Government policy is now firmly targeting a marked improvement in air quality nationwide. From the introduction of government-mandated Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in several cities to London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), a patchwork of regulations is due to be introduced in 2019 and beyond, reflecting the fact that there is no consistent nationwide policy to counteract problems in air quality  

Within the county of Yorkshire, three cities – Leeds, York and Sheffield – are set to introduce a CAZ. Any driver entering one of these cities with a commercial vehicle that does not meet set emissions standards, which are Euro VI or 6 for diesel and Euro 4 for petrol vehicles, will receive a charge upon entry. 

These schemes are designed to improve air quality in highly populated areas but, according to FTA, simply act as a stealth tax on business, sending operating costs for small companies soaring at a time when margins are already stretched. In the opinion of FTA, CAZs unfairly penalise the hard-working companies and individuals that keep local economies thriving, while ignoring other contributors to emissions levels across the city; their creation places the burden for cleaning up the city in question’s air squarely at the feet of the very businesses which keep Yorkshire trading.

FTA continues to pressure the authorities to confirm how businesses can access funding to replace banned commercial vehicles when the low emission zones comes into effect. Without this funding, many companies will find it impossible to replace their existing fleets and will struggle to fulfil business contracts in and around the cities affected; future profitability and trading could be threatened as a result, according to FTA.

LEEDS

Earlier this year, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) approved plans proposed by Leeds City Council to introduce a charging CAZ from 6 January 2020.

The Zone will cover more than half of Leeds and will enforce a Class B charging system; this means that non-compliant buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles and HGVs will be fined upon entry to the city’s boundary. The daily fee for non-compliant HGVs to enter the zone will be £50, enforced through a 24/7 network of purpose-built automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

FTA has been working closely with Leeds City Council and is pleased it acted on the association’s recommendation to grant exemption to three core industrial areas – Holbeck, Pudsey and Seacroft – until 2024 to mitigate the damage the Zone will inflict upon the local economy. This move should also give logistics businesses more time to upgrade their fleets to meet the required emission standards. 

YORK 

Unlike other parts of the country where a CAZ is a government-mandated requirement, the City of York Council is voluntarily and proactively looking to introduce a non-charging Zone for buses to the city centre by 2020. Individual buses that enter the Zone five or more times per day will need to meet ultra-low emission bus standards (ULEB), such as Euro 6 diesel or gas powered and electric hybrid, but this is the only detail confirmed at present. Alongside this, it is proposing to launch a campaign to stop stationary vehicles from idling with active enforcement at the roadside.  

SHEFFIELD 

In November 2018, Sheffield City Council announced its intention to implement a Class C charging system, whereby non-compliant buses, taxis, lorries and vans will be fined upon entering the city’s inner ring road. The Council hopes the scheme will bring the city’s air quality in line with legal levels by January 2021; a public consultation will commence early this year to finalise the scope of the Zone. 

In its response to this consultation, FTA will call for the CAZ start date to be as late as possible to enable industry to adapt, and for the Zone perimeter to be kept as small as possible. FTA will also suggest vans should only be included if the measure is proven to be essential.

Initially, Nottingham was of one the cities ordered to introduce a CAZ, but in a landmark decision – and after much campaigning by the city council – the government agreed it does not require a charging low emission zone to meet its air quality targets. According to FTA, this sets a welcome precedent that government will consider more tailored plans that reflect the needs of each community and one which FTA is pressing the authorities to implement as it rolls out more plans.  

FTA is also calling for authorities tasked with setting up CAZs to work together on a single, nationwide system for registering and charging non-compliant vehicles entering the different zones.

CAZs and ULEZs represent just two of the government strategies currently aimed at reducing pollution and vehicle emissions. In its Road to Zero document, the government stated its aim of reducing vehicle emissions overall by 15% by 2025, an initiative fully supported by FTA. The industry has already begun investing alternatives to diesel, with many businesses trialling alternatively fuelled vehicles and low carbon technologies. But investment in suitable infrastructure – such as fast charging stations for electric vehicles located across the road network – is vital to enable businesses to reach these emission reduction targets in a timely manner.

Malcolm Bingham, Head of Policy – North of England, FTA