Tuesday 14 July 2020

Councils seek views on fresh clean air plans

The rollout of clean air zones (CAZs) and low emission zones (LEZ) across the UK showed few signs of abating last month, as Edinburgh became the latest council to publish draft proposals for a scheme designed to reduce pollution from nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The new, two-tier LEZ is now subject to consultation until 21 July, but is expected to begin next year – although enforcement ‘grace periods’ will apply. They are likely to see all non-Euro 6 HGVs, buses and coaches banned from the centre of the Scottish capital by the end of 2021 or face penalties – while cars would also face restrictions by 2024 or 2025.

In addition, a city-wide LEZ would be implemented by the end of 2023 for commercial vehicles, buses and coaches – but would exclude cars.

While it is preparing its own response to the consultation, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) said feedback from individual operators likely to be affected would be “very powerful” and “welcomed”.

Edinburgh’s scheme would be the second LEZ to be implemented north of the border, after Glasgow introduced its own zone at the end of last year; it currently only applies to buses, but will take HGVs into scope by 2022.

Further LEZs in Aberdeen and Dundee, which have been pledged by the Scottish government to commence by next year, are in the earlier stages of planning.

South of the border, on Tyneside, another consultation has just closed on proposals by Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils to introduce either a CAZ or a LEZ in the area. The councils have reported a record number of responses the public, with more than 19,000 completing a survey on the plans.

The CAZ could see the most polluting lorries and buses paying £50 per day and vans and cars £12.50 – while the LEZ could see non-compliant HGVs and buses banned from entering central Newcastle via a bridge toll system, which would also see most vehicle users face a small charge.

The councils will now process the results of the consultation and a decision is expected by the autumn.

In Greater Manchester, plans unveiled earlier this year for the largest CAZ outside London (TO79) are also now out to consultation until 30 June.

The proposals could see HGVs, buses and coaches that fail to comply with Euro 6 standards face £100 daily penalties from 2021, and for vans and minibuses, £7.50 daily penalties from 2023. A £59m clean freight fund is proposed to help owners of non-compliant HGVs and coaches to upgrade to cleaner vehicles.

Meanwhile, in the West Midlands, central government has taken the unusual step of ordering the local authority in Coventry to introduce a CAZ.

The council had proposed its own alternative plan to boost air quality with electric taxis, cleaner bus engines and new routes for cyclists and walkers.

But this has now been dismissed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which has ordered the imposition of a Class D CAZ – meaning older HGVs, buses, coaches and vans, as well as private cars, could face charges to enter parts of the city.

According to the RHA, Coventry City Council is now creating a new plan “in a desperate attempt to avoid a charging CAZ”. It has until 14 June to make the case to DEFRA; in the meantime, a petition has been launched against the government’s directive.

The latest tranche of CAZ and LEZ consultations coincides with a report recently published by vehicle finance specialist Asset Alliance Group, launched at the Commercial Vehicle Show, which suggests that a majority of operators would consider quitting city centre work should new environmental regulations prove too expensive.

57 per cent said they would think about moving on from customers if CAZs or LEZs mean that serving them will cease to be cost-effective, according to the company’s Industry Monitor 2019, a survey of managing directors, owners and senior managers of road transport firms.

Only 23 per cent said they would remain with clients regardless of the expense of complying with clean air schemes, while 60 per cent of those surveyed said the purchase of compliant vehicles was already having a detrimental effect on business costs. In addition, 59 per cent felt that local authorities had not communicated clean air plans effectively.

“The road transport sector works with low margins, and the introduction of more stringent environmental legislation is tough; the results of our latest industry monitor demonstrate just how tough,” said Asset Alliance Group CEO Willie Paterson.

“The fact that more than half of fleets may walk away from existing customers because of rising costs puts the challenges we are facing into stark reality. Walking away from custom isn’t what anyone in business wants to do.”

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