Ministers have agreed that charging operators working in urban areas should be a "last resort", after four of the industry's leading trade associations spoke to MPs about preventing HGVs from being priced out of operating in cities.

The RHA, FTA, BVRLA and National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) met with Jesse Norman and environment minister Therese Coffey to outline their concerns about local authorities rushing plans for clean air zone (CAZ) regulations without giving the road transport sector due consideration.

The associations presented a six-point plan to combat this to the MPs.

The plan, called The Way Forward, calls for consistency in CAZ standards, smarter use of the roads and a phased approach to mandating cleaner vehicles.

rha richard burnett

Richard Burnett, chief executive, RHA

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said in the meeting this morning, ministers had agreed "that local authorities should consider all options and that charging should be a last resort", but that they had added the levels of charging were in the hands of the local authorities powers in the area have been devolved to.

"If clean air zones are not handled properly", Burnett added, "we will have more vans making deliveries, congestion will increase and so will pollution. Clean air zones will only reduce emissions if they target polluters proportionately.”

FTA chief executive David Wells said that putting the burden of improving air quality on local areas puts SMEs around the UK at risk of collapse.

"Government must help local authorities avoid the most damaging effects on the local businesses that use trucks or vans,” he said.

Sue Robinson, director of the NFDA, said a graduated CAZ charging system was key to encourage operators to play their part and take up cleaner vehicles.

She said: "Progressive action is needed to ensure that operators can improve their vehicle fleets, not just by purchasing new Euro-6 commercials, but also by upgrading to cleaner Euro-5 used trucks to replace old and dirty diesel HGVs."

BVRLA chief executive Gary Keaney added: "The fleet industry can help Government to meet its air quality ambitions but we need more support for HGV operators who face particular cost and operational challenges in upgrading their fleets.

"We rely on commercial vehicles accessing towns and cities for deliveries and any clean air zone policy that deters trucks is likely to increase the usage of vans."