Operators attending a Clean Air Roadshow in Manchester want to see a lower charge for Euro-5 HGVs entering the Greater Manchester clean air zone proposed for summer 2021 to avoid a huge shift from large trucks to vans.

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is proposing a £100 daily charge to enter the zone for all pre-Euro-6 trucks, falling to just £7.50 for non-compliant vans, leading to fears that operators unable to afford to upgrade trucks from Euro-5 to Euro-6 will either pay the daily charge or switch freight to vans, neither of which will help improve air quality or congestion.

Introducing the well-attended event, run today in association with Motor Transport at the AJ Bell stadium in Salford, councillor Roger Jones, executive member for transport on City of Salford Council, said that Greater Manchester was being forced to introduce the CAZ by central government within the tight timescale of less than two years to meet EU legislation requiring the UK to improve air quality in 60 local authorities across the country.

“The legislation is highly controversial which is why government has instructed local authorities to come up their plans,” he said. “We fight hard for the economy of Greater Manchester and we don't want anything to affect that.

“The government has said we must have a clean air plan involving charging non-compliant vehicles and we must deal with that. Clean air is something that everyone agrees with because pollution is affecting our children. We have to face up to it but we need as much time as possible.”

Clean air zone proposal

The initial clean air plan submitted by TfGM in March to government on behalf of 10 local authorities proposed a CAZ to come into effect in 2021 that would see non-compliant pre-Euro-6 PSVs and HGVs paying the £100 daily charge, with vans coming into scope in 2023 paying £7.50 a day. The plan included a central government 'clean freight fund' of £59m to help freight operators in the area upgrade their fleets to Euro-6, either through fleet replacement or retrofit.

The government's response called for vans to be included in 2021 and ignored the request for a clean freight fund.

“Our plan would not adversely affect business as we would have got money from government to share the costs,” said Jones. “But the minister did not respond on that central issue. We want answers but the government has not said if it will fund our outline plan.”

Megan Black, TfGM's head of logistics and environment, said the need for a CAZ was not disputed, as pollution caused 1,200 deaths in Greater Manchester every year. “Greater Manchester has been directed to cut NO2 'in the shortest possible time',” she said. “NO2 is mainly produced by older diesels. Our model showed that if we took no action 150 stretches of roads would be breach of legal NO2 limits.”

The CAZ only covers local roads and streets as the strategic road network including the M60 and M62 motorways managed by Highways England are excluded.

Volvo gas truck

Volvo's 6x2 LNG truck at the Manchester event, which heard suggestions that operators should leapfrog Euro-6 diesel and invest in the next generation of cleaner vehicles

The plan produced by TfGM would cut NO2 to below the target of 40 microgrammes per cu m by introducing a class B CAZ covering buses, taxis and HGVs would come into force in 2021, with a class C zone bringing vans into scope introduced in 2023. Private cars would remain excluded. The CAZ would require the creation of a network of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras and a central payment portal covering the whole of the UK.

“The response from central government in July required us to implement a class C CAZ in 2021,” said Black. “They gave us £36m to set up the infrastructure but no funding for operators.”

Jones said that the government's failure to provide the funding for operators to upgrade fleets would be a “major problem”.

“The CAZ is not about putting operators out of business or a money making exercise,” he insisted. “It is about upgrading vehicles to improve air quality.”

Operators cannot afford upgrades

One operator in the audience calculated that 66,000 HGVs would be covered by the CAZ and if they all had to pay the charges the scheme would raise £6.6m a day. “Where is that money going to go?” he asked. “There will be mass unemployment as a result because operators do not have the money to upgrade their vehicles by 2021.”

With Leeds and Birmingham running ahead of other cities with their proposals for CAZs, a workshop held in the day looked at what TfGM could learn from their experience.

Leeds' latest proposal would see pre-Euro-6 trucks and buses charged £50 a day to enter the zone while vans would be exempt. Leeds has also offered operators £16,000 to upgrade each non-compliant vehicle up to a maximum of 10 trucks – though one operator in the room said this was not available to hire and reward hauliers in the first round of funding.

Operators also expressed concerns that a CAZ was just the first step on the road towards zero emissions zones that were now emerging in London and Oxford, and so investing in Euro-6 could turn out to be as big a waste as 'now obsolete' Euro-5 turned out to be.

Operators also called for a phased approach to the CAZ charging rather than the huge step from £7.50 for vans to £100 for every pre-Euro-6 truck over 3.5 tonnes.

A better approach would be to scale the charges based on vehicle size to prevent operators ditching trucks in favour of vans which would lead to more congestion and emissions and to charge Euro-5 trucks a concessionary rate of say £50 to acknowledge that Euro-5 is a lot cleaner than Euro-4 or Euro-3 trucks. But TfGM said the government was insisting that there had to be a flat charge for all pre-Euro-6 trucks.