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Defra launches 'clean air zones' consultation

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Defra has launched a consultation surrounding the introduction of 'Clean Air Zones' in five UK cities.

New Clean Air Zones will be required in five cities, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton, by 2020 -  however any local authority can introduce a Clean Air Zone should they wish to do so.

Councils already have powers to tackle air pollution and across the country they are taking action, but the evidence shows more needs to be done to bring down nitrogen dioxide levels.

These zones will be targeted at areas of the city where air quality problems are the most serious to reduce the impact on people’s health and create cleaner and healthier environments.

They will reduce pollution in city centres and encourage the replacement of old, polluting vehicles with modern, cleaner vehicles - with most polluting vehicles, such as old buses taxis, coaches and lorries, discouraged from entering air quality hotspots. Private car owners will not be affected.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey said:  “We need to tackle air pollution and creating Clean Air Zones will improve the quality of life for people who live and work in our towns and cities, both now and in the future.

“Real progress has been made, but there is more to do, which is why we have also committed more than £2 billion to greener transport schemes since 2011.”

Birmingham and Leeds will discourage the most polluting diesel vans and implement other measures which may include park and ride schemes, changes in road layouts and provision of infrastructure for alternative fuels.

The Clean Air Zone Framework under consultation will help Local Authorities across the country provide a consistent approach as they are put in place, while giving businesses and individuals a clear understanding of what a zone will deliver and the impacts and benefits for them.

Following government-funded scoping studies, councils will further consult on the details of these zones next year. Local authorities will only be able to set charges at levels designed to reduce pollution, not to raise additional revenue beyond recovering the costs of the scheme.

In addition, applications are now open for councils to bid for a share of at least £3 million as part of an Air Quality Grant to help improve air quality in their area.

Responding to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) consultation on Clean Air Zones (CAZs), the Freight Transport Association has stated that the effect on small businesses, particularly of access restrictions in UK cities for older vehicles, has not been resolved.

Christopher Snelling, FTA head of national & regional policy said: “FTA believes that introducing this too soon, and without support, would not only impose substantial costs on the whole logistics industry, but would significantly disadvantage small businesses that use HGVs and, most especially, vans.”

The Impact Assessment published by Defra, alongside the consultation paper, states: “for operators of small HGV fleets, and single owner-operators, transport measures requiring them to upgrade their vehicle could pose a significant financial impact and could lead to an increase in retail prices of the goods they carry.”

On vans the document notes that under some of the scenarios proposed: “smaller businesses may struggle to absorb such costs and may exit the market.”

Snelling added: “We all understand the need to continue to reduce the impact on human health of emissions, but as the proposals stand there is a real chance many small businesses will be disproportionately affected and locked out of their current work. 

“The key issue for us is the timescale for implementation. If this is done in 2019 there would not yet be a sufficient market in compliant second hand vans for small businesses to be able to compete, and some small HGV operators would not have fully compliant fleets.  We are looking for more flexibility for those businesses that will have the most trouble complying, and support for them to reach these standards.  The freight industry needs more from the Government on these issues.”

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