The government is being asked to take action to improve the UK’s air quality, following a series of legal cases brought by action group Client Earth.  As part of the move to improving the air we breathe, a number of cities across the country are being asked to consider the introduction of some kind of HGV charging Clean Air Zone (CAZ), in a bid to reduce illegal levels of roadside NOx emissions.  London is further advanced, with its expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone scheduled to begin on 8 April next year. 

While appreciating that there are steps which will need to be taken to ensure the logistics industry continues to reduce its impact on the environment, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has joined with three other trade associations – the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) – to raise concerns about the way HGVs are treated in future CAZs.

The associations have written a joint letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, calling for Government support in ensuring that the introduction of CAZs will not unfairly hit businesses who rely upon HGVs.

 We support the need to improve the quality of air in our cities, but given CAZs only bring forward the beneficial change that is coming anyway by a couple of years, we don’t want this to be at the cost of small businesses’ ability to trade. HGVs are an integral part of the economy at both national, regional and local level.  Currently, there are no commercially or operationally viable alternatives to diesel in terms of HGV motive power.  Over 90% of everything the public eat, drink, wear and build with travels on an HGV at some point in the supply chain. 

Christopher Snelling, Head of UK Policy, FTA

While the associations fully support the environmental aims behind the introduction of CAZs, they are all encouraging the Government to implement a system which works for businesses as well as having a real impact on pollution.  The current approach being proposed by many local authorities will create an additional tax on thousands of businesses and disrupt supply chains across the country, while failing to deliver the significant air quality improvements that are required.

The proposed HGV charge for all trucks, other than the latest Euro VI models, looks set to be £100 per vehicle per day, which could equate to an additional 25% on the daily running cost of a non-compliant vehicle.  Unfortunately, SMEs and small businesses look set to be the worst affected under this proposed approach, as these operators are often those that are least equipped to absorb such a significant financial blow, with less flexibility to upgrade vehicles before the end of their lease or business depreciation period. 

Even if an overwhelming number of HGV operators opted to upgrade their fleets to Euro VI over the next couple of years, there is unlikely to be sufficient HGV production capacity to meet demand for the compliant models.  Meanwhile, there is currently no approved Euro VI retrofit option for trucks.

FTA has already highlighted that the Clean Air Zone proposed for Bath could have a significant impact on the costs of local business in the area, following publication of the local council’s consultation document on the scheme.  FTA welcomed the fact that Bath is proposing a city centre zone, but noted that key local routes – the A4 and A36 – are included in the controlled area, and so the impact of its introduction will be felt well beyond the city.  

 When the proposed Zone comes into effect in 2020, many logistics operators, especially small and medium sized firms, will still have no option but to use non-compliant vehicles and so will face charges of around £100 per day to get through Bath.

These effects will be worse if vans are included, which is one of the options. There will only be four years’ worth of compliant vans in the fleet, so any small business that relies on second-hand vehicles in operate in or through Bath maybe priced out of business.

FTA is offering its experience and expertise to work with the local authority, and others considering the introduction of CAZs, to help them develop and introduce their plans in a timely and appropriate manner, so that they can achieve their aims of reducing NO2 whilst supporting businesses and the economy. 

Christopher Snelling, Head of UK Policy, FTA