Birmingham City Council and Leeds City Council are to delay the January 2020 introduction of their Clean Air Zones due to a Government delay in delivering the supporting vehicle checker tool.
The tool was meant to be ready by this October but a joint statement from the city councils said that JAQU (a joint unit between DfT and DEFRA) has now confirmed that the vehicle checker will not be available until at least December 2019 — leaving just weeks before the zones were due to come into force in January 2020.
Compounding the issue, the local authorities added that they are now also being expected to deliver a system for collecting payments from non-compliant vehicles which enter the Clean Air Zones — despite the Government having previously said that it would deliver this.
The announced delay means a temporary reprieve for fleets having to deal with vehicle restrictions imposed by the Clean Air Zones – as previously announced Leeds has had plans approved for a ‘Class B’ zone that exempts cars and vans while Birmingham is deploying a ‘Class D’ zone that covers all vehicle types.
However, it means delays when it comes to vital work to tackle air pollution following research that found parts of each city would likely fail legal air quality levels by 2020, which led the Government to instruct both local authorities to tackle air pollution as soon as possible.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, said that pushing ahead with the Clean Air Zone in January as planned without the October introduction of the vehicle checker “would be completely unfair on residents, businesses and visitors to the city who would only have a matter of weeks, if not days, to make key choices about their travel behaviour or upgrade their vehicles. This is simply unacceptable”.
He added: “While this does mean people will have longer to make these changes, it will also delay Birmingham in achieving air quality compliance, leaving our city exposed to dirty air for longer than anticipated.
“However, despite these challenges, we will continue to work closely with the Government and other cities to achieve compliance in the shortest possible time because our priority remains ensuring that the people of Birmingham have access to clean air, as is their basic human right.”
Councillor James Lewis, deputy leader for Leeds City Council, also commented on the delay, saying it was “extremely disappointing”, especially given that the council had met the Government’s challenging deadlines while many local businesses had also been working to ensure they were ready for the January 2020 deadline.
And Cllr Lewis called on the Government to outline new timescales that would give residents and businesses across the country clarity and certainty about the future of these schemes, while outlining that the council would push on with its own work, including deploying the required camera infrastructure and exploring financial support for owners of affected vehicles switching to cleaner models.
He added: “Like most residents in Leeds, the council believes that tackling air pollution to protect the health of everyone in our city is an important priority. Therefore we will continue to do everything possible to mitigate this delay to the best of our own ability and by continuing to work closely with the Government.”
The delays have been greeted by both the BVRLA and the FTA as the “right thing” to do.
BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said: “Major towns and cities cannot take the risk of introducing Clean Air Zones without having the right infrastructure and tools in place to support fleets and drivers.
“It’s important that every effort is made to help road users understand whether their vehicle is compliant, and the government vehicle checker tool will be crucial. JAQU should not launch it until it is ready and has been properly tested, and Leeds and Birmingham have done the right thing by delaying their implementation.
“We have been pleased to see JAQU consulting with our industry to gauge views on the vehicle checker tool and our members have welcomed the opportunity to provide feedback.
“Last week JAQU gave a demonstration to a cross-section of BVRLA members from rental, leasing and fleet businesses and this week they are taking part in a BVRLA webinar dedicated to Clean Air Zones. They are also attending our Future Mobility Congress in July to share the portal with a wider group of members.”
FTA’s head of UK policy Christopher Snelling also commented, saying: “FTA has also been talking to the Government about these issues and agrees that the cities seem insufficiently prepared to have the necessary systems in place. You cannot start a regulation without a reliable way to comply with it in place and tested – there is simply too much chance that things launched at the very last minute will go wrong, leading to chaos for HGV and van operators serving these two major cities.
“Whether you support CAZs or not, we can all agree that regulations must have the systems in place to make them work. Leeds and Birmingham have done the right thing, indeed they are taking the only course of action available to them.
“Government needs to develop these systems ASAP and demonstrate they are reliable and accurate – only then should councils definitively commit to start dates for any Clean Air Zones.”