Clean air zones: the story so far

With clean air zones under the spotlight as pressure grows on the government to clean up our skies, Freight in the City takes a look back at how the issue has unfolded over 2016.

Growing pressure on the government to clean up the air in Britain’s major cities could see more hauliers being charged £100 a day for failing to deal with pollution.

Earlier this month the FTA warned that the number of UK cities introducing new clean air zones (CAZs) could triple to 16, with schemes beginning as early as 2018.

The original government proposal set out last year was to create five CAZs by 2020 in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton.

Christopher Snelling, head of national and regional policy at the FTA, warned: “There are many imponderables but Clean Air Zones may be coming in earlier than 2020 and in more cities.”

“This may all be decided very late and as such we may get an aggressive implementation approach from government rather than the usual business transition of one or two years to help businesses get ready.

Hauliers need to develop business plans to achieve compliance including how to procure Euro-6 vehicles.”

It may be a good time then to reflect on what CAZs are, why they are being created and what effect they may have on hauliers.

In 2013 the supreme court ruled in favour of a claim from environmental group ClientEarth, that the UK Government had failed in its legal duty to meet European air pollution limits.

This primarily related to the EU’s air pollution directive in 2008, which called on the UK and other states to meet safer nitrogen dioxide limits by 2010.

It is feared that some 40-50,000 early deaths in the UK each year are attributable to poor air quality and excessive levels of nitrogen dioxide, mainly from diesel engines in cities.

Under the directive EU states had been given five years’ grace to reach the outlined limits but the UK said that in many cities such as London, Glasgow and Greater Manchester even that extra deadline of 2015 would be too soon.

It said safer levels were more likely to be reached by 2020 or even 2025.

Clean air plan

Faced with the prospect of heavy fines and European Commission action the UK Government developed a clean air quality plan.

At the end of last year, the government proposed the creation of those previously highlighted five CAZs by 2020.

They would be required to charge road users whose vehicles do not meet Euro-6 standards by potentially as much as £100 per HGV a day when entering restricted areas.

Buses, coaches, taxis and HGVs would be covered and, in the case of Birmingham and Leeds, vans as well. Private cars would be exempt in all five cities.

Operators without Euro-6 vehicles would therefore be left with a choice of investing in a new fleet or taking a financial hit. Operators may have a policy of keeping vehicles until they are 6-8 years old but, with the restrictions, may have to write these off early if they are not Euro-6 compliant.

A further complication came in November when the High Court ruled that the government plans were “far too leisurely” and ineffective to meet EU directives on nitrogen dioxide limits.

It demanded that air pollution plans be rewritten to ensure compliance with EU limits at the earliest date possible.

As a result, the government was ordered to publish a stronger air quality plan with a draft deadline of April 24 and a final deadline by July 31, 2017.

By David Craik