Drivers may have to pay to use roads in Epping Forest as the council weighs up plans to implement a clean air zone.

The council says development of housing in the district will mean that by 2025 it will be necessary to implement a charge on motorists – similar to the London ULEZ – to protect the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) from harm caused by emissions.

As well as introducing a clean air zone (CAZ) the council aims to increase the percentage of ultra-low emission vehicles (e.g. electric cars) being driven in the district by 12-15 per cent by 2033 through the introduction of charging stations.

Council documents state both measures would ensure planned development would “not interfere with the ability of the Epping Forest SAC to achieve its conservation objectives”.

Read more: Councillor says its too early to know cost of potential CAZ

A CAZ in Epping Forest would introduce charges for people driving certain types of vehicles through the zone based on the age and type of their vehicle, aiming to encourage motorists to replace older vehicles with newer vehicles compliant with the latest emissions standards.

Council data modelling found, on roads in close proximity to the SAC, vans made up 18 per cent of daily traffic but contributed to 45 per cent of NOx emissions in 2017.

Approximately two per cent of daily traffic was made up of diesel HGVs that contributed up to 37 per cent of NOx emissions while 28 per cent of the daily traffic was made up of older diesel cars (pre-Euro 6) which contributed up to 45 per cent of NOx emissions.

Council documents stated: “The Epping Forest SAC is known to be adversely affected by relatively poor local air quality alongside the roads that run through it and this has been demonstrated to have negatively affected the epiphytic lichen communities of the woodland.

“The nature of the road network around the modelled part of the Epping Forest SAC is such that journeys between a number of key settlements around the Forest by car, van, lorry or bus effectively need to use roads that bisect the Epping Forest SAC.

“Moreover, queues are known to build up around most arms of the Wake Arms Roundabout, primarily during the AM and PM peak, which increases emissions compared to the same volume and composition of free-flowing traffic.”

The council is exploring the idea of introducing a Class D CAZ, meaning buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, vans, minibuses, and cars would have to pay fees to access roads.

Pricing for the proposed Epping Forest CAZ has yet to be established by the council; the costs of a similar scheme, the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), are £12.50 a day for most vehicles and £100 for heavier vehicles, including lorries.

Councillor Nigel Bedford, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Planning at Epping Forest District Council said: "We have upheld the decision to adopt the Interim Air Pollution Mitigation Strategy for Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It will allow careful and considered developments in the district to proceed with the appropriate measures to mitigate the impacts on air quality in the Epping Forest of any development and the current backlog of planning decisions to be released in the coming months.

“The Interim Air Pollution Mitigation strategy identifies as one of the measures that a clean air zone is being considered for implementation in 2025. How this clean air zone will work, charges for the zone and other issues around its implementation will of course require further work over the coming months/years. A suite of other measures will be introduced earlier to achieve a 10 per cent conversion of petrol cars to Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV) by 2024/25.

“Proposals such as the clean air zone will require detailed consideration and consultation which will include aspects of charging. The most important thing is that my decision both allows a considered approach to development to occur now, whilst consideration is given to what measures are needed to protect our environment and the forest for decades to come.”

Epping Forest Guardian:

For more breaking news, local headlines and features, ‘like’ our Facebook page.

We also have a Twitter account: @EppingFGuardian

Follow us to keep up-to-date with news in Epping Forest.