The government published its air quality plan for the UK this morning (December 17), which includes commitments to introduce ‘Clean Air Zones’ in five cities in England by 2020 – the same year in which the London Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZ) comes into force.
It means that after 2020 the ‘most polluting’ buses, taxis, coaches and lorries will be discouraged from driving in areas of Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton where air quality problems are seen to be ‘most serious’.
In addition, Birmingham and Leeds will also discourage the most polluting diesel vans and implement other possible measures such as park and ride schemes, signage, changes in road layouts and provision of infrastructure for alternative fuels, the government said.
However, the five Clean Air Zones (CAZs) will not affect private car owners, unlike London’s ULEZ, while newer vehicles which meet the latest emission standards will not need to pay.
Similar zones in Germany and Denmark “have been shown to lead to an improvement in air quality”, the government said, and delivering the zones by 2020 will give businesses time to prepare for the change in order to minimise the impact.
The next step will be to carry out government-funded scoping studies for the CAZs before details are laid out and consulted on by the relevant local authorities. The councils will only be able to set charges at levels designed to reduce pollution, not to raise additional revenue beyond recovering costs of the CAZs.
Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “Our Clean Air Zones are targeted on the largest vehicles, whilst not affecting car owners and minimising the impact on business. We want to ensure people can continue to drive into city centres and by targeting action at the most polluting coaches, taxis, buses and lorries we will encourage the use of cleaner vehicles.”
The government also intends to set out a “clear” national Framework for Clean Air Zones encourage their implementation elsewhere in the UK. This Framework will include “important principles that need to be consistent from city to city” such as which vehicle standards will apply.
Air quality plan
The CAZ proposals for the five English cities are part of the government’s new air quality plan to meet EU statutory nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits across the UK “in the shortest possible time” – limits which are currently being breached in a number of UK cities and areas.
It means that the government has complied with the Supreme Court’s judgement in May that it must publish a new UK air quality plan for submissions to the European Commission before the end of 2015.
According to the government’s projections, the measures set out in the plan will see all but one – of the UK’s 43 zones meet the EU’s statutory annual average legal limit for NO2 of 40 ugm3 (microgrammes per cubic metre) by 2020. Greater London is projected to be compliant by 2025 under the plan.
A consultation on a draft of the plan closed on November 6, prompting more than 480 responses which, along with a “series of roundtable discussions with relevant industries and specialist groups”, have helped inform the final version of the plan.
Documents published today include: individual local plans for each of the 38 UK zones where the government has identified air quality issues with NO2, the list of UK and national measures for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and the technical report on the modelling and assessment methodology used on the preparation of the plan.
The consultation also prompted environmental NGO ClientEarth to threaten the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with further legal action over what it described as a “shambles” of a plan (see AirQualityNews.com story).
And, on publication of the final version of the plan today, ClientEarth again suggested that further court action was a possibility, but that it needed more time to look at the documents in greater detail.
ClientEarth air quality lawyer, Alan Andrews, said: “In April, the Supreme Court ordered the government to come up with a plan to achieve legal pollution limits as soon as possible. The Government’s latest plan for clean air zones doesn’t tackle pollution from passenger cars – one of the biggest sources of pollution, and ignores the problem in dozens of other cities where people are breathing illegal levels of pollution.
ClientEarth’s air quality lawyer Alan Andrews said today: “In April, the Supreme Court ordered the government to come up with a plan to achieve legal pollution limits as soon as possible. The Government’s latest plan for clean air zones doesn’t tackle pollution from passenger cars – one of the biggest sources of pollution, and ignores the problem in dozens of other cities where people are breathing illegal levels of pollution.
“We need to study these plans in detail but on first glance they don’t seem to achieve air quality standards we want to see, as soon as possible. If on further examination we are not fully satisfied, and we believe that thousands more lives will be put at risk, then we will take the government back to court in the new year. “