Road Haulage Association (RHA) chief executive Richard Burnett launched an all-out attack on the government’s “chaotic” approach to urban air quality control at the Microlise Transport Conference in Coventry last month.
The RHA has argued that it is essential for the government to review its guidance to local authorities, asking them to delay clean air zone (CAZ) charges until vehicles are 12 years old, or at least to cap charges for Euro 5 trucks at £10 per day until 2024.
The road user levy and the premature adoption by local authorities of CAZ charges, some as early as next year, would combine to “punish” hauliers, the RHA said.
“Haulage is the first and easiest target for government to hit,” asserted Mr Burnett in his conference speech.
The government had avoided asking what the major sources of air pollution actually were, and failed to introduce a national strategy to reduce them. Instead it had allowed and encouraged local authorities to draw up measures which placed heavy-duty diesel vehicles in the firing line without thought to the consequences.
It had been panicked, he suggested, by the loss of three consecutive court cases on air quality to ClientEarth lawyers, backed by celebrity money. The outcome of that third case was that the judge had ordered the government to instruct local authorities to take action on air quality in 33 towns and cities as soon as possible.
The need to be seen to be doing something had far outstripped any rational approach to the problem, and curbs on trucks and buses were an easy target. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions were the main problem, and diesel trucks and buses seen as their primary source.
But identifying pollution ‘hot spots’ across the country showed that other sources might be responsible. Southampton had bad air pollution, and was a large sea port and railhead. Scunthorpe and the South Wales coast also had poor-quality air, and were centres of steel-making.
In 2013, trucks and buses had been responsible for just under 10 per cent of UK NOx emissions. By 2015, that number had dropped to well under eight per cent. In contrast, nearly one-third of NOx emissions came from production processes including waste and agriculture.
Natural progression was making the UK’s truck parc less polluting. From a baseline set in 2013, truck NOx emissions had fallen by 21.3 per cent by 2015. By 2017 they had fallen by 42.7 per cent, and by 2019 they were projected to have declined by 58.1 per cent. By 2025 they would be under 20 per cent of the 2013 figure.
But operators who had Euro 5 vehicles, which might only have been delivered in 2013, faced fines of £100 a day if they took them into central London from 2019 onwards.
“We need a workable scrappage scheme, otherwise we could see freight being moved onto vans which will cause more congestion and pollution,” he warned.
Small and medium enterprises made up 80 per cent of the UK haulage industry, and were not well-placed to bring their fleets up to Euro 6 standards to meet the 2019 deadline.
“Trucks last 12 years, or even longer if fitted with specialist equipment,” Mr Burnett pointed out.
“The average SME operator may only make £60 a week from operating a truck. Hauliers unable to pass the cost of the LEZ fine on will either have to stop servicing London or go out of business altogether,” he warned.
And the problem could soon spread to the provinces, as potentially up to 33 cities around the country could take similar action.
“We need your help to lobby politicians,” he told delegates in Coventry – then outlined a nightmare scenario in which a truck’s work could take it to Stoke, Leicester and Wolverhampton in a single day, but each location would operate a different emissions standard.
“The situation in the 33 proposed low emission zones is currently chaotic; there is no clarity as to what will be required,” he said.
A closing poll of the conference audience of road transport professionals revealed that over 85 per cent of delegates thought that the steps being taken to improve air quality would have a negative financial impact on their businesses.