant resource challenges.
For a successful implementation, a CAZ operation – from behavioural research and communication campaigns, through to print production, data integration, and the issuing of PCNs – must be quick, efficient, and accurate. Having an experienced transactional mail partner in place can help to avoid many of these headaches, allowing local authorities to focus on running the scheme and driving the outcomes that are so important to their communities.
Key takeaways for local authorities:
- Start with the research – this is the foundation of a successful CAZ
- Communicate early and efficiently with the community
- Use all relevant media, including signage, to communicate with the public
- Have the right operational systems in place – including a transactional mail partner – and ensure they are properly resourced
- Start planning and communicating as early as possible.
Chris Taylor is senior account manager at strategic change agency CDS