The number of UK cities introducing new clean air zones (CAZs) could triple to 16 following renewed pressure on the government to tackle vehicle pollution.

The FTA has warned that the original government proposal set out last year to create five CAZs by 2020 in Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton could be expanded and introduced earlier across the UK in 2018.

Christopher Snelling, head of national and regional policy at the FTA, said: “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.”

Under the government’s existing proposals, cities would be required to charge road users whose vehicles do not meet Euro-6 standards. There could be a charge of £100 per HGV to enter restricted areas.

Pressure on the government to act is growing. This follows its defeat in the High Court in November, where its plans to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in UK cities were labelled “far too leisurely” and ineffective to meet EU directives on nitrogen dioxide limits.

As a result, the government must publish a stronger air quality plan by July 2017.

A letter from the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee last Thursday to the government also demanded more “urgent action” on air quality and bemoaned a lack of funding to deliver the CAZs network.

Chairman of the committee, Neil Parish MP said: “We repeat our call for urgent publication of a comprehensive air quality strategy containing positive measures to protect the public from the invisible threat of air pollution.

"We also demand leadership from the government and funding to ensure that local authorities can deliver a network of clean air zones for the dozens of cities exceeding EU pollution limits. Every local authority should have the power and the funding to implement CAZs if they want to. We want action now not words.”

The committee says some 40-50,000 early deaths in the UK each year are attributable to poor air quality.

By David Craik