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Homeless group hammered by Clean Air Zone ‘should get exemption’

The boss of a popular Digbeth bar is calling on the city council to create Clean Air Zone (CAZ) exemptions for groups feeding the homeless.

Hennessey’s owner Gary McDonnell has worked with homeless organisation Outreach Angels for several years.

Once a month, Hennessey’s donates more than 100 cooked meals – including curry, chilli and shepherd’s pie – to the non-profit group.

Read more: Outreach Angels – the heroic Birmingham women giving hope to the city’s homeless

Outreach volunteers then use their only transit van to transport the hot dinners to Birmingham’s homeless.

But recently, Gary was concerned to learn the group was forking out upwards of £8 in CAZ charges every time it collected from his Allison Street bar – which falls within the zone.

Outreach’s diesel van, along with a number of volunteers’ cars, are non-compliant and fail to reach CAZ emission standards.

Outreach Angels volunteers in Centenary Square

With Birmingham City Council not allowing exemptions for non-profit organisations, despite volunteers providing an essential service, Gary decided to take matters into his own hands.

Gary told BirminghamLive: “I thought to myself: this is unfair, this isn’t right – we need to do something about this. I decided to cover the costs of their CAZ charge until the council sees sense.”

Peter Connolly, who owns Norton’s Bar next door, also kindly decided to cover one of Outreach’s vehicles when asked by Gary if he could help out.

“The council is being too rigid,” added Gary, “I don’t think there’s anyone in Birmingham who would say, ‘yeah, one rule fits all’.

“At the end of the day, those volunteers are giving up their own time – probably a lot of hours – to feed our homeless. They are helping those in the city who need it most.

“I’d like to see exemptions in place but there doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room for discussion. I assumed the council would help volunteers out.

“There should, at least, be a process where charities and organisations can put their cases forward. There needs to be some sort of allowance.”

Homeless group hammered by Clean Air Zone 'should get exemption'
Hennessey’s boss Gary McDonnell

Liz Morrey, lead organiser at Outreach, told BirminghamLive that Hennessey’s has been “extremely kind” over the years without ever “wanting to publicise” its good work.

When Outreach appealed for hot meals on Facebook, Liz said Gary was one of the first to offer his services.

He also regularly donates Hennessey’s function room for the group’s volunteers to meet and discuss plans.

Liz said: “I understand the reason for the CAZ, but I don’t understand why there can’t be exemptions for organisations and charities which are filling a gap where the council isn’t.

“At the end of the day, we are doing a job they are not. We can’t afford to be paying the charge every week – it’s voluntary work.

“And with the Universal Credit cut, people are going to really struggle. I mean, they already are. But make no mistake about it, we are simply plastering over the issue, not fixing it. We are out here trying our best.”

Outreach has a network of around 30 to 35 volunteers, but Liz says she fears for smaller groups hit by CAZ fees.

She added: “We’re very thankful to Gary and others who have offered to pay our CAZ charges, it means a lot to us.”

Outreach Angels meet outside Birmingham Library in Centenary Square every Tuesday, at around 7.30pm, after picking up hot meals.

They give out free dinners, but also pet food, hot drinks, bedding, clothing and shoes to those who need it most.

“In the two hours that we’re there, we want to give a bit of cheer to people’s lives. A conversation and a hug,” said Liz.

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said the authority “doesn’t comment on individual cases”.

But it did say: “It is important to remember that the daily fee only applies to vehicles that do not meet the emission standards for the zone.

“And the majority of vehicles that travel through the zone each day are not subject to the fee.

“We’re continuing to encourage everyone to use the online vehicle checker to check if the daily fee does apply to their vehicle.

“Support is available for people who live and work in the city centre and our teams continue to process applications for temporary exemptions and financial support.”

To find out how you can support Outreach Angels, email [email protected] or click here for more information.

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