Logistics is vital to Britain’s cities and high streets. Every loaf of bread, cup of coffee, flat screen TV and washing machine reaches its destination by van or truck. The Government’s plan to introduce Clean Air Zones (CAZs) across the country, charging the most polluting vehicles for entering towns and cities, is already well documented. But FTA says the new proposals could place an unfair financial burden on the industry.

The consultation outlines the first cities where CAZs will be set up – London, Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby – but it doesn’t clarify which of a further list of 38 areas will be targeted, leaving operators in limbo when it comes to business planning and operation. There is also no confirmation of the classes of vehicles that will be included, so it could be just buses, or buses and HGVs, or vans. However, what is clear is that local authorities will not have the freedom to penalise diesel cars only – all other vehicles must be charged first.

Christopher SnellingChristopher Snelling, the FTA’s Head of National and Regional Policy, said: ‘A clean air plan that will penalise vital logistics operators and prevent them from reaching customers in our towns and cities would be a massive blow.

‘Truck and van users will be aggrieved to see the Government targeting commercial vehicles which have no choice but to enter the zones to make deliveries. Tests prove modern HGVs are the cleanest vehicles on the road but also the most expensive, and have also made huge strides towards adopting new European standards on emissions.

‘What about the 12 million diesel cars on our roads? The Government has got its priorities wrong and will hit British businesses with these new regulations at a time when they’re under intense pressure in the wake of the Brexit vote and all the uncertainty it has created.’

The consultation – Improving quality: national plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities – closes on 15 June, with a final plan expected to be published on 31 July. It will apply to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and features a raft of documents, including the Government’s draft air quality plans, technical data, emissions statistics and various reports.

There is mention of a subsidised scrappage scheme for cars and vans but no equivalent for HGVs, and FTA understands that full details of the areas where pre-Euro VI/6 commercial vehicles will be charged from 2020 onwards will not be known until next year.

Mr Snelling said: ‘FTA will be working with its members to contribute to and influence the outcome of this consultation. Everyone agrees that cleaner air is desirable, but these new zones will only bring forward, by a few years, changes that were happening anyway – at the expense of an already stretched logistics industry.

‘Small business will be hit hardest – and van operators will be left with no option but to purchase new vehicles at huge cost.’

Under the plan, vans older than two-a-half years and HGVs more than five years old will be charged for entering the zones. According to FTA’s Van Excellence Report, there are now more than four million vans on Britain’s roads and many small businesses rely on the used van market for cost-effective vehicle purchases – however, there are few compliant second-hand vehicles currently available, making the purchase or lease of a new van a compulsory expense for hard-working business owners.

‘A scrappage scheme for vans might offer some compensation, but there may be better forms of support for the industry as a whole. FTA is concerned that any such scheme could be funded through increased diesel taxation – this would be a huge blow to the industry, and penalise those who will have been hit hard by the new regulations in the first place.’

Details of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone were announced by Mayor Sadiq Khan in April. The scheme will begin in 2019 in the central Congestion Charge area and will extend to Greater London in 2020 for HGVs and inner London in 2021 for vans.

Mr Snelling said: ‘The logistics industry operates on tight margins and any additional cost will have to be factored into operations. The fact remains that the most modern trucks are the cleanest vehicles on our roads, yet it looks like they will be the first to be penalised.’

Full details of the consultation can be seen at https://consult.defra.gov.uk/airquality/air-quality-plan-for-tackling-nitrogen-dioxide