The introduction of clean air zones (CAZs) is to be delayed until the Government overcomes the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rebecca Pow, a junior minister at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), says the move will provide “certainty” to the commercial fleet industry.
In a letter to David Wells, the chief executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA), Pow acknowledged it was a “difficult time” for the industry.
She said: “The freight industry is an important part of our response (to the COVID-19 outbreak) and we will keep working with you to ensure you can continue your vital role.”
The Government has a legal obligation to deliver compliance with air quality limits in the shortest possible time, which Pow says the Government still intends to deliver.
However, she told Wells that in order to provide certainty to those affected by clean air zones, Defra will work with local authorities to delay their introduction introducing until after the COVID-19 outbreak response.
“We will keep the timetable under review but we expect the introduction of clean air zones to be no earlier than January 2021,” she said.
“We are in a new and evolving situation which needs a co-ordinated approach to minimise wider societal impacts.”
A Government spokesperson told Fleet News that it understands the pressures local authorities face due to the coronavirus outbreak.
She added: “We have agreed with Leeds, Birmingham and Bath to delay the introduction of clean air zones in their areas until after January 2021 to help them focus on their response to coronavirus."
The FTA has been urging Government to delay the introduction of CAZs to allow businesses to focus their efforts on keeping goods moving throughout the COVID-19 outbreak
“While FTA and its members support fully the Government’s ambition to improve air quality across the UK, to achieve compliance with the scheme businesses would have to undertake significant work and planning,” said Natalie Chapman, FTA’s head of urban policy.
“With the industry focusing all its attention on ensuring the public, supermarkets and other retailers continue to receive the essential items they need during the pandemic, logistics businesses simply do not have the resources to dedicate to preparing for the imminent introduction of CAZs.
“In addition, supplies of technology, equipment and trucks are being disrupted by the pandemic, making it harder for businesses to upgrade their fleets to meet the emission standards required of the schemes.”
Once the immediacy of the coronavirus crisis comes to an end, FTA says it will continue to work with Defra and cities including Birmingham and Leeds, whose zones were due to come into force this year, to ensure the detail of the schemes take into account the needs of businesses whilst delivering improvements to air quality.
Both Birmingham and Leeds councils had written to Defra in recent days to ask for a delay to the introduction of CAZs in their respective cities.
Leeds City Council’s CAZ was due to go live on September 28, when it had planned to charge buses, coaches, heavy goods vehicles, taxis and private hire vehicles, which failed to meet minimum emissions standards will be charged for driving within the zone’s boundary.
In a joint statement issued by the chief executive of Leeds City Council, Tom Riordan, and the council’s leader, Councillor Judith Blake, they said they had asked the Government for permission to delay the zone “until further notice”.
Birmingham City Council had requested to delay the launch of the zone until at least the end of the calendar year.
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) welcomed the decision to put schemes on hold.
BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said: “This is a very sensible decision in the current circumstances. It gives some temporary respite for businesses and individuals trying to come to terms with the current health crisis and gives the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU) extra time to make sure that key systems such as the centralised payment portal are fit-for-purpose and more fleet friendly.
“To date the range of air quality measures being proposed are wide and varied across UK towns and cities. The landscape is very confusing. Hopefully this delay will provide additional time to reflect and deliver a more effective and coordinated way forward.”