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Birmingham's Clean Air Zone: The Office Market Learns The Dirty Details


By early October clean air zone signs will be up in Birmingham, and by late January 2021 the gantries that support number plate recognition will be installed.

The timetable for the implementation of Birmingham’s long-awaited (and pandemic-postponed) clean air zone has been revealed to an anxious office property market.

But so has a raft of concerns about number plate recognition and enforcement IT systems.

Birmingham council leaders have approved £9.2M spending for signs and gantries, official paperwork revealed.

Unfortunately the report also revealed early headaches over the automated number plate recognition on which the system depends.

The smooth running of the clean air zone matters to a city office market that is still currently dependent on road transport, and has always had a strong bond with the private car.

Whilst car parking ratios have come down to one space per 5K SF, meaning developers are providing less than a third of the parking spaces they provided in the 1990s, the market is hesitant about the impact of a raft of car-related policies.

“It’s not the proposals, it’s the speed and rate at which they are implemented," Savills Birmingham office agency director Ben Thacker told Bisnow earlier this year. "It’s all happened in a very short period. It’s a question whether [the various initiatives] should all happen together.” 

The introduction of the clean air charging zone has been delayed, and could now face technical problems.

The latest report to council leaders on clean air charges notes “that Capita Birmingham Ltd were appointed by the council to deliver the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and back office IT solution as per the standing agreement at that time, but that as a consequence of the partial termination of their relationship with the council, the contract with Siemens has been [replaced with a new contract] and is therefore now managed directly by council officers.”

The report warns it cannot reduce the risks on this part of the contract to zero and adds that an effective enforcement system still faces problems.

The report warns of “further work to be undertaken by the council in order to establish a complete end-to-end back office IT solution to enable effective clean air zone enforcement.”

Motor travel has become more important since the coronavirus pandemic as public transport has been discouraged as an infection risk.

Yet the pandemic comes amidst a raft of proposals intended to limit car journeys across the city. These include allowing access from a limited number of points, a workplace car parking levy, a change to council car parking strategy and an emissions charging zone, designed to improve air quality. Access to the city from the A38 ring road will be limited, the road could be rerouted, and speed limits on many city streets could fall to 20mph.