The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Road Freight and Logistics is recommending that the Government pauses the rollout of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) and reviews whether they are still required.
In light of reports of improved air quality during the pandemic and the decision taken by four of the original five clean air zones to not introduce charging zones, the APPG is calling for the Government to suspend rollout and carry out a full review of CAZ policy.
CAZs are set to be introduced in several cities, including Birmingham and Bath, and could see HGV drivers paying up to £100 per day to enter certain areas.
Leeds City Council is one of the four councils to have reversed their decision to introduce charging zone.
Leeds City Cllr James Lewis said: ‘We have achieved the aims of the Clean Air Zone without having to charge a single vehicle. If Leeds were to introduce a CAZ today, only a fraction of vehicles would be affected because the vast majority of businesses are now driving cleaner vehicles than they were just a few years ago.”
According to the Council, air pollution in Leeds on key routes is significantly below legal limits and is not likely to exceed them again – even if traffic were to return to ‘normal levels' after the impacts of the Covid pandemic.
The Council has asked permission to keep the £6.9m CAZ funding and to use it to continue to offer grants to help local businesses switch to cleaner vehicles as well as to provide free licensing costs to drivers of less polluting taxi and private hire vehicles.
Sir Mike Penning MP, chair of the APPG said: “We all want to see cleaner air, that is why I back the Government’s efforts to introduce measures that support businesses to replace the most polluting vehicles and journeys. But it is essential that policies drive behaviour change rather than simply add an additional financial burden on businesses struggling to bounce back from COVID-19.
“The Government should understand that for many haulage businesses surviving the next year remains challenging and to ensure that this vital sector looks to rebuild that they should not be subject to the high costs of clean air zone charges.
“We have concluded that whilst Clean Air Zones may be the right policy, that the approach is fundamentally flawed and needs reviewing to ensure that they remain fit for purpose before their introduction.
“The Government must also use this review to tackle the myriad of practical problems including the urgent need for a common set of standards and a single national payment portal that covers all road charges.
“As we look to build back better, we must ensure that Clean Air Zones are fit for purpose and meet the challenge that they were designed to tackle and not be a further penalty on struggling businesses."
The APPG’s report also calls for:
- The introduction of ‘phased charging’ with charges only introduced following a grace period for very clean EURO V HGVs.
- Government funding of a new centralised and ring-fenced fund to help businesses scrap the most polluting HGVs.
- Local Authorities to provide a sunset clause to support local businesses who are unable to be compliant by the start date of a Clean Air Zone.
- The introduction of a single national payment portal that covers all road charges.
- Clear national direction and guidance to drive more common standards.
- A cap, of £50 to be put on the daily charge for HGVs in line with Birmingham Council’s published plans.
- Central and Local Government to launch full communications campaigns to inform businesses at least three months before charges are introduced.
In London, the ULEZ zone will be expanded from October 2021 to create a single larger zone bounded by the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205). The North and South Circular Roads themselves will not be included in the zone.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) previously commented that: “Emissions will continue to fall as new, cleaner Euro VI HGVs naturally replace older vehicles. London has taken a simplistic anti-motorist approach. The Mayor has failed to understand vehicle life cycles and has failed to allow sufficient time for businesses, in particular small businesses, to adjust.
“The prospect of having to pay an extra £100 per day will mean financial ruin for many operators. Their only alternative will be to stop servicing the capital altogether.”