While the quality of the air in our towns and cities is improving, and has been doing so consistently since the 1970s, there is still much work to be done until it reaches the target levels set by government. That is why several towns and cities across the UK, including London, Leeds and Oxford have been mandated by government to implement air quality schemes, including Clean Air Zone (CAZs) and Low Emission Zones (LEZ), to reduce pollution and speed up the improvement in air quality nationwide. In the West Midlands, two cities have been directed to introduce CAZs: Birmingham and Coventry. In this article, Chris Yarsley, Policy Manager for the Midlands at FTA, the business organisation which speaks for the UK logistics sector, provides an overview of the proposed schemes in the region and explains the alternatives which, in the view of FTA, would have a longer lasting impact. 

Birmingham

Research shows that in 2018, Birmingham was in the top five most congested cities in the UK. As such, it was one of the first areas mandated by the government to reduce its nitrogen dioxide emissions by adopting a CAZ. The scheme, scheduled to begin in 2020, will see certain vehicles that do not meet emission standards – Euro 6 for diesel and gas, Euro 4 for petrol – charged for entering a pre-determined zone. All cars, taxis and LGVs that do not meet these criteria will face a daily fee of £8, whereas HGVs, coaches and buses face a more costly £50 per day. Although this is a daily charge which would allow drivers to limitless daily access to the CAZ area – roads within the A4540 Middleway Ring Road, but not the Middleway itself – the initiative would still prove costly as charges apply 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

Coventry

Having also been mandated by government to improve air quality, Coventry City Council proposed a set of initiatives designed to meet the required air quality standards, but without needing to introduce a charging CAZ. These have since been rejected by government, which has deemed the plans to be insufficient to achieve the required standard in an appropriate timeframe. Instead, the Council is now required to impose a Band D CAZ – similar to Birmingham – which would see buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs, vans and cars charged upon entering the zone. The local authority, which continues to stress that it does not require a CAZ, must now work to develop its scheme, with FTA continuing to advise on how best to minimise its impact on logistics businesses.

A disappointing decision

The government’s ruling – to force Coventry Council to implement a CAZ – is disappointing, in the view of FTA. CAZs are not the most effective way of improving air quality in the long-term. Since becoming mandatory, Euro 6 vehicles are being introduced into fleets as part of the natural replacement cycle. In the view of FTA, CAZs only speed up the change that is already happening and do not provide continual benefits to air quality.  In addition, CAZs will greatly affect small businesses which lack the funding and resources to replace their vehicle fleets immediately and cannot always purchase the appropriate vehicles on the second-hand market.  

In the view of FTA, a more effective alternative would be for national and local authorities to incentivise the uptake of electric commercial vehicles, in addition to reviewing infrastructure nationwide to ensure enough facilities are in place, such as regular on-street charging points. FTA applauds the councils which are already choosing to look at longer term strategies to tackle the issue of pollution, rather than rushing to adopt a CAZ or similar charging scheme. 

Retiming freight activity would also prove key in improving air quality. Research from a leading truck manufacturer found that stopping three times per mile, and getting back up to speeds of 30pmh each time, triples emissions compared to maintaining a constant speed of 30pmh. As a result, FTA champions the retiming of deliveries, from the morning and evening peak times to less congested times during the day, or night. While FTA understands there are complications surrounding overnight noise limitations, it continues to work with the Noise Abatement Society to promote the use of quiet technology and working practices. 

Overall, in the view of FTA, it is encouraging that government is taking steps to address air quality issues. However, it would be more beneficial to advise local authorities on how this could be achieved as part of a long-term strategy, as opposed to the CAZ schemes that will inevitably have negative impacts on logistics companies within the proposed zones and surrounding areas.

Efficient logistics is vital to keep Britain trading, directly having an impact on more than seven million people employed in the making, selling and moving of goods.  With Brexit, new technology and other disruptive forces driving change in the way goods move across borders and through the supply chain, logistics has never been more important to UK plc.  A champion and challenger, FTA speaks to government with one voice on behalf of the whole sector, with members from the road, rail, sea and air industries, as well as the buyers of freight services such as retailers and manufacturers.    

Chris Yarsley, Policy Manager for the Midlands, FTA