TOLLS on Southampton’s busy Itchen Bridge are set to be scrapped as early as the summer for electric vehicles in a bid to reduce pollution in the city.

But campaigners say this is not enough, suggesting a pedestrianised city centre is the only way Southampton can battle its air quality problem.

Under proposals revealed at the end of last year, environmental chiefs said they plan to introduce a new toll category for eco-friendly motorists, allowing them to cross the pay-per-use bridge for free.

The move could save the average daily commuter around £250 per year. But now Cllr Chris Hammond, Southampton City Council cabinet member for sustainable living, has confirmed the initiative will come into play in just a few months.

While revealing the city’s 30 new electric charging points, he said: “Later this summer, we’re looking to introduce free passage for electric vehicles on the Itchen Bridge.”

Adding: “The scheme is about encouraging local people to adopt electric vehicles. “Currently, it costs more to buy electric cars so this will give a little bit of discount to those who have taken the step and also use the bridge.

“It is part of a package of things the city council is doing to increase the uptake of electric vehicles.”

But Liz Batten, of Clean Air Southampton, wants the council to take even more drastic action and introduce vehicle-free days in the city.

“The city council is putting forward a number of measure to help people thinking about getting electric vehicles, which is good,” she said.

“And although the number of electric vehicles is to be welcomed, it is the overall picture that I always look at.

“Removing cars and vehicles from the city centre is the next step. A number of other cities (such as Birmingham) are doing it and I think Southampton should follow suit, maybe just a few days a week or on certain days in the year.

“I think it will help transform the area – especially Old Southampton – into the tourist attraction it should be.” Liz also suggested that the upcoming ABP Marathon could provide a lot of answers for a vehicle-free city centre.

She said: “That (the marathon) should be used as an experiment to see how difficult it is to get around the city, even with major roads shut off.”

In response to the call, Cllr Hammond said: “We have trialled vehicle-free areas as part of the Clean Air Strategy. “Clean Air Day on the road in front of St John’s School was very successful, with the school children enjoying playing in the road.

“But we would be more than happy to consider different options in the future.”

As reported, the toll scrappage is expected to cost the authority around £32,000 each year in lost revenue.

However this lost cash is nothing compared to the millions of pounds in fines which it faces if the city’s dangerously high pollution levels are not slashed, civic chiefs say.