Drivers could be charged to use Wales’ trunk roads under landmark climate change legislation.

The Welsh Government’s Climate Change Minister, Julie James, has said new powers to tackle air and noise pollution will lead to a cleaner, healthier and greener Wales.

The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, which was introduced to the Senedd on Monday, March 20, will give the Welsh Government more power to address noise and air pollution.

The new Bill is one of several measures aimed at improving Wales’s air quality.

The proposed measures include Clean Air Zones – which would see extra trunk road powers for Welsh Government. These would be for an additional type of charging scheme for reducing or limiting air pollution – targeting “non-compliant (high polluting) vehicles”.

If the current 50 mph zones don’t succeed in reducing harmful emissions, the Welsh Government has stated that it will look into charging.

Whilst the two stretches initially earmarked for possible charging are on M4 and A470 in south Wales, there are also 50mph zones to tackle pollution on the A483 in Wrexham and A494 in Deeside. 

Julie James said: “Our Programme for Government sets out a commitment to introduce a Clean Air Bill for Wales and I am delighted we have reached the first stage in our legislative journey which will lead the way to a cleaner, healthier and greener future.”

“By introducing this Bill, our ambition is to further improve air quality and soundscapes by bringing forward new measures to reduce the impacts of air and noise pollution on human health, biodiversity and the natural environment.”

She added: “The scale and scope of the Bill reflects our commitment to improving the quality of our air environment at a Wales-wide level, at a local and regional level and throughout society.”

The Bill also suggests that Welsh Ministers be gradually required to present a national soundscapes strategy. Wales will be the first nation in the UK to make this commitment.

This will put pressure on the Welsh Government to implement policies that not only address excessive noise but also safeguard sounds that are important to people, such as the calming sounds of nature and birdsong or the hospitable hum of a bustling town centre.

The soundscapes strategy was developed in response to new scientific research on how sound affects our health and wellbeing. Wales will be the first nation in the UK to implement such plans if they are approved.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Sir Frank Atherton, said: “There is strong evidence that exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of serious illness and unwanted or harmful noise can not only cause hearing damage but also reduces our quality of life.

“Across government we are already taking action to improve the air we breathe and promote healthy soundscapes.

“The Bill goes further and aims to make our air cleaner and our sound environments better. This is why I fully endorse the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) Bill for Wales.”