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Clean Air Zones – Is this going to be the biggest change to motoring that we have ever seen?

** Update - January 2019 **

Leeds city council has now been given government approval to move forward in it’s endeavours to implement a Clean Air Charging Zone.

From January 6th 2020 operators of vehicles will be charged up to £50 per day to enter the zone. Charges are at various rates and only apply to Buses/coaches, HGVs and Taxi and private hire vehicles. Private cars, light goods vehicles (LGVs), vans, motorcycles and any other vehicles will pay no charge.

Similar Clean Air Zones are being implemented in other metropolitan areas around the UK.

Clean Air Zones – Is this going to be the biggest change to motoring that we have ever seen?

The UK has consistently failed to meet air quality targets to the point where both the European Union and environmental charities are taking the UK Government to court to help to prevent thousands of premature deaths associated with pollution. A significant proportion of this pollution comes from our use of cars, buses and lorries.

The UK is putting a framework into place to address the worst pollution hotspots through the introduction if Clean Air Zones (CAZ).

The driver behind the CAZ is to reduce air pollution which will have health benefits to the local population and so reduce pressure on the health service as well as comply with air quality standard legislation. A recent high court ruling says that local authorities must meet the targets in the shortest possible time. All affected Local Authorities are carrying out extensive modelling and analysis, to determine how much action they need to take in order to meet the targets.

The first to be introduced in the West Yorkshire area is likely to be in Leeds, but there are over 60 areas identified across the country which may also introduce CAZs, including all the other Local Authorities in West Yorkshire.

Local Authorities are charged with taking action to reduce pollution in areas where the local air quality is considered to be harmful to our health and the measures are likely to be different in each area; just enough to meet the targets.

We already have the Greater London Low Emission Zone (almost everywhere inside the M25). For all buses, coaches & lorries that do not meet the Euro IV emissions standard the charge is £200 per day to use a non-conforming vehicle in the Low Emission Zone. From 26th October 2020 when the charge will go up to £300 per day for buses and coaches over 5t and lorries over 3.5t if they do not meet the more stringent Euro6 standard. Vans and minibuses have to pay £100 per day if they do not meet the Euro 3 standard.

Enough about London. What is happening in Yorkshire? There are areas of significant local pollution in all 5 West Yorkshire authorities and each authority is looking at their options. Leeds City Council are the first authority to publish proposals.

The proposal for Leeds includes a CAZ around Leeds City Centre. This will extend all the way to the outer ring road, Pudsey to the west, Temple Newsam & Crossgates to the East, the M621 to the South and Meanwood, Chapel Allerton and Roundhay to the North.

The proposed CAZ will cover buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles and HGVs – but NOT vans and private cars¹.

If you drive a bus, coach, lorry or taxi which does not meet the current emissions standards you will have to pay a charge from 2020. The proposal is that this charge will be £12.50 per day for taxis and £50 per day for other vehicle types, although there are a number of exemptions proposed (eg for specialist vehicles like fire engines, if there isn’t a suitable compatible vehicle available, or if you are forced to make a diversion into the CAZ due to a road closure).

There will be no charge for vehicles which meet the current standards, and no charge for vans and private cars in the current proposals. The revenue from the charges will be ring fenced to be used to improve air quality.

Leeds City Council are lobbying for a reciprocal agreement between charging authorities, so that if you drive in a number of different CAZ’s on the same day you do not build up huge daily charge.

To support business which are based within the CAZ the council are proposing a mitigation package which includes grants of up to £15,000 for HGV owners and up to £19,000 for coach operators to retrofit their vehicles to become compliant. Initially these grants will come from a £220 million (UK Wide) fund which the government is making available to help businesses based inside the CAZ to become compliant.

¹When considering Clean Air Zones Local authorities have to follow a hierarchy of measures. For CAZ vehicle restrictions these are:

  1. Buses and Coaches
  2. HGVs
  3. Taxis
  4. Light Goods Vehicles
  5. Private Vehicles

Local authorities have to consider how many of these categories of vehicle they need to cover in their CAZ in order to meet the emissions targets. It is expected that in Birmingham they will have to charge for all vehicle categories in order to meet the targets coach operators to retrofit their vehicles to become compliant.

If Leeds City Council’s proposals are accepted by the government they could come into effect as soon as January 2020, with mitigation grants being available from early 2019.

Of course, Clean Air Zones are only part of the solution. These go hand in hand with other initiatives such as

  • investment in public transport infrastructure,
  • campaigns to reduce car use (eg car sharing, park and ride),
  • campaigns to encourage drivers to turn off their engines while queueing. (Heaven only knows why anti-idling devices are not fitted as standard on all new vehicles!)
  • to increase use of electric or hybrid vehicles, especially for taxis,
  • improved cycling and pedestrian routes and
  • other low cost tools such as optimising traffic lights.
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