Plans for a charging Clean Air Zone in Leeds are on hold for the foreseeable future as pollution falls due to the coronavirus crisis.
The council had already announced at the start of the pandemic in March that it was delaying the launch of the scheme until further notice to address economic uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic.
But it’s now said that the ‘Class B’ charging scheme, already delayed from its original January 2020 go-live date and expected to go live on 28 September, may not be required now.
Councillor James Lewis, Deputy Leader for Leeds City Council, said: “As a result of the coronavirus pandemic we have seen pollution levels fall significantly due to the quieter roads. Leeds residents now breathe air that is considerably cleaner and safer than just a few months ago.
“Coronavirus has led to big changes but, thanks to the city’s collective action, local air quality has actually been improving for some time.”
This is partly due to the council’s work to help buses, taxis, private hire and businesses to switch to cleaner vehicles. Although the CAZ itself has been delayed, the council’s financial support measures for affected local businesses had already seen more than £6.8m awarded as of 28 July 2020 to help them switch to cleaner vehicles; there are now more than 2,200 low emission vehicles licensed by Leeds City Council for use as taxi or private hire.
Leeds has also accelerated highways schemes that will reduce traffic and create more space for cyclists and pedestrians.
And it’s invested in public transport infrastructure as part of a £270m Connecting Leeds transport programme and introduced policies and schemes to support the uptake of electric and low-emission 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.”
While the prospect of a reprieve from a Clean Air Zone is expected to find favour with fleets, Lewis said ongoing uncertainty over such a scheme could prove frustrating – but said the future of the Leeds CAZ could be announced in the autumn.
And aside from the CAZ, council initiatives on greener vehicles will continue. This includes the ability for businesses, charities and public sector organisations in Leeds to trial an electric van free of charge as part of the council’s EV Trials scheme, in partnership with Highways England.
“Tackling the climate emergency and protecting the health of everyone in Leeds remain priorities for this council. Regardless of any future decision on the charging zone we will continue to deliver schemes that enable sustainable travel and the shift to zero emission vehicles,” added Lewis.