The planned introduction of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) into Leeds and Birmingham in January 2020 have been “significantly postponed” because of a Government delay in delivering the digital systems required to make the zones operational and enforceable.
Birmingham City Council and Leeds City Council had been on track to implement CAZs on the basis that a vehicle checker tool, which is being delivered by the Government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU), would be ready by October.
However, JAQU 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.
In addition, the Government is now expecting local authorities to deliver a system for collecting payments from non-compliant vehicles which enter the CAZ — having previously said that it would deliver this.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, said that to go ahead now, in light of the delay to the vehicle checker being delivered would be “completely unfair” on residents, businesses and visitors to the city. “[They] would only have a matter of weeks, if not days, to make key choices about their travel behaviour or upgrade their vehicles,” he said. “This is simply unacceptable.
“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.”
Councillor James Lewis, Deputy Leader for Leeds City Council, added that it was “extremely disappointing” that Leeds had been forced to delay the CAZ introduction because of the Government’s failure to meet its own commitments.
“Leeds City Council has worked incredibly hard to make sure that the Clean Air Zone would be delivered on time, successfully meeting a number of challenging deadlines set by the Government. Many local businesses have similarly invested both time and money into ensuring their own preparedness for January.
“Despite this delay we will continue to financially support owners of affected vehicles switching to less polluting models that will not be charged, as doing so is the best way to improve air quality prior to the charging zone’s introduction. As planned, we will also begin to install the camera infrastructure required for the zone within the next few weeks.
“The Government now needs to outline new timescales that they are confident can be delivered in order to give residents and businesses across the country clarity and certainty about the future of these schemes.”
Zaffar and Lewis said that both councils will continue to work closely with the government. No new date for the implementation of the CAZ was announced.
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) agreed with the councils’ move. FTA’s head of UK policy Christopher Snelling said: “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.”