Leeds Clean Air Zone

Last month’s third High Court defeat by environmental law firm ClientEarth has really put the government under the cosh over tackling air pollution.

As well as the five cities already mandated to implement clean air zones (CAZs) by the end of 2019 – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton – a further 33 local authorities must now act to tackle illegal levels of pollution.

ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop said: “The judge ruled that the government’s plans were seriously lacking and has ordered urgent and additional measures.”

What will these “urgent and additional” measures look like for affected local councils? Will charging CAZs become the de facto answer and how will the road transport industry cope with an expected wave of emissions restrictions and controls?

In its response to two consultations that closed week for a new CAZ in Leeds and a geographic expansion of Euro-6 requirements in London (see box, right), the RHA warned it has serious concerns over air quality proposals brought forward by Defra for UK cities.

“As currently configured, the proposals will lead to business closure and disruption to road haulage and other businesses,” its response stated.

“In simple terms – the mix of the timeline, the standards applied, the simultaneous application of clean air zones in many cities, the charging levels and the possibility of haulage operators being charged in more than one city each day will be catastrophic– especially for smaller businesses.”

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Duncan Buchanan, RHA policy director, said one of the challenges facing operators is the inability to redeploy older fleet vehicles to different locations as CAZ plans become more widespread.

RHA modelling has shown the negative effect CAZs are having on the residual values of Euro-5 trucks, while pushing up second-hand prices of Euro-6 vehicles in urban areas, he told MT.

“We did some data analysis late last year that showed this sort of effect. This year, it has got worse. The ability to redeploy has been taken away from the industry and it is causing a huge financial problem,” said Buchanan.

The second problem is the lack of a retrofit option for HGVs, which leaves those unable to buy new trucks with no option other than to pay the daily fine.

If charging CAZs are to be imposed in cities, then the RHA is calling for ‘Intelligent Phasing’ to be considered and has sent a proposal to Defra.This would see older, more polluting vehicles charged higher rates, with a much lower cost applied to Euro-5 lorries, for example £10 a day in 2020, rising incrementally to the full amount in 2024.

By then, the RHA estimates 75% of the UK truck parc would be Euro-6. The interim period would enable operators time to naturally upgrade their fleets and not prematurely take out of action their Euro-5 vehicles.

“We’ve put some papers together about Intelligent Phasing,” said Buchanan. “We’re not saying no to clean air zones and no to doing anything – this isn’t an option.

“What we’re saying is we need to do the right thing that tackles air quality, but that does not destroy the road haulage sector for small enterprises in particular.”

The RHA wants more done to tackle congestion, better use made of the road network through out-of-hours deliveries, and for the emissions focus to look at cars as well rather than “demonising” HGVs.

Speaking to MT following a recent round table event in Leeds about the council’s pending CAZ plans, BVRLA director of communications and external affairs Toby Poston said consistency was essential for all cities planning charging schemes.

“While there has been some national framework details published for CAZs, there is a real fear that there may be inconsistencies between different cities,” he said.

“It could be differences in pricing, in signage, the way penalty notices are dealt with, even the language used to communicate it. For example in London it is called a ULEZ. This could cause confusion.

“We need to make sure that everyone is aware what is happening, how it impacts them and how they can mitigate against it. They are the three challenges, and if you can’t do the first one because of inconsistent information, then you’ve got no chance of achieving the other two.”