With news stories about the UK’s air quality seeming to appear on an almost daily basis, there can be little doubt about the pressure being placed on the government to take action.  One of its headline policies is the introduction of Clean Air Zones (CAZs) in some of the most polluted urban areas.  Leeds was among the first local authorities to release its CAZ proposals for consultation.  But as the FTA’s Head of Policy for the North, Malcolm Bingham explains, the plan as it stands, could be devastating for local businesses.

Everyone at the Freight Transport Association is committed to making logistics safer, cleaner and more efficient.  While our members operate commercial vehicles, they are also pedestrians and cyclists and have family and friends living in urban areas.  However, if operators are unable to continue working effectively inside CAZs, not only do they suffer, but so do local residents and other businesses who are unable to get the goods they need or are forced to pay more for the everyday items and services.

FTA is extremely concerned about the approach being taken in Leeds.  The proposals put out for consultation early in 2018 would leave commercial vehicle operators with some very serious challenges.  For some companies, it will simply be easier to stop servicing the centre of Leeds altogether.   The impact will be disproportionately felt by smaller firms who may have older fleets and do not have access to the funds to upgrade their vehicles or adapt the way they work.

Those companies which choose to stay, can buy or lease new vehicles to operate in Leeds or move their newest vehicles into the Clean Air Zone, but this could have the unintended consequence of concentrating older more polluting vehicles in surrounding towns and cities.  Some operators are considering sub-contracting, while others may pay any penalty and treat the charge as an operating cost.   Every single one of these options means moving goods and services around Leeds will cost more.  And while these increased costs may be absorbed short-term, in the end they will be passed on to other businesses and ultimately local residents.

Some of the companies most affected will be those running specialised vehicles which are built for very specific purposes.  These can do limited mileage, which means they are often in service for longer.  They are also far more expensive to replace. This could affect a whole raft of companies, from domestic removal firms to transportation specialists delivering musical and concert equipment to Leeds Arena.

In the end, the impact of new CAZs, whether in Leeds or elsewhere, will depend on three factors: timing, the vehicles affected and the geographic extent.   These are the three areas where FTA wants to see concessions.

Firstly, operators need practical information now about the new CAZs to allow them to plan properly. It is unacceptable to expect industry to make its plans while there is indecision over the consultation processes.  FTA has asked Leeds City Council to look for the latest date possible to introduce restrictions through charging zones and it will be doing the same in other towns and cities.

When it comes to vehicle emissions, there are currently no approved retrofit option for HGVs to bring Euro IV or V vehicles up to the Euro VI standard.  Nor is there a big enough second-hand market in compliant vehicles.  Again, companies need time to acquire the right vehicles in the most cost-efficient way.

Finally, the extent or size of the zones is very important indeed.  While it might seem wise to make them larger, to avoid moving the congestion into other parts of the city, this may well have other more damaging implications.  Distribution centres and even vehicle maintenance and testing sites will have to be moved outside of the zones.  This will force more vehicles to travel further to pick up and deliver goods and trucks may have also to travel longer distances to undergo regular maintenance and testing.  Even worse, if companies have to split their fleets with only some vehicles able to service a particular area, this may lead to sub-optimal loading, creating the need for even more vehicle miles.

FTA is calling for councils to be flexible.  It would like to see the introduction of sunset clauses appropriate to the local area, which would allow some businesses to keep operating in the short term, while they upgrade their fleets.

FTA is continuing to ensure the voice of the logistics sector is being heard in all CAZ consultations.  Members should follow the weekly e-news for updates on how the plans are progressing.

Malcolm Bingham, Head of Policy for the North of England, FTA