The Government is postponing the introduction of all Clean Air Zones until at least January 2021, enabling businesses to focus on work and response efforts during the Covid-19 outbreak.
It follows calls from Birmingham and Leeds City Councils, which had been due to implement their charging Clean Air Zones this summer after their launch in January was postponed; both councils have since expressed concerns over the impacts of the schemes on both drivers and businesses struggling during the epidemic.
The move to postpone all schemes until next year was outlined in a letter from Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, Rebecca Pow to the Freight Transport Association (FTA), which said it was a much-welcomed decision.
Head of urban policy Natalie Chapman said: “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. 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.”
It added that once the immediacy of the coronavirus crisis was over, the FTA would continue to work with Defra and cities where 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.
The BVRLA also welcomed the decision to postpone CAZs and called for the delay to be used to bring a more joined-up approach to air quality measures.
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.
“We have worked closely with JAQU to inform them of the needs of fleets and drivers and we hope that they use this delay wisely to ensure a more joined-up approach is taken when local authorities implement their air quality measures next year. 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.”
Last month also saw Transport for London (TfL) announce that it had temporarily suspended all road user charging schemes – including the Ultra-Low Emission Zone – from Monday 23 March to help critical workers during the coronavirus pandemic.