Falling levels of air pollution during the Covid-19 pandemic could see Leeds and Sheffield City Councils drop their plans for charging Clean Air Zones.

In April this year the government announced the suspension of all Clean Air Zones until “no earlier” than January 2021, as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent update on Leeds’ CAZ plans James Lewis, deputy leader for Leeds City Council, said that pollution levels had fallen “significantly” in the city since the Covid-19 outbreak, helped by other factors such as traffic calming measures and a switch to cleaner vehicles.

Lewis added: “Leeds City Council is now working closely with central government to review the long term impact that the pandemic and these other factors will have on the city’s air quality to understand whether pollution will ever reach illegal levels.

“If the city’s air pollution is expected to stay below legal limits then we will no longer have the support of the government to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone.

“Given this uncertainty, our financial support will continue to be paused until the review is complete and we have received further direction.

“I recognise that at an already uncertain time, this latest update will be frustrating for many businesses. However, I would like to ask drivers and operators for their continued patience whilst we carry out this urgent review. I hope to be able to clarify the future of the Leeds CAZ in the Autumn.”

In the same week Sheffield City Council said that a drop of 33% in air pollution this year, due to the impact of the pandemic, has prompted a review of its CAZ plans.

Bob Johnson, cabinet member for transport and development, said: “If we can hold onto clean air by introducing other measures without resorting to charging people, we believe this is the best way forward.

“Alternative measures include incentives for upgrading vehicles, better provision for walking and cycling, and cleaner public transport.

“Many of the businesses who will need to upgrade their vehicles in order to be compliant with the CAZ are focusing quite rightly on controlling the spread of the virus, and working to keep people safe, local people in jobs and businesses afloat.

“If they cannot afford to upgrade to cleaner vehicles, they may end up paying to pollute and we will all still breathe dirty air.”

Rod McKenzie, RHA MD of policy, welcomed the reviews and called on councils to work with RHA to maintain lower levels of pollution without the need for charging zones.

He added: “We are just as much for clean air and the environment as anyone else but we need less badly thought out planning and more evidence-based realism which helps deliver the green economy without harming businesses.”

MT understands that Newcastle and Bristol are also reconsidering their plans for CAZs.